Experience of a Lifetime: When Witch’s Rock Surf Camp Changed My Life

This the follow up to ‘Before Witch’s Rock Changed My Life: Part 1 of Forever’ by Campbell Smith.



T’was a sunny Los Angeles day in early September. I had recently been given the rare opportunity to be paid for some time off, and with that time off I had decided I wanted to write some travel essays. Of course, in order to write travel essays, you must travel. Hmm, where could I go that would be a bit atypical? A place where I wouldn’t feel unsafe going solo and might involve some kind of learning-to-do-somethingness? An interesting place that would fuel my creative writing thoughts? A place where I could fulfill one of my life’s most long sought after drea…OH MY GOD SURF CAMP.

“Surf camp,” “Best surf camp,” “Tropical surf camp,” “Duck penis” – all search terms that still pop up in my computer’s search cache. I researched the hell out of the possibilities. I really wanted to find just the right place, read as many user-reviews as I could, go some place beautiful and inviting, but also find something that wasn’t going to send me to the poorhouse. And there she was- WitchsRockSurfCamp.com.

I called reservations and spoke with the lovely Elizabeth. She answered all of my dumb questions like, “So, are there going to be any other solo travelers there?” (definitely) Or, “Do I need to bring my own rashguard?” (you don’t have to, but you can) Or, “Do you know what a duck penis looks like because I’m just curious?” She didn’t know that last one. No one knows.

I arrived at 12:10pm Greenwich Mean Time, September 24th, 2011, with a new sense of hope, an incommunicable amount of excitement, and my two new rashguards. I was ready to ride this pony. As promised, there was a shuttle driver there to pick me up at the Liberia Airport. He was also there to pick up other solo travelers, two of my new future CFFs (camp friends forever), Chris and Tim, who I’d just met at the terminal. Over the 45-minute drive, the three of us had our where-ya-froms and why-ya-heres, and before we knew it, we were arriving at the sacred grounds of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo. Dreams were about to become realities.

We got out, walked through the main entrance of the Eat @ Joe’s Cafe, and there I was, standing in just the spot where I had first seen the “Nachos as Big as Your Ass!” sign online. And back toward the beach side of the restaurant, I could see the big selection of boards we’d have at our disposal! Right next to a little stone path to the gorgeous Tamarindo beach! This is going to be the best damn week of my life. Right away, we got ourselves checked in at the front desk-slash-surf shop (adorable much?) and got settled into our corresponding rooms. Mine was Room 16 – small, nothing fancy, but it had everything I needed and nothing I didn’t. It had a view of the ocean. I could hear the waves. Blam, all set. I loved it.

After I threw my things from suitcase-to-closet, I wandered the premises a bit to get the lay of the land, then ended up hanging out with my new CFFs from the airport, as well as some new stragglers who were just arriving. Which reminds me, in this particular submission, I’ll provide some insight as to what can be expected by a beginner’s WRSC daily routine, but it must be said; the people I met on this trip – campers and staff included – played an equally massive role in shaping the experience. That’s the wonderful thing about immersing yourself in something – we were all together, every day, taking lessons and cheering each other on, hanging out, eating, drinking, going on monkey-finding walks along the beach, hitting the town, and even took a day off of surfing in the middle of the week to all take a tour together. We tubed and rode horses and ziplined and rock climbed and and and… All of these things flavored the entire trip and made it extra delicious. I could write your ears off about them. But for now, hopefully for your benefit, I’ll stick to the surfing experience.

As far as the routine camp schedule went, we would simply look at the info board in the lobby every evening, which told us what time our surf lesson would be in the morning and with what instructor. (So, of course, depending how late our lesson was the next day, we would determine how late we could stay out on the town the night before.) I considered myself lucky. The surf lessons are determined solely by tides – usually, high tide is best at Tamarindo, and it just so happened that meant late lesson times my particular week, usually starting between 11:30a to 1:30p. By the time the next week’s session had rolled around, for example, lessons were starting at 6:30am. Poor bastards. Actually, I extended my stay 3 days, due the refusal of returning to reality, and my last two days had 6:30am call times – I admit, there was something kind of fabulous about being up that early with the whole day ahead of you, too. You’re getting up early to go surfing, not get a root canal. That’s the good news.

Surfing. You can imagine how nerdily nervous I was before the first morning’s lesson. All the build-up and anticipation, decades of dreaming about learning to surf, finally there. And it’s scary! Big ass boards with sharp fins flying around in the air, trying to get past the pummeling white water, the certainty of wipe outs – it’s not necessarily a sport for the delicate, but for the dedicated. But at some point that first lesson, I got up! Then I crashed. I got up again! Then I nosedived. Then I’d catch another one! I realized why it was all worth it – the feeling I got from sliding along a wave and dancing with the ocean was indescribable – and the urge to keep practicing consumed me. Yeah, I said “dancing with the ocean.” Ridicule me if you must. I’m not quite sure what it is, but this surfing shit is more addictive than meth, so take heed.

For someone who has thought since birth that it was her destiny to surf – I was like the Rudy of the group. Heart? Check! Natural ability? Ehhh… Trying to watch me stand up on a board is kind of like watching childbirth. It’s beautiful and disgusting all at the same time. Yet, whenever I’d find myself frustrated, the instructors kept me on track, and my CFFs shouted whoo-hoos regardless of a great ride or a gnarly nose-dive. By the end of the week, we had all had good days and bad days in the waves, but we all progressed. By God, by week’s end we could actually handle our own out there! We could turtle dive under big waves to make it past the breakers, we left the whitewater behind and began surfing the unbroken “green waves,” we knew proper etiquette, and we knew how to protect ourselves on those rare-but-there collision threats. It occurred me: I was now confident enough to fly home and tackle SoCal, cold water be damned!

After ten days of camp, I was no where close to being a “good surfer,” but I had everything I needed to become one. Within the last month since I’ve left camp, I got myself a board, a wetsuit, and have been surfing in L.A. over ten times and get better everyday. I can surf! I’m a goddamned surfer! This is something I will now do for the rest of my life instead of just wishing I could do it. Thank you, Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. I love the crap out of you and I miss you more than my teeth. I’d also like to thank myself for booking the ticket. (You’re welcome, Self.) Listen folks, even if you don’t live near a beach and don’t plan on surfing often, I guarantee WRSC will be an experience for which you’ll thank yourself, too. Book it, sillypants! And if anyone finds any information on duck penises, please do let me know.

Until next time, thank you for reading.


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