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Curriculum for CRSI Students

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[1] Welcome to Tamarindo!

Dear Student,

Costa Rica Surf Institute welcomes you to Tamarindo and the world of surfing.

We aim to get you familiarized with the ocean, its patterns and the safe way to approach surfing.

Surfing is not just about standing on a surfboard. It is about knowledge of the sea and weather patterns, understanding waves and learning to ride the surfboard with control.

Through this course you will gain a respect for the ocean and the people and creatures that use it.

Course Breakdown

Here at CRSI we are committed to teaching people how to surf.  Our professional goal is to provide you with the skills and knowledge to help you progress in the sport of surfing.

Over an expanded period of time our instructors will guide you through each aspect of surfing, both in the water and out. This institute does not solely push people into waves and tell them to stand up. The instructors will teach you where waves originate, how to read waves, why they break, how to paddle, how to stand correctly, turn, and much more.

Our goal as an institute is to ignite a passion for surfing. This passion will allow you to explore the world and search for your own paradise with waves. The knowledge that you will receive here will better prepare you to surf and travel anywhere.  During your involvement in the program, each week you will receive a board rental, rash guard, and two lessons with an instructor. One out of the two sessions are filmed and photographed for analysis.  One day during the week depending on skill level, a trip will be provided if conditions allow. As an addition, the institute will try to organize extra trips on weekends, oceanography lessons, and guided free surf sessions on the days you do not have lessons.

What to Expect

costa rica surf school students

During your first couple of sessions an instructor will teach you about the equipment that you are using and the importance of it all. In the water an instructor will keep a close eye on you making sure you are safe.

The instructor will give you personalized instructions to help you progress and keep you safe. Your teacher will take you to where ever the conditions are good for learning. With your instructor's knowledge of the local breaks he or she will take you to where there are nice clean small waves that break gently and away from lots of other surfers.

Be prepared, because this might involve walking for up to 20 minutes and possibly paddling across the river mouth to find the best conditions. 

Once again safety is our first priority, but we will take you to the best spots to give you the most memorable experience.

Mental Preparation

mental preparation

Your instructor will give you all the instructions and information you need to learn to surf. However, you must surf for yourself. Your mental preparation should include getting the board out there, paddling hard for waves and eventually stand up on them. Your progression depends on you and how willing you are to learn from each session. Surfing is fun but it takes focus and determination. Just remember it is all about having fun and progressing. Please ask your instructor for help at any time, tell them your thoughts, feelings, and fears so they can help you overcome them.

Weekly Breakdown

Please check on the surf notice board for lesson and free surf times. Weekly break down is subject to change depending on progression and start date.

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[2] The Learning Process

Please take notes to help with your progress from both water and dry lessons.

We have “free surf” sessions on the days between lessons to practice what you learn, trips to other beaches. Seminars on etiquette, board design and oceanography. And a selection of DVDs, books and magazines for you to expand your learning experience.


Beach Safety, Riding Stance and Pop Up Riding Prone, Board Control
Drill: Acceleration “Foot Work” for lengthening rides


Recapping Fundamentals, Beach Safety, Recapping Foot Work
Drill: Stability Exercise: Where to look
Drill: Basic turning and Video analysis


Head cover recap, Recapping fundamentals Looking at unbroken waves, Advanced paddling
Drill: Intermediate turning
Drill: Turtle roll


Riding down the line, Taking off at the “peak”, Going backside
Drill: Video analysis

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[3] Etiquette

Rule # 1: Do Not Drop In (Right of Way)

right of way and dropping in surfing

Arguably the most important rule of surfing, avoiding dropping in on someone simply means knowing who has the right of way and respecting it. The general rule is whoever is closer to the curl (or break) has the right of way and therefore has rights to the wave.

Rule # 2: Paddle Out of the Way

When paddling out, always attempt to avoid other surfers by paddling behind them. This means aiming at the whitewater rather than the face of the wave they are on in order to avoid ruining their ride.

Rule # 3: Do Not Ditch Your Board

Whether paddling out or surfing, always maintain control of your board. A loose board can become a flying object and a danger to yourself and other surfers.

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[4] Safe Surfing Tips

Tamarindo is a popular surfing destination and can get very crowded. When you are surfing ensure that you are keeping out of people’s way, if someone is directly in front of you do not take that wave. If you are already on the wave the best method to stop yourself is to hold onto the board tightly and slip off the side or back of the board. As a last resort you may use your board as a shield.

Tamarindo has a few rocks under water which are obvious at low tide; spend a little time familiarizing yourself with the beach at low tide to work out which areas to avoid. Remember the beach is a dynamic system and is always changing with different swells and tidal variation moving sand around constantly.

The currents in Tamarindo are seldom strong; however they can be on occasion. It is always good practice to keep a good line up in the sea, i.e. when you are surfing try to stay in front of a distinctive tree of building. Avoid using a moveable object like a car or person.

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[5] Where to Surf In Tamarindo

There are 4 areas in Tamarindo to surf.

1. North of the life guard tower. This area is where most of the surf schools teach and has a sand bottom and the added (occasional) benefit of the lifeguards. This area stretches from the lifeguard tower to the river mouth that separates Tamarindo from Playa Grande and is best around high tide.

2. In front of the Hotel Diria entrance, this location has fewer people, especially in the morning. Though it is important to stay lined up between the thatched hotel entrance and the Diria Lifeguard tower, as there are rocks either side, this spot is best at high tide, when the tide is lower it exposes more rocks.

3. The third is in front of the hotel Capitan Suizo, this location is the least crowded area, but is only surfable when Tamarindo has large waves due to the protections from Isla Capitan. There are a few small rocks which can be seen at low tide, and this spot can usually be surfed at all tides if the waves are big enough, and can produce a long left, perfect for Longboarding.

4. There is also Casitas, which is just across the river mouth in front of the 2 white roofed buildings at the southern end of Playa Grande. This is a great spot as it has loads of space and is rarely crowded. It works best around high tide, be careful crossing the river as the current can be very strong, always work out the direction of the current and enter the river accordingly.

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[6] Parts of a Wave

Peak: this is the first part of a wave to break, it breaks generally in the same location each time as it is due to the shape of the bottom. A reef break or point will peak and break in more or less the same place every time due to it permanent state. A beach is a little more unpredictable but your skills in choosing the right wave and knowing when it will break will improve with time in the water.

Left or Right: A good wave will break left or right or both, and once you are confident enough you will aim to ride along the waves face. As you face the beach a left hander breaks to your left and a right hander breaks to your right.

Face/Wall: the front clean, clear part of the wave this is ridden by a more intermediate surfer. Surfing on this part of the wave allows a surfer a faster, smoother ride and makes it easier to perform turns and cutbacks.

Lip: This is the upper part of the wave that breaks. "Smack the lip!" On shallow break waves (such as over reefs) , the lip can be tossed outward to form a barrel or tube!

Pocket: Right next to the breaking part of the wave is the pocker. This is the steepest and most powerful part of the wave to surf in.

Shoulder: This is where the wall becomes less steep away from the pocket and where speed is lost. Surfers generally cutback once they end up out on the shoulder, to get back into the pocket where the speed is!

Flats: the area in front of the breaking part of the wave, where beginner surfers wait to catch lines of white water.

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[7] How to Read Waves

1. Paddle out and position yourself beyond the break zone. Attempt to sit and balance on the surfboard while facing out to sea and looking towards the horizon. Look for lumps on the horizon.

2. These lumps are the "sets" which contain the waves you'll eventually want to catch. Watch the swell pass by you, become a wave and surge all the way to the break zone where it peaks and then breaks.

3. Mark your line up with reference points on the beach. Try to find some objects to line up: flags, buildings, telegraph poles - and stick to that line up to place yourself in optimum position.

4. Note that if it's steeper, you might have to approach it at an angle to help avoid nose-diving. By starting to catch green waves you're progressing your surfing to a new level. So be patient and always keep working on the basic techniques of body positioning, paddling and pop up. There are the platforms to your surfing future.

5. Want the swell to come underneath you just as it's about to break. If you're in perfect position to catch the wave, you may only need a few paddle strokes.

6. Look to see that if it seems that the wave is going to break a fair bit further inside than from where you are positioned, you're going to need to start to paddle a good while before the wave reaches you.

7. The shape of the wave should determine your angle. If it's a mellow, slow rolling break, you should paddle into the wave straight on and still find the curl.

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