Celebrating 25 Years of Safari Surf: A Look Back at Our History of Our Costa Rica Surf School 

safari surf school group

While it’s hard to believe it’s been so long, 2024 marks the 25th anniversary of Safari Surf School. Tim and Marsi first traveled to Costa Rica in 1995, and we were immediately enamored with the country’s natural beauty and the kindness of its people. A lot has changed since the first iteration of Safari Surf School opened its doors; we’ve moved locations, grown tremendously, opened two successive surf schools in Panama and Ecuador, and cemented our Costa Rica surf school as a staple of the community in Costa Rica. As we celebrate our 25 years of operation in Costa Rica, we want to reflect on how far we’ve come. Continue reading below for Celebrating 25 Years of Safari Surf: A Look Back at Our History of Our Costa Rica Surf School.

Arriving in Costa Rica

Safari Surf School

Tim and Marsi first set foot on Costa Rican soil in 1995; the rest is history. The couple immediately fell in love with the vibrant land, people, and, of course, the surf. The following year, the duo returned and bought a small market in the tiny fishing and beach community in Garza. Tim and Marsi worked the market and lived above the store. While it seemed to be a dream scenario, the slow season proved to be just that, and before long, Tim and Marsi returned to their lives in the States. Two years later, in 1997, Marsi was pregnant, and Tim decided to get a stable job in the mortgage business. Even with a new baby, house, and a Range Rover, Tim felt something was missing. These feelings grew when Tim ran into an old friend who had started a California surf school and was spending his days at the beach. So, Tim called his brother, who was living in Costa Rica, and pitched an idea— a Costa Rica surf school. 

The Start of Something Special 

Tim and Marsi

While the first few years of operations were touch and go, and everyone involved had to do a bit of everything, they built a reputation of excellence in Nosara over time. Safari Surf School became the go-to surf school for travelers from all walks of life. Soon, Safari had built a loyal clientele with returning customers who sought out their favorite instructors. The team at Safari Surf is entirely local, from the management to the surf instructors. No one knows the waters of Playa Guiones better than the Safari Surf team, and there’s no better way to see Costa Rica than through the eyes of a local. 

The Evolution of Our Costa Rica Surf School 

As our Costa Rica Surf School grew, we realized it was time for a change. Tim put together a business plan and presented it to a small group of loyal guests who expressed interest in investing. The team raised capital, found property, and began the new chapter of Safari Surf.  Our Costa Rica surf school operated out of a small house on the property while our dream property, Olas Verdes, was being built. 

The Legacy Continues 

Surf and fishing packages

After years of successful operations in Costa Rica, we expanded our operations at Safari Surf. We scoured the globe for a destination that reminded us of our roots in Playa Guiones but still had an independent culture and identity. After leaving no stone unturned and much deliberation, we settled on a little slice of paradise known as Playa Venao, Panama. Our Panama Surf School is an extension of everything we do in Costa Rica, and we love our Safari Surf Panama team. After a successful expansion to Panama, we stumbled across the charming town of Ayampe, Ecuador, and knew we had to be part of the community there. And so, Safari Surf Ecuador was born. 

We could not have imagined a better way to spend a quarter of a century than building Safari Surf School into what it is today. Now, with teams across three countries and too many favorite guests to count, we’re taking a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come and get ready for what’s ahead. 

Hey Boss: Why Not Costa Rica?

As a business owner, I understand the importance of recognizing employees who “keep the lights on” with daily operations. Having a happy, healthy, reliable and productive team of operators, instructors, managers, staff, strategic partners and other stakeholders – year in and year out – are key to the success of our business. It would be impossible for Safari Surf School to maintain its success record without a team that feels valued, motivated and appreciated for their work. And while we live a charmed life surrounded by surf, we still take time to get together as a company and have a little fun. So, how do businesses recognize employees for their hard work and achievements? For a few, that answer is travel.
Many companies offer annual top producer recognition platforms, which may vary from extravagant holiday parties to exotic travel experiences. By way of “Circle of Excellence” programs, team-building experiences are oftentimes tied to destination travel, allowing businesses to reward excellent employee performance while strengthening relationships between leadership and contributors. If this sounds like your approach, my question to you is this: Have you ever considered Costa Rica as a destination of choice? From proximity to the United States and lower total costs of travel, to rich experiential travel choices, happy people and a blissful atmosphere, there are a number of factors that make this Central American landmass a great option.
That sounds great, you say, but why would I consider spending this time with a surf school? The answer is easy: Because we offer an irreplaceable experience built around a sense of achievement, centered in paradise, surrounded by beauty, customized to your liking, complemented with experiential options, and soaked in a charmed Pacific coast culture. Do you question the attractiveness of this as an option? Then I challenge you to mention it to a few employees and just watch their eyes light up.
Sure – on paper we’re a surf camp. Our daily office space is filled with beautiful sunsets, tropical landscapes teeming with abundant wildlife and surfboard-toting beachcombers. Yet while surf instruction and beach life are at the core of our operations, Safari Surf School offers so much more than instruction on surf. We are more than a patient, well-trained staff who delivers hands-on instruction, eco-friendly, top-notch equipment and the knowledge to help you catch your first wave. We’re actually providers of customized, experiential travel who can coordinate the memory of a lifetime for the health and well-being of your company’s most important assets – your people. And we do it in the midst of the ultimate in surf culture and latin culture, with ecotourism and sustainability principles front and center.

Wake up to the sounds of Howler Monkeys stretching their vocal cords off in the distance… time for a fresh cup of coffee or whatever moves you. Off to the Safari facility for a pre-surf snack of fresh fruits and banana bread and then meet up with your surf instructor.

howler monkey
Resident Howler Monkey

So why should you head south with your team for some rest, relaxation and camaraderie? For starters, take a look at cost and proximity. Compare the cost of travel to Costa Rica with other popular, sunny destinations. We’ve witnessed incredible average price drops into the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport of Liberia, Costa Rica over the last year. All major carriers (Delta, United, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, jetBlue, Alaska Airlines and Sun Country Airlines) now make daily runs into this airport and the average direct flight into Liberia is 5 ½ hours from LA and 3 ½ hours from Houston. Upon arrival, your drive is less than two hours to our beach hamlet, or if you arrive into SJO (San Jose), we’re a short direct 50 minute flight away into Nosara where we pick you up.
Second, this country is quite simply filled with happy people down here. Who couldn’t enjoy themselves within a paradise of smiles and kindness? If this sounds like a bold statement, simply walk over to a post I made a few months ago and read all about The Search for Happiness. Discover how Nic Marks, founder of The Centre for Well-Being in London, created an equation to calculate what he calls the Happy Planet Index (HPI) and proving out Costa Rica as the happiest place on the planet.
Olas Verdes Hotel
Outdoor view of the beautiful Olas Verdes Hotel

When it comes to a relaxing atmosphere and charming facilities, we offer you access to Olas Verdes Hotel, where we serve as anchor tenants. This newly-launched hotel is the world’s first LEED-certified surf hotel and will soon be Central America’s first LEED-Platinum hotel. Olas Verdes occupies several hundred meters of ideal Pacific coastline of the ever-popular Playa Guiones and features seven independent structures, offering 40 accommodations, comprised of 14 standard guest rooms, 10 suites, and four private-entrance cottages. Amazing, right? This is an ultimate corporate playground. Just imagine business meetings where you know that you can play, meditate, relax and still foster a teamwork atmosphere, in an authentic environment.
We have the ability to configure team building opportunities, immersive travel and educational for corporate travel groups, rewarding your company with irreplaceable experiences within the densest region of biodiversity in the world. A short-list of experiential guest activities run the gamut, from deep-sea fishing, volcanic-fed hot springs and rainforest expeditions, to cultural immersion, local fútbol, yoga and massage.
Playa Guiones Surfers, Nosara, Costa Rica
Surfers approach on Playa Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

My wish is that if you are evaluating options for business group travel, take into considering a most-unique and rewarding option of travel to Costa Rica, coupled with the great reward of catching your first wave (or dusting off those long-lost skills with some refreshing instruction along the beautiful Nosara beach of Playa Guiones. In a future installment, I am going to elaborate on the Costa Rican culture and atmosphere by elaborating ‘pura vida’ – a term which has been present in the Costa Rican dialect for over fifty years.

Olas Verdes Press Release


Safari Surf School’s new headquarters to be developed using sustainable design practices.


Contact: Carl Kish at 866-433-3355 or carl@safarisurfschool.com

NOSARA, COSTA RICA – Safari Surf School, Costa Rica’s premier surf school and surf camp, will begin construction of its new headquarters — Olas Verdes — in November of this year.

The beachfront property is located on the edge of a 200 meter setback from Playa Guiones in adherence with the protection of the Ostional Wildlife Refuge. Local architecture firm, Prendas Loria, in collaboration with Safari Surf’s Sustainability Director, Carl Kish, will ensure Olas Verdes complies with internationally recognized sustainable design and tourism standards.

Safari Surf’s longtime base of operations,the Hotel Casa Tucan, and the surrounding property was purchased by the owners of the The Harmony Hotel, a local sustainable resort. While Safari Surf School’s owners, Tim and Tyler Marsh, are saddened to part with the hotel that has been their headquarters for over a decade, they are eager to push the envelope for sustainable tourism with Olas Verdes.

“What excites us the most is this entire project will be built with sustainability in mind. From the architecture, to the water reclamation, to solar, grey water systems etc. Our facility will be built with Sustainable Certification as a top priority from the country’s highest standard (CST), as well as certification from the Center for Surf Research.” — Tim Marsh, Co-Owner/CEO.

Hotel Casa Tucan has long been a central part of the growing surf community of Playa Guiones as well as Nosara, and has been a “second home” to thousands of Safari Surf School students who have come to Costa Rica to learn to surf and experience the Costa Rican “pura vida” firsthand.

Tim Marsh’s full story on the Casa Tucan and more details about Olas Verdes are available here: https://safarisurfschool.com/2013/05/28/ciao-to-the-casa-tucan/

About Safari Surf School

Founded by brothers Tim and Tyler Marsh in 1999, Safari Surf School is an official Billabong Camp and is Costa Rica’s premier surf school. In addition to surf lessons from ISA certified instructors, Safari offers complete vacation packages including a range of accommodations, dining, transportation and numerous other activities. The school is located at Playa Guiones near Nosara on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Business and administrative operations are based in San Diego, CA, U.S.A. Specific businesses include Safari Surf School, Safari Surf Adventures, Safari Surf Vacations, and Women’s Surf Adventures. For more information about Safari Surf School, go to https://safarisurfschool.com/https://www.facebook.com/safarisurfschoolhttps://twitter.com/safarisurfer.


Ciao to the Casa Tucan


Safari Surf & Hotel Casa Tucan – “The Story”

by Tim Marsh, Co-Owner/CEO.
I can remember my first time at the Hotel Casa Tucan in 1995…driving through Nosara on a mission to find surf, sun, and fun on my first visit to the “rich coast”, I stopped in to have a beer and ask directions. Little did I know at that time that I would come back years later and run a business out of this location.
Safari Surf School officially opened its “doors” in 1999 and from 1999 to 2005 the Hotel Casa Tucan was home to our surf program and the base of Safari’s operations. We were a small start up surf school, one of the first in all of Costa Rica at the time, and using this facility as our base of operations. We did not own the hotel but we had forged a good relationship with the manager and owner and promised her we could fill the place with traveling surfers and tourists.
From 1999 to 2005, Safari Surf steadily grew and had a solid “fan base”…word was getting out about this cool surf location, cool and unique surf program, and the unbelievable local townspeople, vibe, and just amazing aura that was Nosara, Playa Guiones. Hotel Casa Tucan along with its charm and mystique steadily became a meeting spot, a hub if you will, for traveling surfers and tourists alike. The rustic charm, the relaxed pura vida vibe of the staff was unmatched. It was so authentic you could taste it. People who could afford to stay at much more expensive lodging preferred to stay at the Casa Tucan due to its charm, its allure of pura vida, its relaxed vibe…it was perfect in so many ways.
In 2005, the hotel became available for purchase. We (Tim & Tyler) quickly knew something had to be done to make sure they could keep this little slice of nirvana. We reached out to a few previous surf school guests about the prospect of going in with them and purchasing the hotel, bar & restaurant. Within a few short weeks the funds were realized and the hotel & bar were now firmly rooted in Safari Surf Schools’ name and future plans.
From 2005 to 2010, Safari Surf school steadily rose to prominence within its industry…building relationships with guests one by one that will last a lifetime. Families, new found friends, continue to return year in and year out to visit Playa Guiones, Safari Surf, and Hotel Casa Tucan. So many faces have come in and out of Casa Tucan over the years and many to this day continue to come and enjoy the charm and serenity they have become accustomed too at their home away from home…Hotel Casa Tucan.
We have watched many of the families children grow over the years and every time they return it is like a long lost family reunion…something that cannot be forged, a real bond with people and place.
In 2010, the “other” investors preferred not to be involved in the hotel and bar side of the business so Tyler and I decided to lease the entire hotel to keep secure the environment we had created over all those previous years. To keep intact the vibe and aura that had become so renown to all its guests.
In March of this year (2013) we were approached by an investor who was eager to buy our property. So much so, that this investor offered top dollar for our entire property. Tyler and I being 1/3 partners were unfortunately not in the majority and a decision was made to sell the Hotel Casa Tucan. 30 days later and the hotel was sold. The new owners were nice enough to allow Safari Surf to finish out its current lease that runs through August of 2013. At that time the Hotel Casa Tucan, the memories, will unfortunately be no more.
This was obviously an incredibly difficult time for Tyler and me in many respects…but mainly, what were we going to do for our business, how were we going to move forward? Things transpired in lightening speed and the reality that Safari Surf did not have a home after Aug. was to say the least, a bit stressful for us.
It’s interesting how life moves…moves in ways we cannot predict. I believe things happen for a reason and that fate does play a role in our lives more than we recognize.
Not more than 2 or 3 days had passed once we had realized we were not going to be able to save the Hotel Casa Tucan than an aberration appeared before us…my wife Marsi and I had reached out to many of the local real estate and rental agents in and around Nosara inquiring about locations or homes we could use to set up our base of operations for our surf program, when we received a phone call from one of the agents informing me that there was an amazing property that had just become available and it was not currently on the market so no one knew of its availability.
This property is right on the 200 meter line or as most in Nosara know…beachfront as you can get in Playa Guiones. There were 8 lots with one of the lots having a gorgeous 4 BR 3 bath home on it. This was the ideal location for an amazing surf school retreat.
I had to work extremely fast as time was not on my side. Once word got out to the other local RE agents that this property was for sale and it would have gone in a second. There has been a large influx of money coming back into Nosara and the fact that this was available would have been swallowed up by an investor quite quickly. You just don’t see this size of a property, with its location (and potential) available any more in Playa Guiones.
I quickly sprang into action and put together an investment opportunity and sent this proposal out to a few select people I thought might be interested. The long and short of it was I was right…there were interested parties and when it all came down to it the property was purchased and a new partnership came to life.
The plans for this new location are to build an office for Safari Surf School, a club house, kitchen / food service area, pool, commons area with BBQ along with 8 to 12 (2) BR units for rent.
What excites us the most is this entire project will be built with sustainability in mind. From the architecture, to the water reclamation, to solar, grey water systems etc. Our facility will be built with Sustainable Certification as top priority from the country’s highest standard ICT as well as certification from Center for Surf Research and other entities.
The name of our new location will be “Ola Verde” or Green Wave.
We have begun the architectural design phase and anticipate breaking ground this coming November 2013. Safari Surf will be putting together a blog to follow the progress of this amazing project from start to finish.
The one and most important thing we want to transfer from the Casa Tucan to Ola Verde is that amazing vibe, that relaxed surf theme. What made the Casa Tucan so amazing was ultimately the staff…and we will be bringing the majority of our staff with us…keeping intact the “real” pura vida vibe that made Casa Tucan and will make Ola Verde the place to be!

First drawings of the new Safari Surf Clubhouse at Ola Verde.

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: Destiny?

Cultural Design

One afternoon I got up from my desk to take a stroll over to the local “food court” to get some lunch as I always did every day…day in and day out. As I walked across the street passing by the local gas station en route to shove food down my face, I heard a loud booming voice from the gas station, “HEY TIM…HEY TIMMY!” I looked over to see a long time friend, Pat Weber, whom I had known from days in Ventura, CA. I hadn’t seen him in years. He was gassing up a van with about 10 surfboards on top of the van and another 10 inside. I got over there and gave him the “what’s what and what” about all the boards. He proceeded to tell me that he had started up a surfing school and was just killing it! He told me that he was so stoked; he was doing what he loved (surfing), meeting cool new people, and making good money on top of it! Wow I thought to myself, how cool! Of course I had to tell him I was doing great and making money hand over fist etc. just to save a little face, but inside I was jealous immediately. Not really jealous of him personally, but just jealous of his new “lifestyle.” Pat told me to keep in touch and threw me a t-shirt with his company logo and jumped in the van and took off.
I walked over to assume my position at the “food court,” stunned by what just transpired. Having replayed all the things Pat told me over and over in my mind, my lunch didn’t taste very good.
Now for people that are close to me and know me well, I’m sure they could attest to the fact that I am a pretty jovial person all the time. Always laughing, joking, and having fun. I can tell you I do not suffer from depression and really do not have any understanding of how a depressed person must feel. However, I can say with some certainty that after that “chance” meeting with Pat, I slipped into a funk – a depressed state – I was not the same person for the next 2 weeks or so. I began to “hate” my job, hate my work surroundings, and hate everything about the mortgage business. I was having trouble smiling and for me that just isn’t right. I had officially become depressed about what I was doing with my life – sitting in this cubicle, talking to people thousands of miles away that I didn’t even know or really care about. Everything sucked it seemed like, except my gorgeous family. My wife and kid definitely helped make things easier to swallow in those trying times for me.
One day sitting at my desk staring at the phone waiting for it to ring, I was in one of my daydream states again, thinking about Costa Rica and all the things I missed so much about it. Thinking about traveling and surfing exotic lands…when all of the sudden it hit me, like a ton of bricks, like the biggest head rush ever. What took me so damn long to figure this out?!!! “WHY NOT DO A SURF SCHOOL IN COSTA RICA!” Genius!!!
I had all the connections I had made in my time living there. My brother Tyler was still there and struggling to make a living. He had all kinds of contacts…damn, it made so much sense it hurt! You ever just have a light bulb go on and you know whatever it is, it’s right as rain? I had that moment that day in my cubicle.
It was game on. I had the idea, but there was A LOT of work to do to even think about getting this thing off the ground. First and most importantly, I had to see what my brother thought about the idea. I called Tyler and gave him my “pitch” and before I had all the details out of my mouth, he was all over it,”Yeah it sounds unreal!”
The idea was born…now how the hell am I going to put this together???

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: Reality Check

Coming back to the US and the fast paced lifestyle was certainly a shock to both Marsi and I. We had really become accustomed to the “pura vida” vibe so the transition back into reality was anything but smooth at first…sounds weird to say but we were going through a “culture shock!”
Now to understand my current work situation (or lack thereof), I guess you should understand a bit of my work “background.” I did a couple years of college taking courses that I was into, but college just didn’t ring my bell. I had visions of being a Real Estate mogul. I have always been quick with the tongue and a pretty extroverted sort so I had been mainly in some form of “sales” for the majority of my young adult life. When I moved to Ventura, California in the early 80’s I found work as a painter’s apprentice (house painter). I moved to San Diego in the late 80’s where I began my own paint company called “Paint By Design”. I also met my future wife Marsi in SD as well. I went from door to door with flyer’s to ten years later having a successful paint contracting business with eight employees and commercial and residential contracts. I was an excellent painter, but what set my company apart from others was my professional approach that focused on customer service (more on that trait later!).
Having been self employed most of my young adult life afforded me time to travel and surf the corners of the globe. But also, having been a painter for so long I also contracted “work related” asthma. So it was not difficult for me to hang up the painting career and sell everything I had to move to Costa Rica at all. In fact, it was a life choice…meaning I chose to live a long life instead of breathing in crap paint fumes!
Bringing this all together, upon my return from Costa Rica I was forced to jump back into the painting industry and got a job as a lead painter. I did it because we (Marsi, I, and the baby) needed to. But I quickly became sick of the painting routine and Marsi and I sat down one night and decided to write down a few things that I might be interested in doing as a “career.” I narrowed it down to 3 things: 1 – a Real Estage Agent; 2 – a stock broker; 3 – a loan officer (mortgages). I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to work on the weekends so RE was out. I sure as hell wasn’t going to be up at 3 am looking up a freakin’ ticker tape so Stock Broker was out…it looked like the mortgage biz had my name on it.
My sister was a loan processor for a company and had good relations with the owner. She got me an interview and of course I BS’d my way through that, telling the person I had experience and was a great asset to their company blah blah blah. I was hired and started doing second mortgage loans. This was back when people were doing mortgages for 125% of the value of homes! It’s no wonder we all took a dump there a few years ago.
Anyway, within a couple of months Marsi and I had gotten our own apartment and within a year we had bought a house and were driving a range rover (la dee dah). In short, I was making more money than I ever had in my life. Selling loans was my thing. Helping people with their finances was my calling. I was good at it and the paychecks certainly reflected that. I bounced around to a couple different mortgage companies over the next 18 months or so. I seemed to be looking for the “perfect” situation which for me was less time in the office and more time in the ocean while still trying to make my sales “quota.”
It was early 1999 and I had everything I thought I needed…a gorgeous wife and new kiddo, a nice car and a nice house…I had it all right? Well all that was going to change.
I must admit I was certainly restless in my new profession, having been a self employed soul for so long, it was like caging up a cougar…keeping me in a cubicle with my desk, my phone and not letting me be free! I was deep inside, feeling like I should be elsewhere. My day dreaming became ever present again just like in the classroom when I was in grade school.

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: Laying the Foundation

Don’t ever let anyone tell you moving to a foreign country is easy…its not! All of our cargo was held up in customs for ten days, every box gone through, and god knows how many things went missing. Once it was all said and done, we got to our destination and our dream home – a 650 square foot box that was a mere 100 feet from the beach in Garza. With the lease paid three months in advance, brooms and paint brushes in hand, we were ready to make the market/deli our own.
Richard had closed the market for some six months or so prior, so once we arrived there were cob webs and a pungent moldy odor. A friendly bat who would not vacate, bugs, and things I’m not sure what the hell they were…littered the place. A huge undertaking in retrospect, but we were “living the dream” so the countless hours of cleaning, scrubbing, painting, building, and fixing were okay as we were preparing for the new “high season.” We had visions of customers coming through town in droves just to buy our custom made sandwiches and goodies.
To give you an idea of how far off of the “grid” we were at that time, the town of Garza had no telephone lines except for one at the main “soda” (Tico word for local restaurant), which typically had a line that would last for hours. There were no computers, WiFi, cable TV, doctors, banks, or ATM’s…I think you get the picture. We were on our own and off the beaten path for sure. Plus, we were so blond we stood out like a sore thumb in that town. We were like the side show attraction to all the locals…literally!
We certainly had the right idea for our market/deli. We had found an amazing butcher/cheese vendor in San Jose with prime meats that were not available in Garza or anywhere in that vicinity. You have to understand that some of the basic foods we take for granted like Lay’s Potato Chips, Snickers, real butter etc…were not only unavailable in our town, but not available anywhere in Costa Rica except select places in San Jose (5 hours inland). Marsi and I would go to San Jose and buy $1500 to $3000 or more worth of “food” and pack our little cracker jack truck we bought for a song and a dance and head on to Garza like traveling hillbillies.
We were the talk of the town…from the local people who were stupefied we would live in that market, to the ex-pats and people who were wanted on Interpol (at least it felt that way!) that lived in the surrounding areas. People would come in just to buy a Snickers bar and just a Snickers bar only. Most all of the ex-pats were on Social Security and had just enough money to buy a Snickers or a bag of REAL potato chips. It was kind of comical and sad all at the same time.
High season came and it was like someone turned on a light switch…we were kicking some butt. We had business rolling in and we were on top of the world. At this time, I contacted my brother Tyler who lived back home in Hawaii and told him to come check out Costa Rica and see what we were doing…surfing everyday and living a simple relaxed life. Tyler was there within a couple of weeks, surfboard in hand and a smile on his face.
Tyler quickly fell in love with the people, the country, the good surf, and most of all, the pura vida spirit, just as I had. He was sold that this was the place for him to be. Amazingly so that he went back to Hawaii, gathered all his stuff together, and moved back within a month! He had found some work with a gringo who had a HUGE farm a few miles south who needed a farm hand/gardener to help keep the over 500 acres in check. Just as a side note, this property is now owned by Mel Gibson.
Things were good, Tyler was working and our mini market/deli was doing okay…sustaining life for us there. Then, like a light switch can be turned on, it can also be turned off…the high season of tourists had just dried up as quickly as they had came. Marsi and I were NOT prepared for that nor had we been enlightened by Richard in advance that the slow season comes quickly and brutally. Perhaps that is why he and his wife wanted out, there were 4 months of “glory” and then nada…zip…zilch.
As the days turned into weeks of no business other than selling the basic staples of rice, beans, manteca, and Guaro to the local people, which of course we didn’t mark up as we thought that was not the right thing to do and certainly not a gesture of good will for letting us chill in their town. Marsi and I found ourselves eating our food, drinking our liquor to the point where we basically had nothing left accept each other and the grim reality that we had lost EVERYTHING in less than a year.
The only option we had was to go “home” to California and try to re-start our lives again. I didn’t want this to be my reality and I can tell you that Marsi and I drank ourselves into a stupor numerous times trying to drown out the sorrow (and embarrassment too) of having to go home like dogs with their tails between their legs. We had failed. I must say that we had so many unbelievable life experiences during that year that certainly will never be forgotten. Those experiences and memories I knew could never be taken away from us.
Once reality set in and there was nothing we could do about it, a small sense of peace came to me knowing that my brother Tyler was there and no way shape or form moving back to the states. He was there come hell or high water. There was a sense of purpose I felt, even though it wasn’t my purpose, I still felt like “well cool, at least I introduced this to my bro and he will keep the dream alive.” It was the best (and only) consolation prize I had. Little did I know that it was going to play a HUGE part later in my life.
Packed with what little we had left, sitting in the airport staring at my immediate future of having to live at my father in laws house (don’t get me wrong he is a super cool cat!) with no job, no money, and no spine…well let’s just say I’ve had better thoughts pore through my mind. My wife turns to me (and I will NEVER forget the look on her face – “should I tell him?” Yes…no…yes…) and then she tells me “baby, I’m pregnant.” My immediate reaction, “F me! Can it get any worse? Is this a sick joke?” This was all in my head of course as I smiled with great joy and wonder giving Marsi a bear hug of congratulatory size.
Wow talk about lighting a fire under my ass! Needless to say the plane ride home was a blur as my head spun from all that had just transpired within weeks. My life, my dream…turned upside down by the powers that be. Sick twisted humor.

Business in “Pura Vida-Ville”: The Beginning (Pre-Costa Rica)

People always tell me I have a “dream job” and ask how I made it all happen? How did I get to where I am today? I can assure you it was NOT planned!
Join me on my blogging journey as I chronicle the story of Safari Surf School and the trials and tribulations of running a small business in a foreign country (a.k.a. paradise)! This series will give you an insight into how we ended up starting a surf school in Nosara, Costa Rica, and all of the awesome experiences we’ve had along the way.
I love telling the Safari Surf “story,” since it reminds me of the amazing journey this has been so far, and I think it is unique and inspiring for others. Grab a cup of coffee or a beer and chillax with me while I take you back to the “early” days, just prior to the founding of Safari Surf School and beyond.
In my “youth” (late 20’s), I did quite a bit of traveling around the world chasing my dream of perfect surf, exotic places and cultures, and really in an odd way…looking for a place I could move to and live. Living a simple life with great surf always appealed to me. I didn’t have an idea of what I’d do for a living, and in retrospect I was quite delusional, but we daydreamers usually are. I only knew I wanted a simple, tropical life, close enough to the great surf where I could experience the healing power of the ocean on a daily basis. Growing up in Hawaii, people always asked me “why would you ever leave Hawaii?” Honestly, being a white kid on an island where the natives had their land stolen from them by white people…I didn’t blend in well. I’m sure my pale skin and my stark white blond hair didn’t help either.
I was looking for another place where the “aloha” spirit was alive and well, because at times it was hard to find in Hawaii. I traveled to places like Australia, Jamaica, Fiji, and Tahiti…where I found what I thought was THE perfect place for me to live. It was so close to Hawaii in so many ways and the “aloha” spirit was definitely strong. Then reality hit once I learned you had to marry a native in order to own land there. That kind of blew the whole deal out of the water, along with the fact that the cost of living was (is) ridiculous since almost every product there is imported!
Upon my return from Tahiti, I had a discussion with a good friend about my trip and told him how I loved it there, and would move there in a second if not for the aforementioned issues. He told me that I should check out Costa Rica, the new, cool place to go. Great surf. Cool vibe. I was sold.
I traveled to Costa Rica in 1995 with a couple of friends. We had 3 weeks to cruise up and down the coast and check out the entire Pacific side on the country. My girl Marsi would be joining us mid-trip.
My first “feeling” about the country was uncertain…through no fault but my own. Unfortunately, the boys and I had been drinking on the plane ride over and continued drinking on the taxi ride from San Jose to a surf town called Jaco. I do recall our driver being one of the coolest cats as he kept stopping to get us more beer, took us to a couple of cool spots to eat, and of course the numerous pee stops along the road. It was all in good fun and the driver was super friendly. It was a good omen of things to come.
After a couple of weeks in the country, I truly began to fall in love with the people and the vibe they had. They called it “pura vida,” or pure life. Everyone greeted you with “pura vida,” and said goodbye with “pura vida.” It was growing on me. In 1995, there weren’t as many traveling surfers as there are today, which made some of the outlying areas we visited REALLY special. I can remember as we would pass through local villages, little kids would come running out of their houses screaming and waving to us and we would stop and give them candy and stickers (my friend gave me the heads up that stickers were like gold in Costa Rica, candy was always a good thing to have, and if you wanted to barter with something bring some extra pairs of jeans…people just LOVED jeans!).
I remember stopping in front of houses that were basically a shack with dirt floors and ripped tin roof to say hi and meet the people who lived there. You could tell they had nothing but the essentials, yet they always greeted us with that “pura vida” friendliness. Their front yards were always well manicured (dudes used machetes to “mow” the lawn!) and there was no trash littered around, which is pretty prevalent in most poor countries. There was a real sense of pride in the families we met in Costa Rica. The kids were all just full of smiles and giggles, and you could tell they had no clue they were poor, it was just how they lived and they were happy. It really affected me in such a positive way that one could live in such a simple environment with minimal amenities and possessions and be so damn happy and care free.
It was somewhere on that trek along the Pacific coast that I knew I would love to live in Costa Rica. I also found that you could actually buy land and own it outright with no lease involved, and you didn’t have to marry a local!! Things were certainly looking promising!
My girlfriend at the time (Marsi), arrived in San Jose where we met her upon her exit at customs…I couldn’t keep my giddiness in check. I had to tell her that this place was amazing and that we could live here and be happy forever!! It was everything I had always thought I wanted for a place to live.
We took off to a town called Tamarindo, which quickly killed my buzz – concrete everywhere, tourists everywhere, crowds in the water…ugh!!! We got out of there quickly the following day and headed south down the coast to explore. We were there in the summer (rainy season), so we definitely encountered some rain here and there during our trip. It’s funny how when you’re driving along and looking for surf and checking out cool towns that you tend to lose track of time. Losing track of time as the day is winding down when you have no lodging set up can be a bit stressful to say the least.
Darkness was a mere hour away and it was now pissing down buckets of rain so hard that the windshield wipers had no chance of catching up. I thought I had seen rain living in Hawaii, but no…this rain was by far the most intense amount of water I’d seen in such a short period of time. I had never experienced a “flash flood,” but it was happening before our eyes and small rivers that looked passable were quickly turning into whitewater rapids!
By the grace of God, and I say this whole heartedly, the next turn we took in that rain soaked storm in our “dingy” of a rental car changed my life and my girlfriend Marsi’s life forever.
We spotted a small “convenience” store that was open. Now when I say convenience, I mean it was a hole in the wall mini market that actually had lights on and an English sign in front of it. Help was our “mantra” at that point. “Must…find…shelter…help…us…please.” To our delight, we found an American ex-pat standing there with a smile. Bonus!!! In a situation like that, speaking English was quite a luxury. We told the gentleman that we were a wee bit lost, wet, hungry and had no place to sleep, and if he could please point us to the closest hotel or hostel. Chuckling (and I can still hear his laugh of disbelief), he said “there is no way on god’s green earth you can to make it to any hotels. All the rivers are over-flowing and impassable.” I guess looking like defeated drowned rats, he took pity on us and invited us to stay at his humble abode, which was a mere 100 yards away (and did I mention right on the beach!).
“Richard” took us in to his gorgeous, open-air home, which had beautiful hard wood floors, walls, and ceilings. He styled us with some amazing food and we drank with him into the evening…warm and toasty. I was very inquisitive and pressed Richard on how he ended up in this tiny fishing village (Garza)? How was he able to make the transition from living in the US to living in Costa Rica? I was mesmerized and taken in by his “spell” and had so many other questions. I wanted his life (or so I thought). I wanted the simple life. The “pura vida” life.
The next morning the sun shone through and Richard took us surfing to a secret spot where we surfed great, empty waves; came back, and had an amazing breakfast and as we sat there, Richard (sensing my “want” to live a life of leisure – which was exuding from every freakin’ pore of my body!), mentioned that he and his wife were “tired” of running the mini market and had been having thoughts of either selling it or leasing it out. BOOM!!!!! I quickly jumped in and said “WOW…hey Marsi …baby, honey, sugar, sweetie (you get the picture), we could lease the place, huh?”
Richard, Marsi and I hatched an informal plan, and we all agreed that once Marsi and I got back to the U.S. we would chat some more, formalize a plan, and then get back to Richard to confirm if we were all in! Some time passed and Marsi and I got married, but we kept in touch with Richard. I worked as a paint contractor running my own business and stashing away as much cash as possible for my future life. Marsi got her teaching credentials as we were on way to putting some bucks away and our plan was to be in Costa Rica at the end of ’96 or early ’97.
In the meantime, each of our families obviously had some “concerns” about our plans to move to another country far far away from them. We got questions like “how far away is that island?” (kid you not!), and “Isn’t that country between Panama and Nicaragua….uh don’t those people not like us?” So it certainly got the families attention what we were planning to do, but in the end to both our families credit, they wished us well and gave us their blessings (begrudgingly of course!).
Marsi and I sold EVERYTHING we had and I mean EVERYTHING, we packed up all of our belongings in boxes along with our two pug dogs and headed for Miami in a U-Haul truck. We figured it was easier and less expensive to send cargo and our precious pups from Miami than California, so a nice road trip ensued, actually crazy road trip, but I won’t bore you with the details (massive hangovers in New Orleans etc., etc.!). Shit…we were on our way to our (my) dream!!!!!