Do you ever find yourself typing on Google “Best time of year to surf Costa Rica?” Or how about “Costa Rica Surf Seasons?” Well we have great news for you, our Real Estate Agent, Ryan Waldron also has a degree in meteorology and is quite an experienced surfer with over 20 years on the board and 10 years of living in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
We decided to share with you an excerpt of his booklet “Costa Rica – Surf Science” so you can plan your surf trip to the Gold Coast and potentially invest in this wave-rich zone where you can surf 365 days of the year.
Costa Rica’s Surf Seasons and Swell Producers
Waves are nothing more than traveling vessels of energy. Born from strong winds blowing in all corners of the planet, ocean waves traverse thousands of miles through open water just to come crashing down for our enjoyment. Aside from the visual aesthetics of watching perfectly peeling waves, an experienced surfer can also obtain detailed information about a wave’s origin just by observing a few specific qualities in the surf-zone. For example, the time in-between consecutive waves [swell period] has a direct correlation to the wave’s overall travel distance. (Longer period = longer travel time = more energy)
In terms of surf destinations, Costa Rica certainly ranks among the leaders worldwide. With its year-round consistency, variety of surf spots, tropical climate, and overall wave quality, you’re almost guarantied to score the best waves of your life…. In this article, we’ll discuss the different swell producers of Costa Rica, when each of these swell events occur, and some insider tips to aid your search to catching your next perfect wave. Let’s dive in…
ALL YEAR – South Pacific Swells
South Pacific long-period swells provide Costa Rica with consistent surf throughout most of the year making it a year-round surf destination. Because there are no significant land masses blocking the howling winds of the South Pacific, major storms can swirl at these low latitudes for several days giving us extended swell events (3-5 days) with long-period wave energy (14-22 seconds). Although you can catch these SPAC swells throughout the entire year, your best chance for catching “The Big One” is between May-September. During these months, surfers can expect a diurnal wind pattern each day with offshore winds in the morning, light onshore breeze during the day, and an evening glass-off for sunset. The slowest months for South swells are in January and February when it’s Summertime in the southern hemisphere. Although this time of year is “slower” that almost never means flat… South Pacific swells can come from a range of directions and angles (170° – 240°).
Insider tip: To light up Tamarindo, the swell needs to have a westerly angle greater than 210°. Beaches with direct South exposure receive more of this swell energy. Tamarindo has a direct Westerly angle and an Island offshore which can shadow parts of the beach.
November to April – North Pacific Swells
As the seasons change and South Pacific swell energy slows down a bit in November, the North Pacific bounces back to life and produces some of the largest Pacific Ocean wave-heights of the year.
Whenever there is an extra-large swell that rolls through Hawaii, Costa Rica can expect long period swell (15-24 seconds) to arrive 4-5 days later. These swells are a bit more fickle, but when they do come, they are usually met with our summertime offshore winds and pristine conditions. The unique Northwesterly swell angle (280°- 300°), long period energy, and offshore wind combination can provide some of the best surf sessions all year.
Insider Tip: When these swells happen, there is no need to leave Tamarindo (pictured above)
July to November – Tropical Storm Swells
Costa Rica is not known for Hurricanes. But during the peak months of the Pacific Hurricane season, tropical cyclones off the coast of mainland Mexico will send a quick shot of medium period (10-14 second) North westerly swell in our direction.
This only happens a few times a year, but when a nice pulse of Northwesterly hurricane swell impacts the region, most beaches can expect fun, peaky waves along the coast. Furthermore, hidden nooks and crannies that you would never think to check will light up unexpectedly with the unique swell angle. (290° – 310°). The wind this time of year can be a bit more unpredictable, but there’s usually a favorable window in the morning, and sometimes during the day with a passing shower. When all the elements align, these can be some of the best swell events of the year.
Insider Tip: Head to a beach break with a wide swell window that can pick up Northerly and Southerly swells for peaky, powerful, waves. (Like Avellanas)
November to April – Tehuano Wind Swells
The narrowest part of Mexico that connects the Pacific to the Caribbean is known as the Tehuano wind gap. Separated by mountains on either side, this valley has been known to produce hurricane force winds and some pretty sizable ocean conditions right offshore. Whenever a strong cold front passes to the north, strong winds funnel through the valley and meet the ocean on the other side.
Lucky for us, Northern Costa Rica is perfectly exposed to this abnormally steep angled swell (300°+). When this happens, our beaches will pick up a quick Northerly pulse that can add an extra foot or so to an underlying swell. Since the Nicoya Peninsula protrudes from the coastline, many locations to our south will not feel any energy at all while spots with northerly exposure will pick up a punchy dose of medium period swell (10 -13 seconds). Sometimes, when the waves get a bit smaller, a swell like this can be the saving grace for surfers looking for crossed-up peaks
Insider Tip: Look for these swells yourself. Most forecasting sites will not register incoming swell but trust me….they do happen and are super fun!