Sitting out the back in perfect two-foot waves…
All three of my boys hooting each other onto the A-frame peaks and riding towards a palm-fringed shore, I was in family surfing utopia. After years of cajoling my crew into waves from the minute they could walk, and sneaking surfs between nappy changes and the general mayhem of bringing up three wild things, we were finally all on dreamy surfing adventure together.
The ultimate family surfing holiday destination
If you’re heading off on a surfing holiday with a young family and want a safe, but exciting destination with tropical beaches, an abundance of wildlife, warm waves and buckets of adventure, look no further than Costa Rica. From November to February you can pretty much guarantee wall-to-wall sunshine and mellow waves where you can frolic from dawn to dusk. If you want to ramp it up on more challenging waves, come here from March onwards. Seeking the sort of waves where I’d feel comfortable in the water my three boys (aged five, eight, and ten), while also getting a few waves myself, I’d plumped for December.
Footsteps from the perfect peelers of Playa Grande, RipJack Inn was the first stop on our family surfing holiday to Costa Rica. It wasn’t just the beachside location of this boutique hotel that won us over, but the warm and friendly welcome to families.
Here we could surf from dawn to dusk, sip smoothies in our salty beachwear, stretch out with yoga, or simply stretch out in a hammock beside the pool. After every dreamy sunset on the beach, we’d fill ourselves to the gills with delicious food and drink served in the treetop restaurant, before turning into the comfort of our family apartment.
The perfect set-up for family surfing holidays
The secret to RipJack Inn’s success is down to two inspirational ladies, Annie and Luli, who know exactly what families need on their surfing holidays. Along with their husbands, the pair took the helm back in 2004, when they discovered ‘a rundown restaurant with a few rooms’ on the shores of Playa Grande – a vast sandy beach nudging the world-famous surf town of Tamarindo. From the outset their mission was to offer food and lodgings to surfers lured by the firing waves on the doorstep.
When a loyal following of surfers returned time and time again, soon bringing their girlfriends, the owners added more luxurious double rooms and laid on yoga sessions for the female posse. It wasn’t long until the surfing couples returned with babies in tow, so the hotel expanded around the needs of the growing surfing families, offering deluxe rooms with an extra bed or cot. Now RipJack Inn offers all levels of accommodation including family suites and a bungalow – making it the perfect set-up for family surfing holidays in Costa Rica.
Surf, stay, eat, stretch
While RipJack Inn has grown from its original handful of rooms, it’s still a small and friendly surf hotel, where life beats to the slogan of ‘surf, stay, eat, stretch.’ During our week-long stay in early December, the waves provided the perfect conditions for a mum with three keen little groms in tow. Never more than a couple of feet, it was easy enough for my five year-old to paddle out the back, while the set waves still packed enough punch for a fun ride and enough wall for a couple of manoeuvres. Mid-tide provided the best conditions, but we surfed for hours each side of this, retreating back to RipJack Inn only to fuel up and seek shade in the midday sun.
Frijoles Locos surf school
Our surfing bliss was topped up by a couple of sessions with the experts at the local Frijoles Locos surf school. Taking us a little further south along the sandy shoreline to the quieter Palm Beach, here we could enjoy empty peaks away from the crowds. And while the boys got the rides of their lives, honing their skills in the safe hands of instructors JJ and Justyn, I was able to get a few waves to myself, have a moment’s break from the kids and enjoy some time out in the big blue.
Although it’s just a short a boat-hop across the estuary from Tamarindo, Playa Grande is much quieter and focussed on nature than its neighbouring surf town. Here you can hunt for sand dollars, pick razor clams on the ebbing tide and spot mighty leatherback turtles laying their eggs during nesting season. Part of the Park Nacional Marino Las Baulas, this is one of Costa Rica’s key nesting sites for leatherback turtles during November to mid February. The best time to spot the turtles making their way to shore is between sunset and sunrise on a full moon during nesting season. Please note that you should only go with a guide, which your hosts at RipJack Inn are happy to organise.
In a region where nature and wildlife abounds, there are plenty of other beaches to explore if you can lure yourself away from the waves and wildlife of Playa Grande. Walk north along the beach to the dark sands and shell collecting territory of Playa Ventanas. Or, if you love snorkelling, take a 20-minute drive north to the crushed-shell sands and clear waters of Playa Conchal. Hop on a boat taxi to Tamarindo, where you can stock up on souvenirs and soak up the surf-town vibes, or press onto the next beach south, Playa Langosta. If conditions prevail, it’s even worth the 45-minute drive to Playa Avellanas, where surfers have three breaks to choose from. And, if you want to hit Ollie’s Point and Witches Rock, two firing breaks made famous in Endless Summer II, surf boat charters can be organised from RipJack Inn.
We could’ve packed in plenty of adventures beyond the beach, including zip wiring, horse riding, diving, sailing and estuary tours to spot crocs and caimans. Playa Grande is also only a short drive from Rincon de La Vieja National Park, where you can hike up a volcano. However, when we weren’t surfing, lazing poolside on our balcony, or tucked up in our spacious apartment getting some shut-eye, our main hangout was the treetop restaurant at RipJack Inn. From breakfast burritos to Costa Rican specialities, food is served all day, from menus scrawled on floor-to-ceiling blackboards.
Making the most of the dazzling beach sunsets and the last waves of the day, we were usually too late for the bargain beers, cocktails and tapas of Happy Hour, but when dusk lured us inside, we’d head to the restaurant for plates filled with garlic shrimps, fish tacos, meatballs and nachos. With a nod to RipJack’s eco-friendly values, the ingredients are local and food packaging and takeaway cups are made from corn starch and avocado seeds.
Just an hour’s drive from Liberia international airport, RipJack Inn is perfectly situated and one of our top locations for family surfing holidays. While Costa Rica isn’t the cheapest Central American destination, it’s one of the safest and most developed, putting it at the top of our list for travelling with young families. Whether you visit for ‘little summer’ in July or escape to the tropical vibes between November and April, it’s a must for the family surfing bucket list.