Sunday, March 30, 2008

Kooks of Costa Rica

With apologies to Mark Skelton (creator of "Kooks of Hazard" Outer Banks windsurfing videos)

It’s our last day in Samara and I’m surfing late at high tide. I’ve been trying to drop in on a chest to head high wave since the middle of the week and so far I’ve been getting denied….full wipe outs to this point. I’ve been doing pretty good on the smaller waves all week. I see the bigger set rolling in and I spin around to paddle into it. I push off the board, snap up on my feet, and drop in…..

……yes, finally I make the big drop in and I surf frontside facing the wave and get the most out of it all the way in. What a feeling. I look over my shoulder and there’s my favorite sight, the sunset.

I’m such a kook. I've told you before how I'm going to be a pelican in my next life, but today I'm a kook.

Kook = n. Slang, A person regarded as strange, eccentric, or crazy. [Possibly from cuckoo.]
Synonyms and related words - odd fellow, odd fish, odd man out, queer bird, queer duck, unusual person.

Very good and experienced surfers regard beginner surfers as “kooks”. If you’re in the lineup with a bunch of local surfers and hog all the waves, they will most likely call you a kook and maybe some other not so nice things too.

We’re on the plane headed down to Costa Rica and our family is sitting next to another young family of four….father, mother, son, and daughter. The father has obviously been to Costa Rica before as he’s telling me about the fishing and golf. He mentions he’s going to play in a “surf and turf” golf tournament. Huh? He looks very familiar to me….I’m racking my brain wondering where I’ve seen this guy before. We talk about surfing a little bit. He happens to mention that his dad surfs a lot. As we’re approaching the Liberia airport, he points out a couple of landmarks out the window, including “Witches Rock”. I immediately recognize this as the spot made famous in the classic surf movies “Endless Summer”, “Endless Summer 2” and “Step Into Liquid”. I mention that to him and he just gives me this funny grin. Weird. The plane lands and we all get our stuff together and go our separate ways. Then it hits me. That was Sam August, who appeared in “Step Into Liquid” with his surf legend dad, Robert August. Robert August was made world famous by being the principal surfer in the first “Endless Summer” movie (made in 1964). Sam never mentioned this while we were talking about surfing or when he pointed out “Witches Rock” to me. Probably a good thing for him since I would have talked his head off if I had realized it earlier. I googled him later and found that Sam was once a minor league baseball pitcher for the Houston Astros and now runs sales and marketing for the August family surfing business. He and his family were on their way to the annual Robert August Surf & Turf charity golf tournament in Tamarindo, which raises money for poor and needy children of Costa Rica. I’m such a kook.

Here we are in Samara, Costa Rica…all five of us. The family vacation. Kris and I, and our three kids, ages 9, 5 ½, and 4. I’ve been windsurfing for almost 25 years. The big windsurfing spot in Costa Rica is at Lake Arenal. I have friends who have been there and loved it. But that is a four hour drive from Samara. I wasn’t about to take the whole family on that drive bouncing around for that long on those crazy roads. The winds at Samara are offshore and there are no windsurfing rentals anywhere nearby. I surfed a couple of times as a kid when vacationing with the family at North Myrtle Beach, SC. If you can even call that surfing. It was mostly plopping up and falling down in mushy surf. Now I’m much older and I get out there with my instructor, Luis, and I pop right up on my first wave. So does McIntyre (our nine year old daughter), who has Fran (pronounced “Fron”) as her instructor. I’m such a kook.

I surfed everyday for at least an hour, trying to practice and work on twisting my hips to get the board to surf the wave to the side, and not straight out in front of the wave. I got pretty decent at it in mostly knee to waist high surf. When the waves approached chest high, I wiped out a lot as I couldn’t keep the board from taking a nose dive into the water and flipping me into the wash cycle. Wash cycle = like a rag doll, being flipped around under water, not knowing which way is up. There were a lot of fish in the water as I was surfing and I know my mind was playing tricks on me wondering what those big ones were. Probably just regular fish I told myself. I still have all my limbs intact.

But then…on our last day, I made that drop on that one big wave. The wave to remember…just like the great golf shot or big fish you caught that you never forget. I’ll take that memory with me forever. I’m still such a kook.

The timing is perfect. I’m still not bored with windsurfing back and forth trying to go as fast as I possibly can. But I’ve been longing to surf for a long time and really learn how to do it. I’ve been kayaking for a long time when there’s no wind, particularly on the local lake or in the ocean when the opportunity arose. I’ve also been stand up paddle boarding on the lake several times for almost a year now. Now I can combine them all into stand up paddle (SUP) surfing, the newest and fastest growing water sport. It’s so new that it really hasn’t made its way into Costa Rica, except for a few folks scattered across the country. But it hasn’t hit Samara yet and this place would be a perfect spot for it since there are some reefs very far out that would require a very long swim on a regular surfboard. With SUP, you could stand up paddle your board out there and catch the waves a lot easier. I’m psyched to bring home the surfing I’ve learned and apply it to SUP’ing at the local beaches. East coast waves are usually small and/or mushy and SUP is perfect for those conditions. Plus, the one thing about surfing is there can be a lot of sitting on your board and waiting for that right set of waves. With SUP, you can not only see the waves from a much better perspective standing up, but you can paddle into waves that many surfers cannot. SUP is also a great core body workout, which I need for my bad lower back. Last but not least, now I won’t get skunked when I go windsurfing and there’s no wind. Now I can just break out the SUP board and paddle and go surfing. Either way, I’m in the water. I’ll let you know how that goes. The next Outer Banks trip is coming up in April and if we don’t get wind, I’ll be SUP’ing. I’m now lathering in my kooked-ness.

So how did we end up in Samara? First of all, Samara is located in the Northern Pacific region of Costa Rica, below Tamarindo and Nosara, both big surfing spots. A colleague of mine, Paul, built a house in Samara last year as a getaway for his family and for rental property investment purposes. He sent out a notice to everyone in our local operation that whichever coworker signed up first would get the weekly rental for ½ off. We knew the kids’ spring break was coming up in March, which is the high season for Costa Rica, so we grabbed it without too much homework, except for perusing Paul’s very informative web site. We had always wanted to go to Costa Rica, so here was our chance for a very good deal. The house is very nice, probably one of the nicer ones in Samara. It’s a short walk (3 minutes) from the beach and 2 miles from the main street in Samara. The swimming pool was a saving grace for the kids. I told them everyday we didn’t go on a Costa Rica vacation to swim in a pool but I kept getting that look like “c’mon on dad…”. They are going to be real sour pusses if they don’t like sand because I’m dragging them to the dang beach. Another great bonus with the house was that there was a very nice couple, Alonso and Adriana, who acted as housekeeper and caretaker. They lived in a separate adjacent garage building on the property. They were great with local knowledge and helpful hints, cleaned the house each day and took care of the landscaping on a daily basis.

Ahhh….the adventure. That’s what it was…an adventure. Costa Rica is very different from the Caribbean islands we’ve been to. For one, the locals speak Spanish. Many folks luckily spoke English as well, but it can be trying sometimes trying to communicate. We learned a few words before our trip but you definitely need a sense of humor when speaking to the locals. I said “Ola” a lot. And “Gracias” too. Knowing “Banos” was very helpful when looking for the bathroom. I ate a lot of “Dorado” = Mahi Mahi. At the grocery store, I mistakenly bought buttermilk thinking it was skim milk. ”Silly daddy” was the kids’ response. We skipped the cereal that morning.

Costa Rica is still cheap. While I got to do my thing, which was surfing every day, Kris was able to do her thing - take yoga classes on the beach and get massages for…get this - $20. A 1 hour massage at a top resort elsewhere would have cost $120. Our family of five was eating for the equivalent of $30 most nights and that included the drinks.

The roads are a lot like the Caribbean island we’ve been to – not very good. We started on a day trip up the coast to Nosara, but after a few miles of bone-jarring non-paved four wheeling, we turned around. I think it was the river we had to cross that really had us thinking twice about making that trip. We didn’t cross it and this is where we chickened out and turned around, although I’m sure it would have been fine…really. Actually, the 2 lane highway between Liberia and Samara wasn’t that bad….you could tell they had patched up a lot of potholes.

What else is different from the other Caribbean islands we’ve been to? How about the monkeys, giant lizards, parrots, and many other critters that were everywhere. It was like being at a zoo every day. Monkeys were climbing the trees in our backyard that hung right over our swimming pool. They would make their way out a couple of hours before sunset to grab the berries off the tree limbs. On the walk to the beach during the day, you could see them sleeping up high in the trees with their arms and legs hanging off the tree limbs in full slumber. The lizards and iguanas were enormous and could move very fast when you approached them. We had geckos inside the house making funny noises. Oh yeah – and it wasn’t a big deal when you had horses and cattle walking down the road and you had to stop the car to let them go by. This was on Main Street in Samara. Just a normal day in the life of a Samaran. It was fun.

There were some trying times. Apart from the boys whining a lot about this and that, we had a couple of mishaps. Like that fact that it was “flaming hot” as my daughter put it. Our youngest son didn’t like the harmless little ants in the house and pitched a royal fit about that the first day…he eventually got used to them. This was also his first time flying and he was determined not to get on that first flight out of Charlotte. After much cajoling and his grip of death of our hands, he got used to that too. Now he loves to fly. And the power went out one day but only for a few hours. The heat really got to my family and drained them particularly in the afternoons. There were many siestas and much agua was consumed during the week.

Let’s just say you’re not getting catered to around here. This wasn’t the Four Seasons. But we came for the adventure and that’s what we got. Arriving after a long first day of travel that included delays associated with our plane’s tire getting changed and a 2 hour drive to Samara from the Liberia airport, we were dead tired and walked into a house that was roasting hot (thank goodness they had A/C). There was almost buyers’ remorse but after we got some sleep that night, we settled into Samara nicely for the rest of the week. When you’re sitting there in the shade, facing the beach, and having a cold drink, all those little mishaps immediately go away.

You know when you walk into a restaurant and cats are running everywhere, you’re in another country. And when your table is next to a wall lined with 6 cat food bowls on the floor, you’re REALLY in another country. The US Food & Drug Admin would not have approved. We rolled with the punches and came out no worse for the wear. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Kris didn’t like this part of the vacation. But this was also a video bar. Have you ever been to a video bar? We haven’t but it was a riot and a fun experience. We ate Mexican food while old classic music videos played on the wall from a ceiling projector. Kris and I had a blast explaining to our kids who these musical artists were - The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Kansas, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Mamas & Papas, Carpenters, Percy Sledge, and more. These were videos of these artists back in their prime….very young ages. Mick Jagger looked like a little boy. The kids were entranced. We forgot about the cats….but I still didn’t order the chicken, beef, or pork.

Speaking of restaurants – Dishes of rice and meat (mostly fish and shrimp for me) were the staples. And frutas (fruit drinks mixed with water or milk) were the order of the day each time. If you haven’t ever tried a guanabana fruta, well….you should. I could live on this food. El Legarto (BBQ grill with steaks and lobsters), Cocos (in town, great variety of local dishes), Shake Joes (sofas on the beach’s edge in the shade), El Anklar (on the beach), Lizzies (nice place in town a block from the beach with good variety), El Sherifs (on the beach), Al Manglar (Italian, great pizzas), Pizza and Pasta a Go Go (Italian, great fish pasta), and of course….the kitty video bar - Sol Azteca (Mexican, video bar)….makes me want to say “meow”.

Samara doesn’t have big surf, except on rare occasions. But it’s a perfect place to learn how to surf. That was particularly appealing to me. When I realized I wouldn’t be windsurfing there, I immediately latched on to the idea of just surfing all week. Through Paul’s website, we found Jesse’s Gym and Samara Surf School. Jesse is an American who just recently returned to the U.S. and turned the business over to Jimmy Flores. Jimmy is a local Costa Rican and Samaran who used to be a Billabong sponsored pro surfer. I watched Jimmy surf with his crew at high tide and close to sunset one evening. Those guys were amazing….on shortboards and slashing the waves with great ferocity. Jimmy’s girlfriend, Rebecca, is an American from Boulder, CO. They have a great spot right on the water. We hung out there every day while McIntyre either surfed or rode the boogie board, I surfed, Kris took her yoga classes there with Rebecca, and the boys played on the beach or in one of the locals’ boats sitting on the shore acting out as pirates. I highly recommend this place for surfing and yoga because Jimmy and Rebecca were extremely friendly and the vibe there was just very peaceful and had us at ease from the get go. As Jimmy and I were talking, he gave me the great tip about turning my hips to get the surfboard to go across the wave. That was a big turning point in my surfing experience that week. And back to the theme of cheap, Jimmy charged me $35 for a 1 hour lesson and 6 hours of surfboard rental. I know I surfed on that board for more than 6 hours that week after the initial lesson, and I offered to pay more, but they wouldn’t let me. Friends for life.

Here is a 3 minute surfing video from our Samara trip that includes my daughter, the only 2 clips my wife got of me surfing (very kook-like…watch me stumble around the board in small surf...but she got one good picture of me surfing here), and some locals footage I took.

We had full use of a kayak (there were two at the house but only my daughter and I ventured out) with the house. We paddled out to the deserted island (except for the lizards and iguanas), Isla Chora, which is off Samara Beach. We explored by walking on the rocks to the other side of the island, finding caves on the way. There were huge waves on the back side of the island, which broke onto big rocks, making explosive splashes.

Speaking of adventure, The Wingnuts Canopy Tour was definitely it. This was a tree zipline tour in the hills above Samara. It started with a walk up an open plank bridge into the first tree. Then you’re standing on a platform around the tree trunk, looking down about 65 feet. Not for the faint of heart at first. But it was very safe and we were double harnessed into a safety line at all times on the tour. After the first zipline ride down an airplane cable to the next tree, I could see this was going to be awesome. The kids were scared at first, but again, after that first ride, they wanted more. There were 10 zipline rides in all from tree to tree, with a small break halfway through for a snack while facing out to beautiful views of Samara and the Pacific Ocean. We met Anna, from Bordeaux, France. She was on the tour while her boyfriend was fishing. Freddie and Vana were our two guides and they did great with the kids. Both are locals, although Vana’s parents were from British Columbia. Vana was born on the beach in Samara over twenty years ago. His parents drove all the way down from British Columbia 26 years ago to live in Samara. Imagine that….this was before any of the roads were paved. A normal 30 minute drive from Nicoya to Samara would have taken them over 2 hours. Imagine how it must have been for to them to drive down all those dirt roads through Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc.

Although I don’t really fish, there is great fishing to be had in Costa Rica….both close to shore and offshore. Many people come here just for the deep sea fishing just to go after that prized giant marlin and the feisty sailfish. There is a Spanish/English language school, a massage school, and a documentary film school in Samara….so there were lots of Americans there for these particular studies.

How do you describe Samara? Very friendly people, very laid back, you could walk right in off the beach and grab a bite at any restaurant, dusty and sandy beach roads in town, locals on horseback, kids riding double on bicycles, big beautiful beaches, not touristy at all, no high rises or cruise ships, great and inexpensive restaurants, palm trees everywhere and especially the palm trees at Carillo Beach, awesome sunsets, and lots of young nomads and backpackers. Oh yeah….and the great coffee we brought home with us. It was perfect on Sunday morning after getting home. This was just about as close to paradise as you could get. As the Costa Ricans say, “Pura Vida” = Real (Pure) Life.

All of the videos and most of the pictures were taken with the Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 Waterproof video camera.

Here is a 8 1/2 minute video of some the family fun activities in Samara, Costa Rica (be sure to check out the Wingnuts Canopy Tour towards the end):

Here is a 7 1/2 minute video of the beautiful scenery of Samara, Costa Rica:

Here is a slide show of our trip -

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In Costa Rica

Ola! Having a great week...quite the adventure here for sure. Very hot as well. Kids are taking a siesta while I'm here in an Internet cafe finding out what's happening in the world since there's no phone, no TV, no cell phone coverage where we are. Staying in Samara (Northern Pacific region of Costa Rica). No windsurfing to speak of around here....winds are offshore and no rental equipment. We're a 4 hour drive from Lake Arenal and there's no way the family can withstand that drive back and forth on those bumpy roads. So I'm learning to surf this week, as is my 9 year daughter. Here is a picture of yours truly doing ok out there....nothing fancy. I'm such a kook! Here's also a bonus picture of one of our neighbors (tree in our backyard). Full report after we return. Adios....

Friday, March 14, 2008

New World Speed Sailing Record

Congratulations to Frenchman pro windsurfer Antoine Albeau, who has broken the world speed sailing record by windsurfing 49.09 knots at a man-made channel in Saintes–maries–de–la–mer, France. To get a sense of how fast we're talking about, drive 55mph on the highway, and Antoine would be passing you on his board! Here is an interview with Albeau and a report from Starboard, his board sponsor. And here are some videos....

The Day Antoine Albeau broke the record:

Video of Finian Maynard (hailing from the British Virgin Islands), the previous world record holder:

Spectacular speed crashes (WARNING: It will make your body ache just watching this):

Saturday, March 8, 2008


Sunday, March 9th addendum: Check out 2 more links below from Alan and Rob for more pics and video of the action on Saturday.
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I was on day 3 of being fairly sick, plus I had my two sons in tow while mom and daughter had a planned girls afternoon for my daughters birthday. So you knew the wind would blow when I couldn't get on the water. I felt a little better than day 2 however even though I was still hacking and coughing. So I went to go run a few errands with the boys and then make a quick detour to Ramsey Creek Park at the lake to check out the local windsurfing action. I got there too late however, only to catch everyone coming off the water. I got a couple of shots of Donald, the last one out.

Dave, Chuck, and James were there too. Those guys had already been out there for close to 3 hours. Rob got there just before me but didn't have a sail small enough to go out. But he put together a sweet video here. When I got there, the temperature was dropping steadily and the wind was still clocking above 30mph.

I shook Donalds hand and it gave me the chills. There were 3.7, 4.2, and 4.5 sails still dripping when I walked around.

(Chuck closing up his easily recognizable big green van)

As it turns out, Alan, Dimitri, and Dave went to Lake Monticello, SC and scored big too. Check it out here at Alan's website. Another windy day at the lake(s). Windsurfing has been good to us this winter for sure.

(Dave practicing his backwinded skills while Donald derigs)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The 1st of March

First day of March and it was a beautiful day at the lake. Forecast called for WNW 10-20mph. That was enough to get Rob and I on the water, especially with air temps in the 60s. Rob got out earlier than I did on an 8.0 sail and got in some good runs for about 30 minutes and then came in. I arrived and at that point, we both decided the bigger 9.6 sails were the call even though we would probably get overpowered on some bigger gusts. We sailed for about 2 hours in 5-20mph wind. We were planing half the time and a few gusts did just about blow us off the water on those big sails. But the 9.6 was the right call overall, particularly since we used our adjustable outhauls....a must for those gusty lightwind days with big sails on the lake. This was the most gusty it's been for me at the lake in quite a while. But it was a beautiful blue sky day and lots of sailboats were out. Since last November, I've windsurfed 12 days, 7 of those in 2008. Hopefully, this is a pace that will resume and pick up even more steam the rest of the year.

Here is a very short video clip from my Sanyo Xacti waterproof video camera. It's a couple of clips of Rob getting some of the gusts. It's a little shaky and the quality is low. I think I need to change some settings before using it again.