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Santa Teresa: Where Time is Told in Tides

By Austin Atkey
Apr 20, 2020

Photography courtesy of Ezequiel Rivero

Surfing moves people, in more ways than one. I have been fortunate enough to live my life in the sea, and I have felt its hand in shaping who I am. For myself and many others here in Santa Teresa, the ocean is our everything, and while we do go to it for work and for fun, we also go to it for health, both mental and physical. Surfing drives us to dig deeper and go further, to push our bodies and our comfort zones. It silences the mental chatter and makes us focus on the moment, on the wave that is bearing down on top of us. It makes us be present, and that is something that can be hard to come by nowadays. 

It’s because of people like my father who came here in search of perfect waves, and of something else, something different, that this place exists at all. He was moved so far by surfing that he left his home in Canada and ventured south until he found this place, surfing drove him to find his own version of paradise. Along with a few other ex-pats of various nationalities and a small contingent of Costa Ricans that were beginning to settle the area, they unintentionally started a community. Surfing is what drove it to be what it is today.

I was raised in Santa Teresa and I’ve seen the growth of the town parallel my own. The beaches however, remain the same, as do the waves. The essence of the place has managed to endure, and the result is something unique. Surfing is still the backbone of this place and you will quickly come to see that when strolling down the road, surfers are ever-present, darting in and out of the many beach access’s that are hidden within the jungle; and they are rightful to do so, the waves here never stop. As a town, we rise and fall with the sun, and the flow of the day is dictated primarily by the ocean; It’s the boss. The pre-dawn paddle outs are simply our version of a morning commute to work and the daily board meeting.

This coastline is blessed with an abundance of waves that very seldom turn off, and so, in my youth I spent countless hours adrift, gazing toward the horizon. The hours staring across the ocean’s surface have taught me much more than simply how to surf, but these lessons are too personal to be replicated and shared. It was this realization that motivated me to become a surf instructor, to be able to aid people in experiencing their own personal versions of the things that I have been fortunate enough to witness through surfing. I believe we each receive something different from the ocean, something appropriate to ourselves; in so many ways the ocean teaches us about who we are. 

Surfing also brings us into direct contact with the natural world, we aren’t just observing a scene, we’re part of it. Schools of sardines can streak past underwater, pelting our feet as they go, if your lucky, humpback whales cruising through the area will perform some of their acrobatics and leave you in awe at just how large they are. Eagle rays regularly fly out of the ocean and flap their ‘wings’ in a desperate attempt to fly, even though they’ve done it a thousand times before and not once were they any closer to actually achieving flight. The whole setting is a living, breathing, system and through surfing we get to lackadaisically float above it and bear witness to its intricacies, to study it.

In congruence with the birth of modern surfing, my father, along with many other people of his generation, realized that you could so easily go by way of the Eagle Ray. Attempting time and time again to take flight, to live out the modern existence, all the while denying your true nature that your meant to just stay underwater. Their version of staying underwater was surfing and enjoying life, not slaving away and becoming part of a system that placed the natural world and our personal desires in second place to productivity and profits. They opted to accept their nature and embrace the surfing lifestyle. No matter how ridiculous it may have sounded to their peers at the time, a life without surfing and everything that comes with it sounded more ridiculous to them. Surfing does that though, it changes people, it centers them. Being in contact with the ocean brings us into contact with ourselves and once you really get to know yourself, there’s no faking it. Surfing moves us to live our truth.