Frontside hack surfing at Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Playa Grande - Main Peak

Wave Quality: Very good (8 / 10)
Ideal Swell Direction: SSW (185°– 205°)
Ideal Wave Height: Chest high – slightly overhead
Best Wind Direction: Light offshore
Best Tide: Mid tide
Required Experience: Advanced
Best Board: Fish, shortboard
Bottom: Sandy
Crowd: Moderate – Heavy
Wave Power: (7.5 / 10)
Best time of the year: July – August and December – April

Playa Grande - Main Peak

Location – The main peak in Playa Grande is located within the Las Baulas National Park, approximately 200 meters south of the Las Palmeras surf break and about 1 km north of the Palm Beach surf break.

The wave is located just south of where Playa Grande’s main access road ends at the ocean. There is a 2-story wooden structure on the beach just north of the main peak.


Wave Type / Quality -Left & Right beach break (8 / 10) Very Good

With the majority of swells coming from the South Pacific, Playa Grande’s main peak is perfectly oriented to receive maximum energy. As the swells reach the shoreline, they are crossed up by a few rock piles offshore that give the wave some extra shape. The wave can range from square, double-up barrels to semi-walled almond shaped barrels at the higher tides. The main peak is known for several reforming sections as you ride towards the beach. Sometimes you will catch a mushy wave out the back and it will stand up on the inside and hollow out.

Ideal Swell Direction
– SSW (185°– 205°)

Although Playa Grande’s main peak will receive any swell with a southerly direction (180
° – 230°), the ideal angle for wave shape is SSW (185° – 205°). The offshore rockpile will refract the waves to perfectly form a wedging A-frame peak when it hits the sandbar. Storms with an angle of 185° – 205° are found anywhere from the central South Pacific  to the west coast of South America.

Dropping into a bomb at Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Ideal Wave Height – Chest high – slightly overhead

Granted, you can catch some fun days in the waist – stomach high range at the main peak, but the very best size is from chest high to slightly overhead. At this size, the wave offers multiple peaks, long tapered walls, big barrels, speedy wedges, and perfect sections for carves, snaps, and airs. When the wave gets bigger than about 7 foot on the face, there are more close-outs to deal with, but if you’re patient, you may stroke into a prefect, meaty bomb.

Best Wind Direction
–  Light offshore

Best wind is light – moderate offshore which can range from NNE to NE to ENE. Playa Grande actually has a huge advantage over many other spots to the south because the wind will stay offshore longer. Since Playa Grande is located closer to Lake Nicaragua, the wind will stay offshore here all day while many spots to the south turn onshore around 10am. During the dry season (Dec – April) the offshore winds can be quite strong but the waves generally remain groomed.

Rubber? –
Yes (December – April)

Bring some rubber especially if the winds have been blowing offshore for several days. Although rare, water temps can drop down to about 63
°F. This is a phenomenon called upwelling. Normally, water temps hover in the 75° – 80°F range. Upwelling really only happens a few times during the dry season. A wetsuit top generally comes in handy for dawn patrol sessions year round. 

Best Time To Score? (
December – April and July – August)

Although the SSW swells are not super consistent in the dry season (Dec – April) the conditions are perfect and you can generally surf everyday no matter what time the tides are. When there is an offseason SSW swell this time of the year, you can expect some seriously good waves. July and August also made the list because these are our “mini-summer” months where we get plenty of offshore winds along with consistent SSW swell. During this time of year, all-day offshore winds are less common, but there is generally an offshore window that can last until 1pm.

Getting barreled at Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Best Tide – Mid

Playa Grande’s main peak will start working about 2 hours after dead low and will break all the way to dead high. The shape will range from square barrels to almond barrels depending on the tide and wave size. The very best time to surf Playa Grande’s main peak is about 2 hours before peak high tide. Once the tide starts topping out, there can be some backwash to contend with.

Getting shacked at Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Required Experience – Advanced

For the main peak in Playa Grande, you should be fairly advanced if you want to catch your share of waves. The waves are fast, powerful, and can get very hollow. If you are more of an intermediate surfer, there are plenty other fun waves just a few hundred meters down the beach to the north or south.

Best Board –
Shortboard, fish

Although you could ride a longboard at the main peak, the wave itself cries out for a shortboard with its fast, steep waves.

What’s On The Bottom? Sandy bottom

A few rocks about 500 meters out give way to a flat, sandy bottom where the waves are crashing.

What’s The Crowd Like? – 
Moderate – heavy

There is always a crowd at Playa Grande. The access is easy with a nice, paved road that you can take all the way to a parking lot in front of the main peak. Also, between Playa Grande and the actual Witch’s Rock (Roca Bruja) 2 hours to the north, there are not too many consistent surf spots. Therefore, Playa Grande’s main peak brings in surfers from multiple towns along the coastline. All the locals surf this peak because it has the most size and best shape. Many locals feel entitled to the best waves so just be respectful, show that you rip, and work your way up the totem pole.

How Powerful Is The Wave? (7.5 / 10)

Since the wave generally doubles up, Playa Grande’s main peak offers excellent power catching the wave initially and also while you’re riding down the line. The wave is known to slow down and speed up with reforming sections. Don’t kick out too early or you might miss the best part of the wave.

Perfecto Meter – (8 / 10)   (1 = Lake Michigan wind chop / 10= Kelly Slater Surf Ranch)

On an ideal day with the perfect swell angle, size, and light offshore winds, you will have plenty of opportunities to grab some amazing rides. There are 3 main peaks at the main break and all of them get very good.

Spaghetti Arm Index – (4 / 10)

It’s easy to get caught inside on a set, but the wave itself doesn’t break all that far from the beach. If you find yourself caught inside, get out of the water, walk 50 meters to the north or south of the main peak, and you will have an easier entry.

Hazards – Agro crowds, rip currents, heavy surf

How Do I Get There?

From the Tamarindo beach break, you can walk there in about 40 minutes. This requires crossing the estuary and then a long arduous walk along soft sand for about 35 minutes. In a car, the drive takes about 25 minutes on paved roads. Since most of Playa Grande is national park you have to take a longer route out and around. If you have access to a boat, you will be there in 5 minutes after leaving the beach in Tamarindo.

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