Surfing at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

By BobbyRica | October 20, 2011


We have another contributor, John Hemsley, a twenty five year old Aussie transplant who now lives in Los Angeles. He also happens to be my perennial drinking buddy whenever he visit me here in San Jose. He visited Costa Rica last year and related his experience in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. He is debunking the myth that all Australians are experts at surfing. He’s still a relative newbie. Growing up in the landlocked part of Australia does have its letdowns. But he sure can throw a boomerang like a mofo.

I love surfing. I recently took up the hobby, having a blast conquering the waves in Malibu. But after hearing about the amazing waves in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, I thought, well, it’s about time for me to be adventurous! So I packed my suntan and my favorite wetsuit, took a three-day leave (my fellow co-workers were so jealous!), and secured a ticket for Costa Rica.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca map

Located in the Limon province on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca home to many beautiful beaches, including Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva, and Playa Negra. It is a well-known destination for surfing fanatics. A lot of Malibu surfers swear that it is the home of the biggest and most powerful waves in Costa Rica. “But beware –It’s not for the weak of heart!” they warned, jokingly.


I boarded a bus going to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca from San Jose. I made the right decision to take a morning ride — apparently, the travel time takes at least four hours! Good thing I brought a book to read on my way there. Once I got on the bus, I noticed a lot of American tourists on board — most of them were tanned and carrying surfboards. So Puerto Viejo de Talamanca IS really popular, I mused.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca reminded me of a hidden oasis. Lush tropical forests surround the village and palm trees line the beach. The wide beaches have either white or black sands, and stretch on for miles. I was informed that there are also wildlife parks in the area, like the Cahuita National Park or the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge.


After checking in and a quick lunch at Kaya’s Place, located at Playa Negra, I set out to conquer the waves. Since my trusty surfboard was too big to carry for this trip, I stopped by the Totem Surf Shop to rent one. The guy asked me if I would like to avail of a private surfing lesson as well. “Our waves can get pretty rough,” he warned with a smile. I politely declined.

There were several surfers when I arrived at Playa Negra, which translates to “black beach.” It was named after its stretch of ash-black sand. The waves seemed pretty normal — not as big as I expected. I wasted no time in paddling out and riding a few waves. What a glorious, glorious feeling! While resting on the shore, a fellow American tourist smiled at me and asked “Have you tried the Salsa Brava? It’s wicked!”


“No, I haven’t. What is it?” I asked, curious.

Apparently, Salsa Brava or “angry sauce,” is the meanest, biggest and heaviest wave in Costa Rica. “I tried it once,” the surfer dude said, “Never again!”

But he was nice enough to show me the way to the First Peak — the first takeoff section, which appeared like a round bowl section. Upon seeing the large, humungous waves, my jaw literally dropped. The dude wasn’t exaggerating — it was the biggest wave I’ve seen in my life!


“Listen, not to sound offensive or anything, but don’t try it unless you’re an expert,” surfer dude told me. “It may seem incredible, but I’ve heard a lot of not-so-happy stories about it. I was lucky enough I conquered it and came out unscathed!” He smiled.

I shook my head. “Nah, I think I’ll just watch for a while. Thanks for showing me this place, though.”

“No problem!” He said and took off.


I sat on the sand and watched a surfer out on a wave. He seemed like an expert, moving gracefully despite the powerof the current. I felt jealous!
He was riding the meanest wave perfectly. I realized I had a long way to go before I can conquer Salsa Brava.

The next few days were spent lounging on the beach, and trying the waves at Playa Chiquita, and Playa Negra. Before I left, I stopped by to admire Salsa Brava and made a promise: Someday, I too will conquer you!

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