San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Women stand-up paddlers make Costa Rican history

“You only live once.”

At 5:30 a.m. Saturday, these words started gliding across the Gulf of Nicoya, in the province of Puntarenas, on top of a few glossy stand-up paddle (SUP) boards driven against the wind and currents by a group of determined athletes.

You Only Live Once (YOLO) is a brand of SUP boards, but it also may have been the motivating factor that led 10 people – including two women – to SUP a 22-kilometer stretch between the shores of the port city of Puntarenas and the town of Paquera, on the Nicoya Peninsula. It was the first time any woman had attempted the feat.

Despite the fact that Andrea Campillo, 32, took up this sport two weeks before this event and admitted to feeling anxious when she looked to the other side of the immense expanse of water before departing, she plowed through four hours of smooth paddling without any setbacks.

“I’m happy because I finished calmly, I enjoyed the ride. It was hard at first but by the end we were flowing with the current and things became easier. I’m in love with SUP,” she said.

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YOLO, mae. By Gabriela Díaz

Campillo, who is an engineer and a dedicated yoga practitioner, said she felt humble about being the first woman to SUP across the gulf.

“I honestly thought that I wouldn’t make it when I realized how choppy the water was,” she said.

Frances Winburne, 43, became the second woman to complete the journey. Winburne, a U.S. expat who has lived in Costa Rica for 23 years and surfed most of her life, said that after training for only two weeks she did not feel ready to complete the crossing.

“But I will jump in anyway,” she said before take-off.

Winburne said SUP lies somewhere in between surfing and kayaking and that surfing on SUP boards exhilarates her.

This SUP crossing, organized by Vista Guapa Surf Camp, based in the Central Pacific beach town of Jacó, was the third event of its kind in the Gulf of Nicoya. Vista Guapa co-owner and instructor Álvaro Solano, a SUP pioneer in Costa Rica, organizes these non-competitive crossings and did the first one solo in only two hours.

Although Solano, who has been national surf champion eight times, recommends training before attempting a crossing, a few of Saturday’s “SUPers” were novices driven by willpower and strength rather than extensive experience. Gabriel Kerzemberg, 35, for instance, said he contacted Solano the day before the event and decided to participate on the spot.

Solano said he plans to organize these events every two months. He can take a maximum of 10 SUPers at a time and plans on eventually expanding this tour to Golfo Dulce, in the country’s Southern Zone. He also wants to organize a gulf cleanup tour and guide approximately 50 SUPers across the Gulf of Nicoya to pick up the mounds of plastic and garbage that float across its waters.

Although SUP can be physically demanding, it’s considered a relaxing and more approachable sport than surfing. Although it builds strength and balance, beginners need not have either.  

“You have to relax,” said Wendy Solano, Solano’s wife and Vista Guapa photographer. “This sport is not about being tense, it’s about enjoying the view. More than strength or physical condition, what you’ll need is the desire to enjoy it.”

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Group shot of the Gulf of Nicoya SUPers. By Gabriela Díaz

If you’re old enough to stand, you’re old enough to SUP. On Saturday, participants’ ages ranged from 15 to the early 40s.

This sport, which originated in Hawaii, arrived in Costa Rica approximately five years ago, and Solano said it will most likely continue expanding throughout the country. SUP is practiced at sea, in lakes and in rivers.

Vista Guapa SUP tours range in price from $45 to $60 for shorter tours and crossing the gulf costs $120. Tours for beginners to advanced SUPers are provided in the Jacó area and at the neighboring Herradura and Agujas Beaches.

For more information on Vista Guapa Surf Camp, SUP tours and gulf crossings, visit the website or contact Solano at 8888-2227.

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