A Long-Awaited Return

Costa Rica’s beaches were finally open again after being off limits for 10 weeks. No one had surfed the iconic Witch’s Rock, or any other waves, since the government closed all beaches and national parks in March as a COVID-19 quarantine measure. 

For those of us accustomed to surfing Witch’s Rock multiple times per week, news that beaches could reopen on a restricted basis was more than welcome. To say we were excited is an understatement.

At 6:00 a.m. we departed by panga boat from Playas del Coco and began the 45-minute journey into the remote Santa Rosa National Park in search of waves. When we arrived, we were greeted by beautiful head-high, peaky conditions. It was two hours after low tide, with a push-up of about two feet per hour. High tide would be 7.8 feet.

For most of the evening, the winds had been light over the nearby ocean surfaces, so conditions were clean. Despite the wind turning onshore at about 9:00 a.m. we couldn’t complain. After all, it was only us and a handful of local surfers out there.

What did make this surf session a little challenging for all of us was the short period of swell —  nine to 10 seconds at five feet. That means the waves break relentlessly. It gives the surfer around seven to eight second to duckdive, get a breath, do some quick paddles and then duckdive again. This process is repeated until the takeoff spot is reached to catch another wave. It’s called paddling back out. This can quickly become exhausting even for experienced surfers, let alone those who have not surfed for months.

How much paddle strength we had lost during all those weeks of lockdown.

Lost strength in lockdown

Furthermore, as the tide rises the length of each ride increases. This is great for the mileage you get from riding each wave, but does make for a longer paddle back to the lineup.

There were multiple times when it took each of us more than 10 minutes to paddle back out after catching a wave. We were quickly confronted with how much paddle strength we had lost during all those weeks of lockdown. You can imagine how short of breath and jelly-armed we all felt by the end of our 150-minute session.

The bumpy boat ride home, due to onshore winds, found all of us seasick to some extent after not being on a boat for months. After making the Witch’s Rock trek myself more than 400 times in 3.5 years, this was the first time my breakfast came up.

Regardless of our tired arms and nauseated bellies, it was a bittersweet moment when we stepped off the boat at Playas del Coco at 11:00 a.m. We’d had our fill of waves and remembered once again that Witch’s Rock is an untouched place, where the majority of waves go unridden.

Until next time, Witch’s Rock!

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Photo Credit : Photos courtesy of Surf Papagayo

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