Surf Instructor Ivan Castillo, Manuel Antonio, Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Local Knowledge: Ivan from Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Local Knowledge: Ivan from Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

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The Pacific coast town of Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica is hot and humid. Stand still long enough here and you’ll see mould appearing on your body. The locals, however, have standing still down to an art.

Languid and laid-back, Costa Ricans take their time with everything. It’s common sense when just the act of waxing a surfboard can make you perspire.

When we started to think about who would be the idea candidate for our Local Knowledge post, we decided we wanted to find a local who would personify Costa Rica’s relaxed vibe. It didn’t take long after meeting surfer and surf instructor Ivan Castillo to figure out he was our guy.

On a beach where even in the off season locals come up to ask if you want a massage, beach chair, or coconut juice, Ivan simply sits in the shade next to the wonky lifeguard tower waiting for customers to come to him to rent out his surfboards or get a surfing lesson.

On our first afternoon at The Beach House, as I paddled out in the surf on a body board, I spotted Ivan having a surf. His smooth and unhurried style set him apart from the other surfers in the water.

On land, to say that Ivan is measured, is an understatement. When I tell him I want a surfboard for the week he says, “Why not just leave it with me and pick it up when you want to surf?”

When I tell him that I like to surf at dawn, he says, “You better take the board and keep it at your house!”

Later, when we finally interview him, he says that he only has ten minutes for the interview, because he’s a very busy man. We think he’s joking.

On my last day in Manuel Antonio, I got up early for my final morning surf. I timed it so that I could return my surfboard to Ivan just as he would be setting up his patch of the beach for the day. When I walked up the beach after my surf the locals were preparing for their day’s business on the beach, carting down sun beds, massage tables and surfboards to their spots on the sand, and fastidiously cleaning up their spaces, messed up from the previous night’s high tide.

Ivan, predictably and endearingly, was nowhere to be seen.

His friend who rents out sun beds next to where Ivan sits every day said, “He should be here by now. But, you know, he’s pretty casual.”

It’s this kind of attitude that would drive a New Yorker nuts. It wouldn’t fly in London, Tokyo or Sydney either. But here, in Manuel Antonio? Well, all I can do is be a little more than jealous as I head back to the house. That’s life in Costa Rica!

Q. So, what do you most love about you what you do?

A. I love it because I’m at the beach every day. It’s not too busy. I’m surfing all day, talking to people. I love what I do.

Q. Why should people come to Costa Rica?

A. The perfect beaches, the bays, the mountains, and we have waves every day.

Q. 3 words to describe the place?

A. Beautiful. Pura vida!

Q. 3 ways to describe the people here?

A. Happy, friendly, relaxed. You heard about ‘Tico time’ right?!

Q. Your top recommendations?

A. Surf or learn to surf. And try white water rafting too.

Q. Best souvenir?

A. A Costa Rican number plate! I like them.

Q. Must-do eating experiences?

A. Gallo Pinto – you can eat it in the morning, afternoon, evening, anytime!

Q. An essential thing to know before coming to Costa Rica?

A. If you like to party, come in summer, but if you like peace and quiet, come here in winter.

Q. Most important Spanish phrase to learn in?

A. Todo bien. All’s well, everything’s okay.

Q. Any other advice?

A. If you want to be really happy, you have to come to Costa Rica. Life is good here. We don’t have any rules, well, we do, but nobody follows them!

Q. Any surfing tips for beginners in Costa Rica?

A. 1. Don’t think too much. Just surf.
2. Have one lesson, then just practice.
3. It’s important to wipe out. If you’re not wiping out, you’re not learning!
4. Just keep trying, practice every day.
5. Always start with a longer board then move down to a smaller board.

Read about Terence’s experience learning to surf (again!) with Ivan here.


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Terence Carter is an editorial food and travel photographer and infrequent travel writer with a love of photographing people, places and plates of food. After living in the Middle East for a dozen years, he settled in South-East Asia a dozen years ago with his wife, travel and food writer and sometime magazine editor Lara Dunston.

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