On board in Costa Rica

Lulu, 6, learning to surf at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.
Julie Hatfield for The Boston Globe
Lulu, 6, learning to surf at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.

After flying down from Michigan to meet me in Liberia, Costa Rica, my 6-year-old granddaughter declared as she got off the plane, “Grandma, I am NOT going to surf!”

Obviously, she had been watching videos of experienced surfers wiping out under mountainous killer waves, and she didn’t want to die.

I allowed her to acclimate to the warm, sweet tropical air of this sun-blessed country as we drove to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp and then tucked her into our room for a good night’s sleep.


In the morning, we saw on the chalkboard of this well-organized facility that Lulu, her two sisters, and her dad, a surfer who misses the sport these days in landlocked southern central Michigan, were signed up for their first lesson at 11 a.m.

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The temperature was 88 degrees with a slight breeze and at the camp’s outdoor restaurant, Eat at Joe’s, over enormous bacon/egg/burrito/waffle/smoothie breakfasts, we could see out to the wide sandy beach and the waves beyond, strong but no taller than a man, and the scene was tempting for anyone who has ever thought of jumping on a surfboard and flying for a few brief, joyous moments, above the foam.

Witch’s Rock, owned by Joe and Holly Walsh, who drove a school bus from San Diego through Central America in 2001 looking for the perfect place to rent a shack and set up shop, is an exquisite place for surfers from beginner to advanced. The Walshes found their perfect place in Tamarindo, across the water from an island rock a boat ride away called Witch’s, and began a humble surfing business that quickly grew into a hotel, a surf shop, two beachfront restaurants, a craft beer business, and 80 employees working fulltime throughout the year. One of those employees is Robert August, the legendary surf-world star of the film “The Endless Summer.” August hand-shapes surfboards for guests at Witch’s Rock and teaches surf seminars as well.

We didn’t push the children into their first lesson, just met their two instructors on the beach, with surfboards matched to their weights and ages, details that had been sent to the camp as requested well before the trip.

Xiquiu Acosta Graterol (nickname “CQ”), a gorgeous Venezuelan woman, and Randall Ruiz (nickname “Fish”), a Costa Rican with the typical surfer body shaped like an inverted triangle, with massive muscular shoulders and a tiny waist and hips, had the children lie down on the boards on their stomachs. They helped them practice pushing feet up, elbows down in a plank shape and then moving one foot quickly to the front and standing up on the board, all before anyone stepped into the water to try it atop the waves.


When everyone could do this movement several times in a row on land, the instructors led them slowly out into the water with their boards, turned them around to face the beach, and after a few gentle falls, had all three children standing up, arms in perfect dance position, and flying over the breaking waves, screaming with pleasure. Their dad, surfing behind them, applauded with pride.

At first, they fell pretty quickly and often, but after awhile they lasted longer and longer standing atop their boards until, finally, the little one was surfing all the way to the beach.

Her dad, who surfed in Hawaii, said that Tamarindo has a much nicer sea bottom than that of even the famous Oahu North Shore, with no rocks, branches, seaweed, or coral to scrape a surfer’s feet. The waves are just the right size for a beginner, and Witch’s Rock takes more advanced surfers by van on tours to nearby islands and beaches with more challenging waves. In the evening, the resort presents optional seminars on surf safety and etiquette.

We could only stay for four days, but by the second day the 8-year-old said, “I want to live here forever.” For Christmas, their mom bought the littlest one a T-shirt from the surf shop that read, “If you think I’m cute now, you should see me on a surf board.”

A beginner week at Witch’s Rock — including accommodation, transportation to and from Liberia airport, 2-hour daily lessons, use of boards and boogie boards, and enormous free breakfasts — runs from $1,036 to $2,380 depending on the type of accommodation and the season. High season is from December to April. Tamarindo has a plethora of fine and casual restaurants, many of them right on the beach so the surfers are not far from their fun even in the evening.

Julie Hatfield can be reached at