Bruce Brown’s touchstone 1964 film The Endless Summer is still considered one of the best surf movies ever made. For the uninitiated, he narrated California surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August chasing waves around the world against a sun-soaked soundtrack that captured a dream of living on the edge cool and surf travel ahead of its time. Seeking more perfect waves for its sequel, The Endless Summer II followed Pat O’Connell and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver as they partially retraced Hynson and August’s footsteps on another surf-travel odyssey.
The year was 1994, and, among other exotic locales, viewers were introduced to the warm waters and “Pura Vida” of Costa Rica, and a break called Witches Rock. Located inside Santa Rosa National Park and accessed by boat, this wasn’t considered a beginner-friendly place then — and still isn’t now. When south swells hit just right, surfers across the country stage ‘strike missions’ to score double and even triple overhead barrels there — something I’ve been trying not to think about on the ride over with my guides Hanna Storrosten and Jose “J.D.” Daniel.
Located near Papagayo Peninsula, a secluded resort community meets eco-preserve canopied by tropical dry forests in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, the volcanic rock that legend says is haunted and locals call Roca Bruja, is 45 minutes up the coast from the Four Seasons Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo where Storrosten and J.D. run SurfX. Developed for the resort — one currently closest to the famous break — the surfing program caters to all ages and abilities, from beginner lessons to a more advanced program designed to develop skills with coaching and video analysis. For the record, I consider my experience as mixed but super rusty.
The fabled Witches Rock, or Roca Bruja
“The forecast this morning called for offshore winds, which opens these peaky a-frames, so we’re going to have some fun,” Storrosten tells me as the boat slows down. Switching to Spanish, she confers with J.D. where to position ourselves behind the break. It’s 8:30 a.m., and there are five boats in the lineup, which Storrosten says means maybe 30 surfers in the water. The also famous right-hand point break Ollie’s Rock — named after former U.S. Colonel Oliver North due to its proximity to an old top-secret CIA airstrip — is a few miles along the coast from us and considered another dream destination delivering near total seclusion and endless waves.
We circle and watch a little longer before finally dropping anchor off the shore of the river mouth. I noticed how the small waves Storrosten mentioned at SurfX HQ actually seemed quite big. “Look at this right!” J.D. exclaims as a set wave rolls through and spindrift flies off the back. People dream about getting to surf here, I tell myself as I take a few deep breaths before jumping off the back of the boat onto a sweet-looking 9-foot single fin Robert August What I Ride longboard.
We make our way to the outside edge of the lineup — J.D. corrects my position, tells me to look left, paddle and puts me into my first wave. I cruise along shakily before losing balance, but it’s a positive start, and I feel a tiny surge of confidence paddling back out. Between Storrosten and J.D., I catch a handful of falteringly short shoulder rides before the wind shifts, things pick upvand I get stuck on the beach looking at a relentless wall of whitewash. J.D.’s surfing style (smooth, laid back) matches his personality, and he arrives to help. “Nothing to be afraid of,” he says, laughing but nicely, “a few more in this set, and we’ll get back out. Relax, and don’t forget to breathe.” Between the wind shift and Roca Bruja “being witchy,” it’s a while before things flatten out. When they do, I’m ready to call it good, but Storrosten encourages me to catch one last wave and end the session on a high. I’m glad she does because not long afterward, the wind howls again: my sign to nope out of there and watch while they get some real surfing in.
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“You can tell people you rode the board from The Endless Summer II at Witches Rock,” Storrosten says back on the boat. We’re sipping on fresh coconuts — which, alongside cut fruit, rolled towels and civilized boat transfers — are all part of SurfX’s cushy Surf Santa Rosa experience. “Today would be like a seven out of ten, good but not epic,” she tells me. “The wind switched offshore, so those three-foot sets picked up to around five at the end.” And that howling sound? Turns out it was created by seasonal Papagayo winds that sweep down from beyond Lake Nicaragua 40 miles to the northeast of us. Storrosten shows me a photo of her recently getting barreled there — a gamine Scandinavian gracefully charging.
We discuss her plan to put Peninsula Papagayo on the map as a luxury surfing destination with SurfX positioned to meet demand among a now younger Four Seasons guest demographic keen for adventure and more personalized experiences. Surfing for a decade, the Norwegian native fell in love with the sport traveling through Latin America in her early twenties and moved back to Costa Rica after graduating college in California. Working with Peninsula Papagayo since 2019, she was a flawless fit to revamp their surf program and bring in local talent like J.D.
Surf Local: beginner waves and handcrafted boards
I met J.D. on my second morning for Surf Local — an immersive day trip that began with an early drive south to a lesser-known beach called Playa Avellanas for an easy session on fun beginner waves, included a stop for lunch and ended with a visit to a local surfboard shaper. Growing up in Tamarindo and surfing since age ten, J.D. says joining the Surf 4 Youth (S4Y) program set him up for a career beyond the competition circuit doing what he loves. As lead coach — and soon-to-be SurfX manager — he shares that kids who grow up in Costa Rica and live to surf dream about working in the industry but don’t always know how to make it happen.
Surfing can feel like a club no one is invited to join unless they rip. Storrosten is motivated to introduce more women into the sport, and J.D. shines making everyone feel welcome and confident in the water — whether at Witches or Playa Grande in his hometown where he’s well-known and respected. Another S4Y alumni, now SurfX team member, is Steven “Tivito” Salazar, a young Del Coco Beach local and freelance surf and skate coach who gives me some pointers at Playa Avellanas before we break to grab lunch at Lola’s. Over fish tacos and watermelon frescas, Storrosten says her goal is to add more experiences to the SurfX roster, including one currently in R&D: A Day with J.D that would include a stop for gallo pinto (rice and beans) at a local soda, a surf session with J.D. and skate clinic with Tivito. “La Jefa gets to decide though,” J.D laughs, adding “we call Hannah ‘La Jefa’ because she’s the boss lady.”
After lunch wraps, we load up the car and head to Cheboards in nearby Tamarindo — the Endless Summer II famous Costa Rican beach town with waves that draws surfers from around the world. Although not far as the crow flies, road conditions make it a 30 minute drive through Tico towns that give a sense of local life. Originally from Argentina, Juan Diego “J.D.” Evangelista had just crafted his 15,479th surfboard the day we walked into his factory and studio. It’s where he produces his “Che” and Evangalista branded boards, including a 6’4 fish tail and 9-foot longboard made from sustainably sourced balsa wood, which he plants in Costa Rican territory and is responsible for reforesting to ensure a continuous system for growing future trees. Combined with low-impact resins and fabrics, including Japanese linen, they’re two of the most eco-friendly and beautiful to behold surfboards out there. Real connoisseur collectors stuff.
Evangalista is well respected in the local surf community and passionate about his craft, “I love making boards and I love getting to show people the artistry behind it,” he tells me. Thanks to his partnership with SurfX and Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, we get a behind-the-scenes look at operations — from the early-stage balsa wood blanks glued together before being chambered and “his world” inside the shaping room, to a quick peek at his 3D printer, busy printing an epoxy board. Then, it’s upstairs to the glassing department where on-trend pastels and custom colors are mixed and applied to different models: fishes and fun boards, of which the Papaya is a best seller. Seasoned surfers headed to Four Seasons Costa Rica keen to add one of his masterpieces to their quivers back home can get hands-on in the design and creative process with Evangalista when ordering a custom board through SurfX.
But first, wellness: Ninja Surf Flow and a Wipeout Massage
The sun sits lower in the sky as we make our way back to the resort along the edge of the Peninsula. My muscles are only slightly sore from the morning’s surf session, which I put down to the Ninja Flow Surf class or an Animal Flow style workout that the resort’s wellness ambassador Jose Pablo Rodríguez led on my first day. Designed to help improve strength, flexibility and coordination with fluid martial art-style movements, he assured me it would prepare my body for the pop ups needed when surfing. It certainly didn’t hurt. Neither did the breathwork class (also with Jose Pablo) and Wipeout massage at the spa (ask for Charlie) that put me to sleep. My last day, though, ends with a cherry on top sound healing session with Jose Pablo. Surrounded by his crystal and Tibetan singing bowls, gongs and Koshi chimes, and snuggled under a blanket, I soon drift off to the edge of consciousness with some honey-tinged SurfX meets Endless Summer shot on V8 movie moments playing through my mind. Pura Vida.
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