The ever changing river

What is a River Mouth?

A river mouth is where the journey of a river ends and vast expanse of the ocean begins, an estuary is typically a transition area that exists before a river reaches its final destination at a saltwater location. This meeting point is a somewhat enclosed body of water that stands as a dynamic transition zone. Estuaries, one of nature’s most intricate and ever-changing phenomena, are sites of significant processes that have substantial impacts on both their local environments and our surfing experiences.

Tamarindo Estuary Aereal photo
Tamarindo River Mouth at low tide, February 2023
Scientists have studied estuaries from almost every perspective imaginable. However, as surfers, we experience their impact in a unique, visceral way that directly affects our ‘stoke level’—a term surfers use to describe the level of excitement and enthusiasm about the waves, for example; the physics and mathematics behind the way the two water masses interact come simply down to during calm periods of waves and river flow, sediment from the river is deposited on the ocean floor to then be changed by differing weather and swell patterns. Just as they do with most beaches in the world. In simpler terms, the better the conditions, the higher our stoke level.
great wave Tamarindo Costa Rica rivermouth
Right hander wave at the river mouth, 2021

Some of the most perfect, long, and hollow waves exist at the mouths of rivers, thanks to sandbars created and maintained by the river, the tide, and the waves.

River mouth sandbars are never in the same place nor totally fixed in one spot. They exist in a state of fluid equilibrium, maintaining more or less the same size and shape over the long term, but varying in the short term according to conditions.

The Tamarindo River mouth is no exception, and many long-term Tamarindo locals have seen this river change drastically over the 30 or so years that surfing has been popular in Costa Rica. It has produced some of the best waves and barrels ever seen on this stretch of coastline we call home.

old lifeguard tower green zone Tamarindo Costa Rica main break witch srock surf camp
Old lifeguard tower and green zone in front of the surf camp, December 2020.

The best years of 2014 up till around 2016 the river flowed straight and hard making a defined line between Tamarindo and Playa Grande, with the wave breaking deep to the north in the river.

A rifling right-hander with intimidating sections could literally break boards and necks, but regardless of the size, the wave would follow the same course. Whether it was 3ft or 10ft, it would just reel like something out of a movie. I was in heaven, we were all in heaven. Then, for no reason other than the cycle of weather, we lost so much. The wave itself, 70% of the green zone that fringed Witchs Rock Surf Camp before you stood barefoot on the sand, and even the lifeguard tower… this hit us all quite hard as we had invested time, resources, sweat, and training to make that project happen.

We recruited as many staff members as we could to volunteer to save the tower. We made rock cages, dug out a trench in the pouring rain, only to be defeated and stand there powerless as the tower simply washed away with the tide.

Tamarindo estuary over the years witchs rock surf camp ever changing river
Comparison of the estuary shape over the years.

But looking back at all the great sessions that we all scored out on the sand and sediment-loaded bars, the year we lost the most, I feel I gained the most. The realization that nothing is forever, life changes, and you can ask us all, has the river been the same since that time? The answer is NO. Will it ever come back? We hope so!

You can’t beat Mother Nature and you can’t fight the wind and the waves, but as sure as stoke we can surf them, so that’s what we do, we look for the best in life. The Lifeguard tower is back and better than ever. Now, learning from our past, the Lifeguard tower is on skis, allowing us to move it as needed. In surfing, as in life, appreciate what you have, as it will change. Take it while it’s here, as it won’t be here forever and accept changes as they are coming.


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