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Nicoya Peninsula: Tadpoles, Surfing, and Yoga

Destination: Santa Teresa

I jumped out of bed excited about my surf camp lesson in Santa Teresa. We arrived early, and while waiting by the freshwater river that dumps into the ocean, I noticed thousands of small, black dots moving around my feet.

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I assumed they were insects and jumped away afraid. Upon closer inspection I discovered that they were baby frogs, and some hadn't yet outgrown their tadpole tails. I scooped one up and ran it over to Vincent. It was smaller than my pinky fingernail.

A half an hour later, it was time to begin. The instructor, Lolo, was an extremely talented French man with long, blond dreads. The board I would be using was made of soft foam to prevent injury, specifically designed for beginning-level students. It also featured a thick line painted down the middle to help with foot placement, and a hefty layer of sticky wax to avoid slipping. Attaching the board's leash to my right foot, I thought about what I already knew from the handful of times I tried to surf on my own. I have found that surfing can be essentially broken down into four steps:

One: swim out, turn your board so it faces land and lie belly down.

Two: as you feel the wave pulling your feet toward the sea, paddle hard in the opposite direction, headed for land.

Three: push your head to the sky keeping your legs where they are, then jump and plant your feet on the board in a wide stance.

Four: squat and ride the wave without losing your balance.

That is it.

Lolo instructed me to first practice mounting the board on land, in the soft sand. After two attempts, he was satisfied and we moved into the water. Next, I learned how to keep my balance. First, I kept my hands directly under my torso and pushed my chest upward, head pointing toward the sky, with my feet parallel to the board.

Then I threw one foot forward and bent my knees into a crouch, with arms outstretched to maintain equilibrium. "Squat down like you are on a toilet seat," Lolo sincerely instructed. While the image was less-than-attractive, it made me laugh and I will never forget it.

By choosing acceptable waves and propelling me into them, I didn't need to swim with my arms, and Lolo essentially accomplished half the work of surfing for me. This allowed time to practice the most important, and most enjoyable, element of the sport: balancing and riding.

After four successful attempts in a row, it was time to pick one up on my own. Lolo reminded me when to paddle, and off I went.

All in all I did well, conquering more waves than not. To be safe, we utilized only the foamy part of the surf that comes after the wave has already crashed, and left the unbroken crests to the professionals.

At 10:30 a.m. Vincent flagged us in. Like a basketball player sinking the last shot before practice is over, I tried to ride one last wave before retiring for the day. Unfortunately, I couldn't be rushed and, after three wipe outs, was forced to give up. We had to run to yoga at 11:00 a.m.

The outdoor yoga studio was located five minutes northwest of the surf camp. On an impossibly high hill, the ocean view stretched as far as the eye could see.

Surfers were nothing more than tiny black specs skidding along the lengthy waves. Class was more relaxing than intense, taught in Vinyasa flow style with a focus on deep stretching and relaxing breath work.

Mixing both beginner and advanced students was not a problem, as all poses could be easily adjusted according to individual limits and skill level. Teacher and practitioner Katie Graves studied under Shiva Rea in California, a well-known yogi with a popular line of yoga exercise videos.

In keeping with the day's healthy theme, I ordered an avocado salad sandwich from the vegetarian restaurant at Horizon Yoga Center and Resort for lunch. It came on a bagel with crunchy vegetables. The couple who run the place are from Israel, and their menu is fittingly infused with middle-eastern flavors. The cilantro in my meal tasted fresh-picked, and the pair informed me that many of the restaurant's herbs and spices are home grown in their personal garden on the property.

That night I watched the sunset from the infinity pool at our hotel, Casa Marbella. My body ached in that rewarding sense that can only come from pushing your physical boundaries. I drifted off to sleep feeling healthy, rewarded, and relaxed.

Nicoya Peninsula: Tadpoles, Surfing, and Yoga in Pictures

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