I’ve tried to teach dozens of friends over the last few years. I’ll take them out in small surf, show them a few things, they get the hang of it, buy and board and never use it again. The same barrier seems to hit everyone: the surf is too crowded. My advice to everyone has been to head off somewhere tropical and surf everyday for a week. You just won’t get better at something, especially something like surfing, going once a month. It’s a way to guarantee you won’t really enjoy the sport. Also, paying an instructor in the US is going to be $80-100/hour for individual instruction! Add the price of renting a board and wetsuit and it’s $150 or more a session.
Flying off somewhere tropical and spending a week on the beach is a lot cheaper than you’d think. Aside from the cost of a flight, staying in a cheap beach hostel can cost as litte as $5/night. More reasonable accomodations can be $10-20 night in the right places. Board rentals are around $50 a week and you can always find local surfers willing to give instruction for $10-20/hour (probably free if you’re a girl). The waves are likely to be less crowded depending on where you head (beach breaks are ideal at first because they spread the crowd out), and you’ll be in warm water surfing and drinking cerveza on the beach after each session. You’ll fall in love with surfing and get good enough to be able to navigate the line-ups when you get back home.
Here’s a list of the cheapest places to go to learn to surf (also check our previous post on the best places to learn to surf). The surf season is from March until September, but this is when the surf is biggest and can often be far to big for beginners. Better bet is to go during the surf off-season when the waves will be smaller and the line-ups will be empty.
El Tunco, El Salvador – Small surfing village outside of La Libertad, El Salvador. Walking distance from one of the best waves in the area: El Sunzal, a gentle long right, ideal for beginners. El Salvador has become much safer than in the 90s. El Tunco is nothing more than a couple guests houses, restaurants, internet cafe and a few families living there. Accomodations range from $5/night to $25 for a private room with AC and a pool. For more information on traveling and surfing in El Salvador, check out the surf travel guide for El Salvador at SurfThereNow.com.
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua – San Juan Del Sur is a beautiful, sleepy fishing village in Southern Nicaragua not far from the border with Costa Rica. Although the town itself doesn’t have surf, you can take a daily shuttle out to Playa Maderas where there’s playful surf all year long. It’s cheap to stay in SJDS and there’s multiple options starting at $8/night for the cheapest accomodations. There’s plenty to do, restaurants and bars as well. If you want to graudate to a more intermediate spot and stay right on the beach, then you’re best bet is to head up the coast a hour and stay at Playa Colorado’s.
Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, Costa Rica – The adjoining towns of Santa Teresa and Mal Pais are on the southern tip of the Guanacaste Pennisula on the Pacific in Northern Costa Rica. The towns are beautiful and hardly developed, offering just enough options to eat, drink, sleep, and surf well. The beach is stunning and pristine and goes on for miles offering miles of empty surf. Many first timers to Costa Rica head to the only place they’re head of: Tamarindo. Tamarindo is over-developed and the waves are crowded. Mal Pais is just the opposite. Accomodations here start at $10/night, not as cheap as surrounding Central American countries but still plenty cheap. There’s waterfalls and a national park close by to check out as well.
Bali – Bali is everything budget travel should be: incredible scenary, beautiful beaches, exotic culture, welcoming locals, and cheap, very cheap. Although flight will cost more than destinations in Central America, you would be surprised at how little it costs to get by in Bali. $5-8 for the cheapest accomodations. Bali has become a hot spot in recent years and in addition to the beaches and culture, it has a thriving nightlife, music, and art scene. It also boasts some of the best surfbreaks in the world on the Bukit Pennisula. Bali get good surf year round, with the best swells arriving from March to September. Kuta Beach is a long beach with smaller surf, ideal for learning. You can party all night and walk out to the surf at sunrise. For more on Bali, see the surf travel guide on Bali at SurfThereNow.com.