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Costa Rica Kiteboarding

Jan 12, 2009

Author: Jason Wolcott

Costa Rica is Central America’s jewel. It’s an oasis of calm among turbulent neighbours, and an ecotourism heaven, making it one of the best places to experience the tropics with minimal impact. More importantly, it’s windy in the winter. When we say windy, it’s windy to the point that it’s hard to sleep. Playa Copal in Bahía Salinas is emerging as one of the country’s top kiteboarding destinations. After reports of epic wind conditions started to filter back from pro Wes Matweyew, SBC Kiteboard sent photographer Jason Wolcott along with pro riders Cameron Dietrich and Jon Modica in search of photographic evidence of this windy destination that is starting to attract more and more kiteboarders.

Landing at Liberia International airport in the northwest corner of Costa Rica, I notice, through the airplane window, grass along the runway bent 90 degrees. Getting off the plane confirms my suspicion immediately. A scorching 90°F, 20-knot wind greets my face the second I emerge from the door of the Boeing 737. My first thought is to turn around and watch the reaction of both my travel companions as they feel the warm, steady breeze hit their faces. Jon and Cameron both smile and walk toward baggage claim a little faster than the rest of the tourists. After clearing customs, we negotiate with some 20-odd taxi drivers, who gather like a hungry pack of hyenas. Seventy-five dollars later, we jump in the taxi and head through the grassy hills toward our destination. Playa Copal, in beautiful Bahía Salinas, lies just south of the Nicaragua border in northwestern Costa Rica.
     We are shooting within 20 minutes of getting there. The wind is perfect 12-metre weather, and we have an hour of daylight to spare. Already on the water, Wes rides past, yelling, “Vote for Pedro!” After a quick session, we come back to the house to meet our hosts, Jeff and Emily Rouss, owners of Kite Wind Surf in Alameda, California, and the center here in Costa Rica. We walk up the hill to Ulf’s Resturante Copal and proceed to drink way too much Cerveza Imperial (local beer). Ulf’s place is the after-kite spot where you can find dozens of sunburnt kiteboarders eating pizza.
    For the rest of the week,  I awake to the sound of trees blowing outside my window.  I peak my head through the curtains and see whitecaps all the way across the bay. It is kiteable 24 hours a day for the eight days we’re there. Trying to wake Cameron is like trying to wake a bear in mid-hibernation. He rolls over, looks at me, blinks a few times and goes back to sleep.
    On the second-to-last day, we pack my water housing setup in a backpack, and with a borrowed 12 m2 kite, I ride out to the island to shoot with the boys. The island has a long sandbar that blocks the chop and creates a perfect buttery section with super-blue water. It’s like kiting in your own little paradise since most beginners and intermediates don’t come out here. Cameron throws huge Kite Loops; Jon kills it with his power wake style; and Wes is being Wes, riding smooth and going huge. It is one of the best days of shooting and kiting I’ve ever had. After the shoot, I kite for two hours and am so stoked on checking out the scenery, I eat shit and break a rib while not paying attention.
    The setup where we are staying is insane. They have everything: a projector to watch DVDs on a huge screen, Internet, phone, great rooms, and even better food. Emily is a great chef. From talking to some of the guests, both Jeff and Wes are great instructors.
    I will be returning to Playa Copal every winter from now on. With strong winds, great people, and warm winter weather, I can’t think of a reason not to.

“My favourite thing about the trip is sheeping the boys in poker: ‘I don’t know how to play. Help me take your money, biatches. Ha!’ As far as riding, bring a 12 m2 and 9 m2 you will ride most of the time, and a 7 m2 you will ride a little, but 9 m2 is your kite. The island is so sick. It’s so much fun to go ride out there, get ridiculously sunburned and just have some steady wind and butter.” —Cameron Dietrich

Bahía Salinas, Costa Rica
Closest airport: LIR
Best winds: November to March
Average kite size: 8-10 m2
Cost factor: $$
Peak season:
The dry season typically lasts November through April. It is dry, hot and windy.

Riding conditions:
Windy. Really windy. November: 15-23 knots, December: 20-28 knots, January: 24-30 knots, February: 18-25, March: 15-25 knots.

Water conditions:
It’s a bay, so no ocean swell. Some chop is to be expected, though. There is flat water to be found below the reef at the upwind riding area and out near Isla Bolanos.

Water temperature:
Warm. If you plan on riding for hours and hours, a shorty wetsuit is recommended.

Playa Copal is very rural. The Center can help facilitate day trips for activities other than kiteboarding and windsurfing: sport fishing, scuba diving, horseback riding, surf trips, hiking trips to the volcanos, zip-line adventures through the rainforest canopy, trips to Nicaragua to visit the lake, beaches, colonial cities, river rafting, and mountain biking.

Restaurante Copal is the usual end-of day hangout, featuring local specialties and seafood. This year will feature a new wood-fired oven for great pizza and fresh bread. Ulf keeps the fridge full of cold bear and sodas. Other options include La Sandia, EcoPlaya, and local eateries in La Cruz.

Rental gear:

The Kite Wind Surf Center offers Cabrinha kites, North kites, and Liquid Force boards.



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