San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Surf Guide More ‘Punchy’ than ‘Mushy’

I have tried surfing once, and would like to try again, but I am not a surfer.
There are many reasons for this. Principal among these is an absence of quality waves in the English Home Counties where I grew up. However, there is something else: I think surfing has something of an image problem.
I realize that this is probably a minority view – certainly the bank balances of surflabel executives provide strong evidence against me – but hear me out.
When you think of surfing, what comes to mind? Exotic countries, white, sandy, palmfringed beaches, blue skies and bluer waters inhabited by healthy, tanned, athletic people living wonderful stress-free lives.What’s not to like? I hear you ask. You still don’t follow me, do you?
The problem is, I think, that surf culture is a victim of its own success. Those images  and their ubiquity now seem mocking because I know my wide-eyed, pasty-white face just does not fit the mold. Furthermore, as I sit writing at my cluttered desk, looking out at gray clouds spreading gloom across the polluted center of San José, I am jealous and resentful of the beautiful people who have the time and money to chase after paradise.
And it is more than just images. Surfing is its own alien, confusing, intimidating world  from which the uninitiated can feel very much excluded. It has its own language, music and worldview that I can’t seem to share. Try as I might, I just cannot bring myself to like Jack Johnson.
So when I was asked to review the new “H2O Surf Travel Guide: Costa Rica,” I was a little wary. My fears seemed confirmed when I opened a random page and read:
“Consequences: You gonna get hurt. You gonna bleed! You will scare yourself silly, and you will be a victim of your destiny.
That’s why you surf.” Oh dear.
Thankfully, first impressions are not always to be trusted. The guide is informative, easy to use and has none of the pretensions I expected. It provides substantive information, rather than just a series of glossy images, and tells you all the mundane things you need to know: where to stay and eat, where to watch out for thieves, where to get stitched up when you take on a wave the guide warned you not to. It even tells you where to watch out for sharks.
The book, clearly, is designed for the serious surfer, so it is packed with specialized jargon. In fact, most of the book made very little sense to me. I managed to find some help at, an online glossary of surf lingo, but I am still at a loss to explain the exact benefits of a “perfectly hollowed drop,” or why precisely I might want my dings repaired, but no matter because this is not just pointless wordiness. Rather, it is clearly the product of author Jonathan Yonkers’ overwhelming passion for the sport – a passion that is engagingly disarming and cannot help but rub off on even his most unsuspecting and cynical reader.
It is not just the text, either; the book is nicely put together across the board. Who cares if the picture shows an overcast and leaden sky? Just check out that A-frame, mae. It’s the Tico surfers who really know the scene, so the photos invariably show them, rather than Gringos. The book is clearly organized by region, and easy-tofollow symbols tell you whether or not a wave is suitable for your level and what services you can expect to find at a particular beach. To steal the lingo, it is “punchy” rather than “mushy.”
It is true that I did not understand much of what I read, that I cannot tell you how accurate the information is, and I do not know whether the book represents value for money. I may not be one of the beautiful people, I may not know a beach break from a point break, and I may not even be able to stand up on a board.
I do, however, feel inspired. With this guide, I feel it is safe to go back into the water.
Where to Find It
“H2O Surf Travel Guide: Costa Rica” by Jonathan Yonkers retails for $25 and is available at 7th Street Books in San José (Ca. 7, Av. 1/Ctrl., 256-8251) and at most surf shops in the popular Pacific beach destinations of Jacó and Tamarindo. It can also be found at Café Britt stores.

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