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Windsurfing in Costa Rica

Windsurfing, Kitesurfing and Kiteboarding

For decades, surfing has lured tourists to the warm waters and pristine beaches of Costa Rica. Often overshadowed are the spacious lakes and consistent winds that make this country ideal for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Year round are 20+ knots of onshore winds, blowing across the northwestern side of Costa Rica. Capitalizing on these perfect conditions are dozens of schools offering beginner, intermediate, and advanced kiteboarding and windsurfing courses and equipment.

Surprisingly, Costa Rica’s winds are strong and steady, especially from December to February. Wherever you can find wind and water, you’re in luck – especially if you’re located near Laguna de Arenal, the country’s largest lake which borders Arenal Volcano.

Labeled one of the best windsurf destinations in the world, the lake’s prevailing winds hold between 15 and 20 mph. Although somewhat colder than the beaches, water temperatures remain between 18-20 degrees Celcius and the 2-4 meter waves make for idea launching pads. Usually wind picks up by late morning for the experienced rider, and mellows out later for those testing the waters for the first time.

History and Overview
Invented in 1992 by the French and perfected by the Hawaiians, kitesurfing (also known as kiteboarding) is the fastest growing water sport on the planet. It is based around athletes being attached to a power kite ranging anywhere between five and twenty-one square meters in length. Control comes from harnessing the natural power of the wind into the massive kite. Whichever position the kite is steered is roughly the direction the athlete will move through the water.

In addition to controlling the kite, a board which is attached to the athlete’s feet, must be controlled in the direction of the kite. Perhaps one of the most difficult sports to learn, kitesurfing typically takes three days before an athlete can get up on the board. This is after the kite flying and body dragging stage is complete, which generally takes an additional three days. Those who have previous boarding skills (either from related sports or a high level of power kite flying) will have a slight advantage.

Costa Rica’s Best Windsurfing and Kiteboarding Destinations:

Lake Arenal
Ranked one of the three best windsurfing spots in the world, Lake Arenal (near Arenal Volcano) attracts extreme athletes from across the globe. Constant winds blow all day from December to April for weeks at a time. Those who plan to spend countless hours on the water might want to consider a wetsuit when lake temperatures drop from 25C (78F) in May to 18C (64F) in January. Windsurfers here use sails from 3.0 to 5.0 meters in size. Beginners can find pleasant conditions during March and April when the sun is shinning and the winds have slightly dropped. In general, Lake Arenal is not recommended for novice windsurfers or kiteboarders.

Bahia Salinas
Located in the Guanacaste Province on the northwestern coast of Costa Rica, Bahia Salinas offers calm, 80 degree water and side shore winds. These ideal conditions across the bay from Nicaragua are comparable to that of Lake Arenal, making Bahia Salinas the country’s second-best spot to windsurf and kiteboard. Rolling hills surrounding the bay help channel wind directly onto the water. As a result, the constant wind pattern makes this a popular spot for all level riders.

Winds come with the dry season and blow steadily from 8 a.m. to mid-afternoon. During peak season, from December to February, the winds often blow 25-30 knots until sundown. There are several kite centers and rental shops at Playa Papaturro and Playa Copal that offer courses and equipment year round. The downside of kitesurfing in this area are the pebbles and seashells that scatter the beach, often leading to sore feet.

Experienced windsurfers and kiteboarders can rent gear in Costa Rica for approximately $70 per day. Rental shops offer a variety of sails for differing wind conditions, skill level and body weight. On colder days, it is recommended to wear a wetsuit, also available at rental stores. A beginners three-day course on average runs $300 with an additional cost for gear. Several local kiteboarding and windsurf schools guarantee you’ll enjoy your first day, or you’ll be fully refunded the amount for the course. Inquire in advance.

Introduce yourself to windsurfing and kiteboarding slowly. Practice with small sails or kites two meters or less, preferably in light wind conditions. Regardless of your previous board skills, begin on a flying field with all the common sense safety precautions that go along with the sport. Slowly progress to a sail or kite with more power while familiarizing yourself with the basics of windsurfing and kiteboarding (packing the equipment, connecting gear, the wind window, etc). Eventually you can move to advanced power flying. Begin in shallow water or while you’re still on shore. For kite familiarity, soft sand or a grassy field are ideal learning spots, and avoid the few crowded beaches that exist in Costa Rica. Eventually you can progress to deep water windsurfing and kitesurfing. If you are taking a course, be sure to practice balance, stance and board maneuvering with aid from a tow such as a jet ski or boat.

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