The seven-kilometer-long beach of Esterillos, about 20 minutes south of Jacó, has become over the years one of Costa Rica’s most fun places to catch waves. In fact, it consists of three separate locations: Esterillos Este, Esterillos Centro, and Esterillos Oeste (east, central and west). The beaches are broken up by the Bejuco River, and each section has its own defining geography of beach and rock bottoms.

The most popular of the three areas to surf is Esterillos Oeste. It’s a beach break with an underwater rock shelf several hundred meters off the sand. And, this is the home of one of Costa Rica’s most notable international surfing exports, 25-year-old Carlos Muñoz, who grew up with younger brother Alberto, honing their skills on all three sections.

The statue looks like it is
rising out of the water.

“The waves are very fun in Esterillos Centro,” Muñoz says. “There are rights, lefts and they have a lot of wall. Este is a little bit more open ocean, so it has great waves too.”

One of the unique features of Esterillos Oeste is the mermaid sculpture that rests on the north end rocks facing out from the shore towards the horizon. The mermaid is a great take-off spot for surfers, but has notoriety for much more than just that. When the tide rises, the ocean covers her pedestal and the statue looks like it is rising out of the water. The work, a bronze cast, was created by sculptor Albino Valverde, who is from the Puriscal barrio of San José.

The surf skills Carlos Muñoz started honing at a young age in Esterillos, where he is pictured above and here, have served him well in competitions around the world.

Mermaid’s mystique

Ask the locals to tell you about the mermaid statue, and you get a lot of head scratching. But Muñoz is happy to recount what he has heard.

“I don’t know exactly how long she has been there, but I heard this story about her. Back in the day, the owner of the hotel La Sirena said he saw a mermaid. So, that’s why he had the mermaid statue built.”

Anthony Seguro, another Esterillos surfer, admits to knowing little more about the legendary sculpture. He offers a variation of the story that originates with the same hotel owner.

“Around 1970, this man arrived at Playa Esterillos, and along the coves he saw the silhouette of a woman. He ran to where she appeared and then was lost in the waves.”

Being a well-known beach landmark does not necessarily make the mermaid’s resting place an ideal surf spot, Muñoz explains.

“You can surf, but the wave is not that good. It’s super fat, and only when there’s big, big swell does it make a few good waves. For me, the mermaid is an indicator. Every time I was surfing I’d always go a little farther out from the side of the mermaid.”

There’s no question, Muñoz agrees, that  the sculpture is a beautiful attraction for Esterillos.

“The people like to go into the few natural pools there when the tide goes low, and they like to fish. And all the people like to go there and take photos with the mermaid.”