If you’re looking for a family getaway like no other, I’m not sure you could beat the Peaks ‘n Swells Family Surf Camp in Montezuma, Costa Rica. Run by Hillary Harrison and her husband Ryan Watts (both former world class mountain bike racers), the couple spends summer at their homes in Pemberton and Washington and winter running the Peaks ‘n Swells camp out of Hillary’s mother’s estate in Costa Rica. With an incredible property right beside a sea turtle sanctuary (and the beach of course), the camp is an all inclusive affair; meals are prepared by locals (the food is incredible), drinks flow freely but the main focus is learning to surf.
With a maximum capacity of 12 guests, the family surf camp is small enough that everyone becomes friends and as far as instruction goes, these guys are pros; adults get one coach per two people and each kid gets their very own coach. These coaches are locals and foreigners alike and they are all as stoked to be in the water as their students. There are on-beach lessons as well as extensive time spent in the water. It’s an incredibly effective way to learn. We spent mornings in the water, then everyone came back to the resort to eat lunch.
After lunch the adults have the option to do yoga with a local instructor to stretch their wearied muscles (and I mean wearied), while the kids go off on adventures with a couple of the family surf camp coaches. They play in tide pools, visit waterfalls or go for gelato. They always have a blast and give parents exactly what we need; time to recoup from the morning’s pumelling.
In the evening after a family style dinner around a huge table, we do surf theory classes. We learn the difference between ground swells, wind swells, point breaks and beach breaks. We learn how to deal with rip tides, how surf competitions work and we do a night of video analysis to learn from our mistakes.
On our last day of surf camp, I paddle into a whitewater wave. I stand up and enjoy the feeling of riding the wave. It’s not the coolest, biggest wave, but it feels rad to be surfing. Then I see my six-year-old son’s surf instructor Christy. She’s got him on a board and is setting him up to catch the same wave as me. As I get closer she pushes him gently onto my wave.
He’s been riding boogie boards all week, and this is one of the few times he’s decided to try a surfboard. Christy is infinitely patient. She’s been with him every day, letting him go at his own pace. And as I look over, to my surprise he stands up. He’s slow but steady in his pop up and then he’s up with a stance that is, from my 40-year-old perspective, infuriatingly natural. He looks over and for about ten metres we are surfing the exact same wave; laughing and hollering over the roar of the surf. It’s a moment I will cherish forever.