Nicoya was a discussion we’d had many times. Freddie Meadows, Sweden’s top professional surfer, and I had travelled widely together, but I’d never been to the place where he’d honed his surfing skills. The decision to go was finally taken on a dank late winter’s day on a surf trip in northern Scotland. The days were so short, the skies overcast, the wind biting — all reasons why the balmy shores of Central America beckoned.

For many American surfers, Costa Rica is as formulaic as it gets: accessible fun, warm waves, tropical splendour, and relative safety. But this wasn’t your average Costa Rica trip, and neither was this your average crew. We flew into San Jose via LAX from various corners: Freddie from Sweden, Hurley German/Portuguese hotshot Nic Von Rupp from Portugal, underground talent Ryah Arthur and videographer Kevin Voegtlin from California, and finally myself from the UK.

Unwisely, we chose TACA Airlines…my advice to any surfers travelling with a quiver: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES FLY TACA. I won’t go into the full debacle but will say it was an expensive nightmare and the boards did not arrive in one piece!

Pictures take up the story below.


Charter flight

The lads turned up with so many surfboards we had to rent two planes, one for us, the other for all the gear. Even then, getting so many boards into a light aircraft presented quite a conundrum. With five of us and all the gear it worked out cheaper than flying the regional airline and made a huge change from the awful TACA. I flew Aeromexico back home -- they were cheaper, the service was good, and they charged less for boards.


Nicoya aerial view

We got the opportunity to do a bit of wave hunting from the air, flying over the jungle and reef-lined coast in a helicopter. The door had been removed to facilitate a clean shot, the unimpeded view was stunning, and I was able to hang out to get a better angle. The khaki-coloured runoff gives a hint as to the sheer volume of precipitation in rainy season.


Golden dawn inside the tube

Starting the day the El Centro way. Dawn viewed from within Playa Negra’s womb.


Curious howler monkey

A howler monkey takes a rest from howling -- more like roaring -- to track our every move.


Secret spot on jungle fringe

‘The Rock,’ as Freddie had told us, can throw a thick lip, but making the barrel and avoiding the jagged slab a foot or two below the surface is the main concern. Whilst swimming I was consistently touching it, and even the lightest dab resulted in a cut -- Nic grated his side up a treat after barely making contact.


Nic Von Rupp pulling in at the Rock

Nic was very vocal regarding spending his time perfecting aerials and his backside tuberiding on this trip. He got plenty of opportunities to work on that pig-dog style at the Rock and made the most of them.


Football day

Sunday is football day, and the fanatical locals flock to the ground in the middle of town. The pitch, although tilted at almost 45 degrees on a hillside, still allows for a decent game. One has to wonder how these guys would play on a level surface.


Weekend tipple

Sunday was also a chance for socialising...and heavy drinking. These guys were just having a good yarn, but I was wary of walking through the main street in town on Sundays lest a drunk driver mow us down. I saw a few near misses involving intoxicated locals stumbling into the path of oncoming traffic and almost being killed by a similarly hammered driver. Police were a rare sight and seemed to be more concerned with stopping tourists to check their visas.


Old Man and the Sea

Julian, a local fisherman, could be Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. His life has been one of ups and downs, and when prompted he was happy to share sage suggestions and stories that kept us rapt. His advice on where to spear fish probably saved us from ciguatera poisoning -- thank you, Julian!


El Centro sashimi

Without doubt the best tuna I’ve had, straight from the water, sliced into the most tender sashimi -- it was the definition of "melt in the mouth."


Nature’s Fireworks

Our trip coincided with the start of rainy season. As each day passed, the towering cumulus congestus offshore grew more ominous. Eventually something had to give, and three days into the trip the gargantuan cumulonimbus rolled in to unleash the most impressive electrical storm I have witnessed. Lightning was closely followed by the crack of thunder and the system was on us. Fred and I were on the third floor with a corrugated iron roof over our heads and an opening around the edge. The rain drummed on the roof harder, harder until the only thing louder were the deafening thunderclaps, so loud and so close that the room shook with each strike. The frequency of lightning was so high that at one point it seemed like the jungle around us was permanently illuminated. I’m just glad we weren’t hit, as I discovered later there’s no lightning conductor on the building.


Freddie Meadows, deep monochrome

An intimate view of Fred flying fast and deep in the tube on the ‘foamball.’


Oxen posing

One overcast morning, whilst searching for waves on a different part of the peninsula, we came across these oxen high in the lush hills. They are trained to pull carts, and apparently in posing side by side for pictures.


Harlequin land crab

These guys are known as harlequin land crabs on account of their brilliant colours, and their burrows are found throughout the coastal rainforest. Nocturnal creatures, the leaf litter rustles all night long as they go about their business, which can be unsettling when walking through the jungle in the dark. They spend their lives on land, often making a nuisance of themselves eating the contents of people’s gardens, and only briefly return to the ocean to breed.


Ryah Arthur big fan

Ryah amalgamating old-school power with a smooth new-school tail slide.


Blue Pelican

Road signs nailed to trees and dirt tracks were a feature of the drive to Playa Negra. We never did find the Blue Pelican, though the water was blue as can be.


Freddie Meadows, Playa Negra

Fred in Playa Negra’s crystalline confines. Negra was unlike any place we surfed on the trip -- most spots broke right in front of rainforest and could be a little cloudy due to the runoff, but here the water was gin clear and it was possible to watch fish swimming amongst the various reef crevices.


Street grub

On Saturdays there’s a market in town, and farmers sell the freshest fruit and vegetables off the back of their trucks. Close by, this street vendor had the Costa Rican answer to the kebab, succulent pork on wooden skewers cooked fresh on the grill, “the best pork you’ll ever eat” according to Fred.


Dawn patrol (heading north)

Up in the dark, on the road for the sunrise, the air filled with a thousand birdsongs, crickets and cicadas calling -- and not a human in sight. Fording rivers that hold crocodiles, driving through jungle and fields fresh and glistening after overnight rains, and stopping at deserted surf spots -- a “Morning of the Earth” moment this was.


Ryah Arthur, pulling in

I think it’s fair to say Ryah was the standout during the two sessions we had at the Rock. He made a ridiculously late drop under the lip, completely disappeared, and then next thing was suddenly standing there in the barrel. Anyone who’s seen the film September Sessions will remember Slater’s under-the-lip takeoff during a solo session -- well, this was a carbon copy. Outstanding stuff. Ryah’s the kind of guy you want to travel with: Firstly, he’s built like a tank so nobody’ll get any funny ideas. Secondly, his power surfing is riveting. And thirdly, he’s a humble, affable lad who’ll get on with anyone in any situation.

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