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The History of Our Costa Rica Surf School

...begins in 1996

01 Safari’s History

Back in the day


The Beginning of Our Surf School Journey

We first traveled to Costa Rica in 1995, my wife and I along with some friends on a surf adventure. We traveled the entire Pacific coast during our maiden voyage. Stopping one night during the pouring rain looking for shelter in a town called Garza. An expat stranger took us in and we wound up staying in that area for 4 days. We all loved the area, the surf, the local people… everything about it.

During our stay there with this ex-pat kindly taking us in…he had mentioned to Marsi and me that he was tired of running a small mini market in town and asked if we might be interested in leasing it and running it from him and his wife.       

On our way to Costa Rica to start a new life

Tim & Marsi… on the road to paradise!”

Both my Marsi and I could not resist the “pura vida” lifestyle, and we pushed all of our chips in… you know, like foolish young people tend to do without really thinking it through. The best decision we ever made!! We flew back to the States… sold everything, and moved to Costa Rica in 1996.
Living in the tiny fishing town of Garza, where we were the only gringos and were obviously the talk of the town, our 2 pug dogs were all the fodder, and I can’t remember how many people we had to refuse to sell our pugs to! For some perspective, we lived in the back of the market in a tiny room. There were no computers, no telephones, no TV, no internet (obviously)… nada! Talk about signing off from the world around us… we did just that!

Pre Safari Surf School

Proud owners of a new mini market in Garza Bay… circa 1996

The Beginning

We cleaned out the old abandoned mini market and freshly painted the new “Pura Vida Ville” Market, where we created a deli to make sandwiches and such for all the fishermen and surfers passing through.
During our time there, we made many local and expat friends in Playa Guiones. Our market was doing ok, and we were just living the dream as they say. So much so, that I called my brother Tyler who was still living at home in Hawaii and told him to come and check this place out. I told him it was like a mixture of Aloha spirit and Pura Vida vibes… just a great vibe.
Tyler came and decided he loved it as well and decided to move there in Nosara.

Tyler and Tim Marsh, founders of Safari Surf School

Tyler loved Costa Rica like Tim & Marsi did …just good vibes!

Marsi Marsh working hard

Marsi working hard at the mini market, while Tim’s out surfing

Marsi Marsh working the PuraVida-ville store
Look at those prices back then! Our small deli rocked!
Old School Costa Rica transportation
Traffic outside of our mini market

Reality struck in the most cruel way… the slow season back in those days was REALLY slow. As in ghost town slow. Long story short it wasn’t long before Marsi and I were eating and drinking all of our market products as the days dragged into weeks with little to no business.
One year later we realized our dream had come to an end. We had no business and no money to speak of. But what we did have was an absolutely amazing life adventure making a lot of close friends and future “contacts” for things to come.

Flying home in 1997, Marsi decided to enlighten me while we were sitting there in the airport waiting to come back to the US and having to succumb to living at my in-law’s home to help get us back on our feet…she tells me that she is pregnant! Time to get my shit together!!!

And together I did get my shit. Got a good job in the mortgage biz, bought a house and a Range Rover …all was peachy keen…sort of. Sitting at my desk day in and day out selling people money was certainly paying me large amounts of money but really zero satisfaction. I’m talking about life satisfaction. I had everything you are supposed to want to have but something was missing, and I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. That was until one day…walking from my office over to a food court to get some lunch. An old friend of mine, Pat Weber, barked out to me while he was pumping gas in his big van at the filling station. I walked over to him to say, “What’s up!” …” and longtime” etc. He had a dozen surfboards loaded into and on top of his van. He proceeded to tell me he started a surf school and was loving life. He said he was “living the dream” of surfing every day and getting paid to do it. He tossed me a surf school t-shirt and said keep in touch!

Pat Weber inspiration for Safari Surf

Pat Weber (on the left) or as people like to call him Coach Pat

That encounter changed everything for me. People who know me know I am NOT a depressed person…quite the opposite. Sometimes to a fault. But I admit for about 2 weeks after “the encounter” I was as depressed as I could have ever been. I missed Costa Rica, I missed the Pura Vida life, the people, the surf… everything!

I was raised on the South Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I’ve surfed since I was 8 years old. Living in Hawaii in my young adult years and meeting tourists (girls) in Hawaii all the time, one of our (the boys) shtick was to meet these tourist girls and then ask if they wanted to learn to surf. It was the perfect “in”. While sitting at my desk waiting for the phone to ring, it hit me. Like a ton of bricks! “WHY NOT START A SURF SCHOOL IN COSTA RICA” I shouted in my head.

While sitting at my desk waiting for the phone to ring, it hit me. Like a ton of bricks! “WHY NOT START A SURF SCHOOL IN COSTA RICA” I shouted in my head.

Our Costa Rica Surf School was Born

I called my brother Tyler, who was now living my dream in Costa Rica, and was doing odd gardening jobs here and there and I asked him what he thought about doing a surf school there in Nosara. He was all in on the idea. But, of course, all in meant he liked the idea but had no idea how to go about it.


Tim, Sunny and Tyler

Sunny Garcia with Marsh brothers

During the year or so that we lived in Garza we used to go into Nosara to find places to eat and one of our favorites was called the Casa Tucan. We knew the owners and the manager, and we asked if they might be interested in having a surf program based there at their hotel, and all the guests we will bring will stay at their hotel. BOOM… we had a location!


An associate working with me in my mortgage office happened to be a computer dude… and could create a website for us. I bartered with him and told him I’d put him and his girl up in Costa Rica in exchange for building us a website. WALA! We were on the Internet. Safari Surf School was created in 1998 and opened its proverbial doors in 1999. Safari Surf School was one of the first organized all-inclusive surf programs in all of Costa Rica at that time.

Casa Tucan Days

Safari Surf’s first home

The First Few Years of Surf Lessons in Costa Rica

For the first few years, the only marketing we could ever do or afford was just placing ads in the back of magazines like National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Health, etc. Our best advertisements were for the guests who had come to experience our program, the people, the surf, and the Pura Vida vibe! We were getting tons of referrals from these guests and they would come back as well and bring family or friends.

Casa Tucan...Safari Surf Schools bar and restaurant

Another busy night at the Safari’s restaurant

Things changed exponentially for Safari Surf in 2006. One of our guests emailed me about the incredible trip they had had and how they were telling all their friends and family about coming to join us and the experience we had on offer. He told me to give him a call, so I did. After a few minutes of gushing about his time with us, he stopped and said something I’ll never forget… he said “Tim, you have an incredible product to offer but your website… well, its GHETTO!”

And I’m like “Ghetto”? He proceeded to tell me how my website needed so much help and how much better we could be doing with some help on the website. Of course, I offered him a bartering deal… make my website un-ghetto in exchange for another trip to Safari. With that new updated website Safari Surf School’s sales rose to new heights that I hadn’t even imagined possible. And that was only the beginning… well, middle, I guess.

Tim Marsh, Sunny Garcia

Sunny Garcia & the team Safari

With that new updated website Safari Surf School’s sales rose to new heights that I hadn’t even imagined possible. And that was only the beginning… well, middle I guess.

Casa Tucan Daze

In 2006 the Casa Tucan Hotel owners decided to sell. This at first was quite a scary prospect because we did not know where we would base Safari Surf School if the new owners did not want us there. So, we did the next best thing we could and took that possible situation out of the equation. We rounded up a couple of investors along with myself and my brother and we bought the Casa Tucan Hotel.

Peter Allah

Pete at the office

I must admit that some of the most fun we ever had was at Casa Tucan. We didn’t have a real clue on how to run a hotel, bar, and restaurant but we did pretty damn well. We loved our “Karaoke Nights” singing with guests at the bar. Of course, the neighboring Harmony Hotel was not too pleased but hey! We have so many memories of that location and the amazing staff that came and went. Eduardo, our amazing cook, Maritza who took over for Eduardo, and Lucy behind the bar making THE best Mojitos known to mankind. Hiring a shy waiter named Jeffrey Baltodano who knew very little if any English. And so many other amazing characters along the way. And who can forget about Peter? Our abuelo hippy from the 60’s telling his amazing stories to all who’d have it. A guest favorite along with his wife Em’s insanely good carrot cakes we’d give to guests upon arrival.

We also had so many talented and intriguing surf instructors from all over the world. Nico from Columbia, Enrique from there in Nosara, Rolo, Ricardo, Helberth and Owen from England. Then there was Johnny from the East Coast. So many good people that have come and blessed us with their presence and moved on.

Things got a bit crazy for Safari Surf in 2013 when our partners in the hotel investment wanted to sell their shares and move on. Again, Safari Surf was faced with not having a home base. I jumped into motion and started to contact friends in the local real estate market to try and find a home or a property we could use for our location. Rich Burman from Surfing Nosara got back to me and told me he had an incredible property right on the 200-meter line in Nosara that was close to some 2 acres large. It wasn’t listed yet and I had a limited amount of time to try and work something out before it hit the market.


Change of Plans for Safari Surf

I put together a solid business plan and investment opportunity and reached out to some of the consistent Safari Surf guests that had been visiting with us for years and whom we knew might want to come in and help Safari out while investing in property as well. We found our investors and the new property was ours, it was time to say goodbye to Casa Tucan and all of its 14 years’ worth of memories and move forward.

The last day at Casa Tucan. Safari Surf moving on and upwards to a new location

The last picture of Casa Tucan, end of the first chapter

For the next 2 + years Safari Surf School was based in a house on the property we invested in. This was while our hotel property was being designed and built.



I presented my new partners with the idea of creating a fully sustainable hotel and working with a good friend of mine Carl Kish and Dr. Jess Ponting from STOKE Certified to help us create a LEED (Leader in Energy and Environmental Design) certified hotel. I brought Carl in, and he sold the rest of the investors on the idea of building responsibly and becoming a model for other hotels and businesses to follow. Carl was hired as our project manager and did an absolutely incredible job. So much so that in the end our new hotel name “Olas Verdes”, was presented with the highest certificate from LEED… Platinum!

Tim & Carl Kish

Tim & Carl Kish

New Beginning – The Ultimate Costa Rica Surf Hotel— Olas Verdes Hotel

In 2015 upon opening, Olas Verdes was the first hotel in Central America to receive the LEED Platinum Certification. Something I will always remember and be very proud to have accomplished. Safari Surf put on an amazing grand opening ceremony for the hotel by bringing in singer-songwriter G-Love for a concert and benefit event… such good times! My daughter Camille opened the show for G Love and was asked to perform a song with him too… such cool memories.



Safari Surf School took this sustainable philosophy we had always employed even further by having STOKE Certified provide us with the metrics and vision in order to become the first surf school program in the world to be fully sustainable certified by a legitimate program that STOKE offers. Another very proud moment for myself and Safari Surf School’s history upon earning our Sustainable rating and certificate.

Safari Surf - Branching Out

Explore surf in Costa Rica

Just another lazy day on the beach

Also, in 2015 Safari Surf created a women’s only program. This program was created to focus on the growing sector of women who are interested in surfing and the surf culture. Obviously, we were a little late to the table as women’s surfing, in general, has exploded over the years. But, we needed the right people to run it and the right people to create the perfect program and have the right vision for it. We have had some changes over the years with our personnel to run this program and have finally found the perfect person who is now the director of the Women’s Retreat program for Safari Surf… Daniela Muñoz. Dani as she prefers to be called, continues to create and run a surf program experience that is second to none to this day.

surfer girls

Dani – director of the Women’s Retreat program

In 2017, Safari Surf School once again expanded its horizons by opening up an office and surf program in Panama. Currently, our Panama location is run by Cristobal (Trico) Rangel who is one of the biggest characters you will ever meet. He is so passionate about surfing and teaching surfing to our Safari guests. Our location in Panama is in a quiet town called Playa Venao. A small town with everything you’d want to do on a vacation.


Trico, Safari Surf's Panama manager

Cristobal ‘Trico’ Rangel – your host with the most in Panama

In early 2020 as everyone knows… a hideous virus called COVID-19 hit the globe like a right hook from Mike Tyson. Safari Surf as with most of the travel industry hunkered down for the incredible year that was not. As in it was not in business but just trying to stay afloat like everyone else. Fortunately, we were able to weather the storm with some financial help from Uncle Sam.

Safari Surf Expanding its Offerings

In late 2021 Safari Surf made an investment into its future by adding some major activities on offer for Safari guests to take advantage of. One was the purchase of our Safari Surf “Adventures” boat named “Vilocity”. This 23-foot outboard motor beauty was set up not only for fishing trips but also for surf trips exploring the coast to the North and South of our location. We are so excited to have this adventure option for our guests. Offering everything from fishing, surfing, snorkeling, and inflatable tube rides to sunset tours… we love our boat!

Safari Surf boat ...Vilocity

The Safari ‘Vilocity’ boat

In addition Safari also added a 4X4 luxury truck to its fleet to be able to offer sirf trips via land to secret spots as well as taking guests on sightseeing tours and shopping in local towns! It is all about the experience and Safari is making sure we offer the best.

find surf spots with local surf guide

Safari’s 4X4 exploration luxury truck

Safari is still moving forward and looking at expanding to new locations for our clients to come and enjoy with us. The history is long and in depth for Safari Surf School and it continues to this day!
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