Paddling Out…Finding Joy

By: Rebecca Gullott

I first discovered Costa Rica in 2010 when, after leaving my career at age 35 to pursue a graduate degree in a new field, I traveled solo to Nosara to pursue my life-long desire of learning to surf. After returning from that trip, I changed how I lived my life. Costa Rica, the pace, the culture, the people, the beauty, the giant grasshoppers, somehow made me feel different, happier than I’d ever been. My approach to living was forever altered. I didn’t quit everything to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and a surfboard. My priorities simply changed. New goals erupted from within. Achievement was redefined. The active pursuit of joy became far more prominent than it had ever been in my life. I was more determined in all things, more patient, more supportive of others, and more confident in myself. The feeling I experienced on that first trip to Costa Rica riding waves and laughing in the water with amazing new friends was more invigorating than I could have imagined. Since then, I’ve returned every year to explore surf breaks along the country’s Pacific Coast from Avellanas to Punta Banco.

It wasn’t until 2017 that I finally made my way to Tamarindo when a friend suggested I join her for a week at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. It was worth the wait! On the hour-long jaunt from Liberia, I met a group from across the US and Canada who met at Witch’s Rock years ago and have returned every Thanksgiving week since, expanding in number year-by-year. If this group was any indication of the typical Tamarindo crowd, it would be a fun trip for sure. After meeting up with my friend for a quick dip in the Pueblo Dorado pool, we had a relaxing dinner at Eat at Joe’s complete with fantastic craft beer and sushi then it was off to bed early to be bright-eyed for our week’s surfing adventure.

The next morning, after the cup of Costa Rican coffee I’d so been looking forward to, we met our intermediate surf tour group and our instructor, Shanti. Having left my board at home, I chose from a large cache of boards of all different shapes and dimensions and we paddled out to catch our boat to Playa Grande. At this point I knew for sure the was going to be a week to remember. Grande was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever surfed. It truly felt like paradise. Even if I had not caught a single wave that day I would have thoroughly enjoyed myself…but I did and it felt glorious. Our group was pretty well matched but still Shanti observed us and aligned his instruction with each of our needs. Over the years, I’ve found that there are two very important qualities a surf instructor should have, aside from knowing how to surf. They should know the ocean and instill in you feeling safety in the water. They should also have a demeanor that makes you want to catch that next wave whether you just got tossed like a rag doll in a washing machine or rode triumphantly across the face and stylishly kicked out at the end. Shanti possessed both qualities and from listening to students in other groups, it sounded like all the Witch’s Rock instructors were well-equipped on all levels.

From my first ride, I heard cheers from the group; a gift I gladly returned upon each of my new friends’ successful waves. Regular improvement in each surfer’s riding was evident throughout the week. It’s a special kind of people you meet as a recreational wave chaser. These fellow soul surfers are definitely one of the main reasons I keep surfing my way through this decade. My new Witch’s Rock crew was no exception. From the first surf session and long chatty breakfast that followed right through to the last happy hour, I was grateful to this group of comrades with whom I shared a week of joy.

It isn’t just the wonderful people that keep me surfing. I’ll never be an awe-inspiring wave-rider; but I still work with instructors like Shanti to steadily improve my skill and ability to read the ocean. Nothing in this world makes me feel so humbled and so powerful at the same time. I am humbled because my appreciation of and harmony with nature is never greater than when I’m paddling through the ocean on my board. I am powerful because I’ve committed to working hard to improve at this sport that thrills me and brings me such joy.



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