Graceful gliders of the watery world:
Alas my long awaited report on our first retreat at Rancho Diandrew, my brother, Andrew's, and my awesome spot in SW Costa Rica (note: many of the pics are slide shows — simply click on edges of photos to reveal more photos). On our part, there were a lot of nerves going into it. It was the first time Andrew and I had worked together since our recycling business when were 10 and 12 years old (we used to collect all the beer cans from the Moss Boys' Monday night football parties at our neighbor, Tom's, house and wheel them down to the recycling center in our radio flyer). Fortunately it all worked out smoothly. It was a slamdunk really. Before I get into the retreat details, however, here's a little backstory on the property:
Our dad, Richard, bought the property in 1989, and took us down there for the first time in 1991, for my 11th birthday (Andrew was 9). It was our first family surf trip. I distinctly remember that we had one board bag and one board each. At that time dad had purchased the property but there was no structure built on it yet. We stayed at his friend, Juan's, little restaurant/hotel called Roca Verde in Dominical (it's still there, but under new ownership). That's where I overheard a surfer from Florida say that Mark Occhilupo (Occy) is the best goofyfoot ever, and I, never having seen Occy surf, and being 11, believed it was true just because an older surfer said so (it turns out it's pretty much true). Dad took us up to the property in between surf sessions and showed us the flat land where the house would one day sit. He also pointed to a lower lot where there was reported to be a waterfall and then took us to swim in a roadside watering hole just down from where he intended to build. As it turns out, that watering hole is still there, and it's our primary place to rinse off on our way back to the rancho after surfing.
Dad, Andrew, and I went back in 1992, and then I didn't return again until 1998, when I spent my last few months of highschool as an exchange student in the gritty town of Puntarenas (just north of Jaco). I surfed my brains out and it ended up costing me a good standing in the exchange program. When they kicked me out of the program I just surfed more, and headed back to the states shortly after my 18th birthday. Then came college and city life and all of that other stuff one gets into and I sort of lost touch with Costa Rica. My dad finally built a house there in 2007. And in 2008, shortly after graduating from CSUMB with a degree in hotel and resort management, Andrew moved down there to start an eco lodge on the property. This roughly coincides with my move to NY to begin graduate studies at the New School for Social Research. Andrew had a hard go of launching the business in the middle of a recession, but he managed (with the help of our step brother, Derek) to put up two platforms for the awesome cabinas that we still have in use. He also spent 1000s of hours scouring the local jungles and rivers for hikes and waterfalls. He's forged many trails and put safety ropes on slippery slopes to aid one's ascent to the better jumps and falls. With his unflappable, affable social demeanor he has also amassed the most amazing support group of local people, both Tico and Gringo alike.
In the first few years of Andrew's launching of the eco tour lodge, I was eyeball deep in coursework and could not even fathom how I might be of use down there. It was not until I had a few years of running Conatus Surf Club here in New York, getting the website launched, and chatting with students, that I realized that Andrew and I could have a really good thing by partnering up our two business ventures. We have spent many long Skype chats talking about my style of teaching surfing, and how it really jives with how our dad taught us. Being of the same DNA, I did not have to explain much to Andrew. He gets it. And this is how the idea for the retreats was born. The concept is simple: high quality, holistic surf instruction partnered with exceptional hospitality, food, and tour guiding skills, in a jungle setting with waterfalls, caves, swimming holes, and wildlife, equals one of the best surf trips money and time can afford.
Our first guests for this idea were Paul, Mariza, and Christina. Paul and Mariza have been learning to surf with me all fall. Christina was gifted the trip by her boyfriend, Doug, owner of Tygershark NYC, a former student of mine, and a serious supporter of CSC. Christina had never surfed before, so we had a pretty good range of ability levels from complete beginner to advanced beginner. Everyone arrived on the appointed first day of camp. Picking them up from Quepos was a breeze. We went back to the rancho. The girls set up in the cabins and Paul stayed in the downstairs bedroom in the casa (for the larger groups we have two extra dwellings as well). That night we went over the tides for the week — Costa Rica really favors a high tide, so we set up our schedule around the rotating high tides. We also looked at the swell forecast and saw that we were going to be graced with small to medium sized surf (read: perfect) for most of the retreat, with one day being significantly larger than the others and clean conditions forecasted all week.
The first day was the smallest of the whole trip. We went to the closest beach to the rancho, Playa Hermosa, and it was a good as you want it to be: 1-3 foot, sheet glass, perfect little A-frames everywhere, and no one out! Andrew guided Mariza and Paul into the lineup and I spent time working on the basics with Christina. We had our support staff, JC, from Puerto Rico, on video. Everyone caught fun waves, we had a picnic lunch, surfed again in the afternoon, and it ended up being an awesome first day.
The rest of the days were similar, but each with its own flare. We started every morning with fresh fruit and coffee, two of Costa Rica's national treasures and greatest exports. We ended every night with video review of the day's surfing. We surfed a number of beach breaks and did body surfing and body boarding at lowtide to learn wave judgment and timing. We walked the caves of Playa Ventanas. We saw loads of butterflies, toucans, monkeys, and other Costa Rican wildlife.
On the fifth day of the trip we were greeted with that spike in swell, and we had the pleasure of surfing a perfect, soft, peeling lefthand reef to ourselves. At first, thinking it was maybe too gnarly for the crew, Andrew and I were just going to put on an exhibition session, but then we realized that it was the perfect opportunity for Paul and Mariza (who have been surfing all fall) to push their limits. I paddled in, amped them up, and helped them carry their boards down the rocky water's edge to the channel. Andrew also paddled in to assist and make sure that everyone made it out to the lineup safely. Both Paul and Mariza got their best waves to date. The water was clear. There were turtles and fish. It was an absolute blessing of a session. And even though Christina did not paddle out at (it was a bit too heavy for someone who has only surfed for 4 days), she proved herself to be the mvp of the day by taking incredible photos and video of the session then surfing her brains out at Hermosa all afternoon, logging more than a few long whitewater glides.
The second to last day of the trip Andrew led everyone on his famous waterfall tour. This was a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of dawn patrols and marathon surf sessions. We just swam down a lovely little rainforest canopied creek to a big, gushing fall with plenty of nice rocks to lounge on in between jumps. Andrew brings a dry bag and floats for all of your valuables and camera gear, and there are ropes tethered everywhere for safety and comfortability. Truly an amazing spot and something that makes this trip exceptional, unique, and unforgettable.
By the end of the week everyone was ready to stay forever. And even though all of us but Andrew had to head back to NY to the hustle and bustle that affords us these kinds of retreats, we were all stoked that we made the journey. Also my hypothesis that the warm weather and water and friendly surf would allow the students to log in enough water time to rapidly improve turned out to be true. And for this reason (and the others listed) these retreats are here to stay.
The next one is in March, and we're offering two options: March 10-20 for $3000 a person; and March 13-20 for $2600 a person. More info is available on the 'Retreats' page, and you can always simply fill out a form or email me directly for payment and booking. We also plan to get Andrew up and running to offer smaller retreats (3 person limit) throughout the year, and will have updates on all of this as they become available. This is an awesome opportunity both for one's surfing and one's overall enjoyment of life. Please feel free to share with anyone who you feel might be interested.