Playa Grande draws experienced surfers with its big, consistent waves. We aren’t surfers (yet), but on a recent visit to Playa Grande wanted to give it a try. We did some lessons with our six-year-old and learned that the waves at Playa Grande aren’t just for the pros. In this post, we’ll share our experience taking some fun surf lessons in Playa Grande.
Background – About Playa Grande
Playa Grande is a long, light sand beach on Costa Rica’s northwestern Pacific coast. It is in the region called Guanacaste. Although this area is full of bustling tourist destinations like Tamarindo, right across the estuary, Playa Grande has remained mostly quiet and laid back.
As we mentioned, Playa Grande is known for having consistent waves year-round. So it should be no surprise that surfing is the main attraction here. Many hotels and vacation rentals are just steps from popular surf breaks, making it a great place if you’re looking to catch some waves.
As for surf conditions, we are far from experts, but know that Playa Grande has a beach-breaking wave. If you’re looking for more details than that, we’d recommend referring to the experts at this site or checking out information from a local surf shop.
We did our lessons through Frijoles Locos in Playa Grande. They have some good information on their website about surfing in Playa Grande.
Surf Lessons in Playa Grande
Our lessons started at the Frijoles Locos surf shop headquarters. They have a big space on the main road right as you’re coming into town with an iconic old Landcruiser out front.
Inside the shop, we were given some yellow rash guards to try on and told that our instructor would be Andy.
We followed Andy to the surf spot we’d be checking out in Palm Beach Estates. Playa Grande is spread out. Palm Beach Estates is a little south towards the estuary and separate from the rest of town.
We parked near a sandy beach trail and met Andy. He greeted us with a big smile, his face smothered in a thick layer of sunscreen.
From on top of the van, he pulled down two huge long boards. They were soft tops, which he told us are better for beginners since they’re gentler if you accidentally get hit by one.
We followed him to the beach, both of us a little nervous. Our son, Sam, was excited but a little anxious about the experience. I (Jenn) was too.
Once we got to the sand, Andy began the lesson. He started with an important explanation.
Surfing, he explained, is a mix of awareness of the ocean and awareness of ourselves on the board. Today, for the lesson, we would be focusing on our awareness on the board, and he would be taking care of the ocean part. That way, we could focus on getting up on the board and wouldn’t have to worry about reading the water, which wave to pick, rip currents, etc.
With the boards on the sand, we were going to practice standing up. Andy told us to lay on our stomachs. He taught us about keeping our gaze to the ocean, how to place our hands, and our stance when popping up on the board once we had caught a wave. We tried it just a few times before heading into the water.
Taking on the Waves
As we walked through the clear warm water, I have to admit that the waves were a little intimidating. I’m comfortable in the ocean but do get nervous with bigger waves and rip currents. The mom in me that day had me pushing through, though, so that Sam would not be scared.
We trudged out towards the breaks. Sam was on his board with Andy in the back, navigating him through the small crashing waves. I was doing pretty well by myself, but it sure was hard work, even just getting to the right spot!
Once we were where Andy wanted us to be, he told us to turn our boards around to face the shore and for me to jump on.
We had to remember just a few things when trying to catch a wave. Keeping the board perpendicular to the wave. Positioning our bodies towards the back of the board in the center. Keeping our hands at armpit level. And looking up at the ocean. Last, but not least, we needed to paddle hard when the wave came!
With a good wave coming, Andy told us to go for it. He had the back of Sam’s board and stayed with him the whole time. He told me when to start paddling. I think Sam made it up on the board on the first try. Me, not so much. I paddled hard but fell even harder. I didn’t have the timing down at all and fell off almost right away after trying to stand up.
One big factor that we were dealing with that day was a huge undercurrent. Usually, the current is manageable, but that day, in Andy’s words, it was like a river. That made it exhausting to get back out where the good waves were. It was also really hard not to drift down the beach.
We tried a few more waves and Sam did amazing! He was up on the board like a pro. I was so happy for him, even though I still hadn’t caught a wave.
Andy had a good idea at that point. He could see that I needed some individual instruction. Normally, he said, with a semi-private lesson, he would let Sam go on his own with him close by. But because of the strong current, he didn’t feel comfortable leaving him. So we took Sam out of the water for a few minutes so that I could have some individualized instruction.
Back in the water, Andy told me again to keep the board perpendicular to the wave. With a good-looking wave coming, he told me to go for it.
I did it! I stood up, no problem—finally! I had been trying to stand up way too early before, when the wave was too powerful, and that kept knocking me over. I tried it a couple of more times with success, then we brought Sam back in.
We both caught some more waves, even in unison. It was a great bonding experience for the two of us.
The Importance of a Good Instructor
Andy was an amazing instructor. He made us feel very comfortable. He wasn’t intense and helped make the experience fun. Importantly, he also didn’t overwhelm us with information.
Andy has been teaching surf lessons for ten plus years. He told me that over time, his philosophy has changed. He used to try to get beginners to get everything right from the start but has learned that focusing on one thing works best.
Every person, he said, has one specific thing that they need to do to get up on the board. He identifies that after spending some time with them in the water, then encourages them to focus on that one thing.
It clearly worked for Sam and me. I needed to keep the board perpendicular to the wave. I asked Sam what Andy told him he needed to do. He said Andy told him to focus on standing up after he got going “pretty fast.”
We left with a new appreciation for surfing thanks to Andy. Sam went on to rent a board at our next destination, Samara. He got better on the smaller waves there, cruising on the whitewater with his dad.
We highly recommend Andy and Frijoles Locos if you’re looking to try a surf lesson in Playa Grande. Their team is super nice and helpful.
Frijoles Locos does group, private, and semi-private lessons. Feel free to reach out to them directly through their website if you’d like to organize one.
We had a great time taking surf lessons in Playa Grande. It was a little scary at first, but so rewarding when we finally caught a wave.
Thanks to Frijoles Locos for hosting us on our lesson. As always, all opinions are our own.
Have a question about taking a surf lesson in Playa Grande? Ask us below.
Looking for more information to plan your visit to the Playa Grande area? Check out these posts:
Playa Carbon: Costa Rica’s Blackest Sand Beach – This secluded black sand beach isn’t far from Playa Grande, but you can’t drive right to it. Learn about the options for visiting.
Playa Ventanas, Guanacaste – This beautiful light sand beach is just past the northern end of Playa Grande. The waves are smaller, perfect for splashing.
Getting a SIM Card for Costa Rica – Not sure what to do about phone and internet on your trip? Learn about local SIM cards with this post.