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Surfing in Dominical

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As promised – from about six months ago – I am finally writing an article on surfing in Dominical Beach, Costa Rica. But, let me begin by saying that the surf here is changing on a daily basis.  There has been more beach movement in the last six months than in the last six years.  We are all speculating on why the beach is changing so quickly and have opinions from global warming to the lone tractor which is laboring daily trying futilely to block the river from flooding the Sesame Street area. But, the bottom line is that the beach (where the waves break) is at least a meter (probably closer to two meters) below its previous average.  This changes a lot of the behavior of the famed Dominical wave.

Playa Dominical is known as one of the most consistent surf spots in Costa Rica…maybe even in the world. There is almost always a wave worth riding as long as the waves are smaller than 6 to 8 ft (I use Surfline). Above that (being basically double overhead), the beach usually closes out and sends the surfers elsewhere. Small waves surf best just off low-tide, the vast majority of the time low to mid tide is the best, but when the waves get really big, high-tide tends to be favored. As with most beach breaks, the waves are hollower and faster at lower tides.

The beach faces 213 degrees southwest and favors waves from 203 and below or 220 and above. Waves from below 190 are usually blocked (or at least shaded) by the tip of Columbia. The beach runs for about 1km from the Baru river mouth at the north to the defunct Kiana Resorts at the south. You can almost always find a spot of your own in that stretch even though the crowd can grow to over 50.

But there are some favored spots: Just south of the river mouth (or directly in front of it) tends to focus the biggest wave, but you have to fight the river current in addition to the rips.  This spot can also get dirty and cold if it has been raining. In front of the life guard tower receives less of the river current but also has some extra size like the river mouth and so remains a favorite spot. However, now with the new beach shape discussed above, just south of the tower there is a hole with water much deeper than its surrounding sides that sets up a bit of a whirlpool current.  The waves break outside of the hole, but you can’t ride them to the beach as they die when they get into the deep water. More imporantly, the north end of the hole is very shallow.  If you try to paddle out over this bar, you’ll be in for a huge struggle.  Instead, if you get caught here, paddle directly into the hole and go outside from there.  Once outside, paddle to either north or south (just 50m or so) for good waves.

A bit south of the turtle refuge (green fenced in area) the wave is usually a bit smaller but often has nicer form and can be a bit more consistent. Finally, don’t think the crowded spots are necessarily the best. Usually it is the current that makes the groups.