Trip Report by Native Ambassador Braeden Kopec.
Hey Native world! My name is Braeden Kopec and I’m 12 years old. I live just north of the Flagler Beach Pier in Florida, but most days I get my mom to haul me down to my favorite surf spots of Ponce Inlet and New Smyrna. I live on the Intracoastal, and when I’m not surfing I enjoy fishing. I’m homeschooled, and on the road or in the air traveling a ton. I really love to travel whether it’s up and down the east coast (Outer Banks are so fun to surf) or all over California. There’s a really cool spot in northern California that I surfed recently—but you’ll have to wait to hear about that later.
I spend a couple months each year down in Costa Rica training, and if the winds and swell direction are right I always try to hit a particular break that’s become one of my favorite surf spots. Here at home in Florida, I surf at a spot that is famous for sharks. I’ve surfed over them, around them, and stepped over them going in and out of the ocean. It’s just part of surfing in New Smyrna Beach. In Costa Rica, I don’t see much in the water at all—except for maybe the occasional huge tarpon or manta-ray cruising by or annoying jellyfish. The water is so clear at the places I surf in Costa that I’m always staring down at the bottom waiting for something to pass by. But 99% of the time nothing ever does.
When we pulled up to one of my favorite spots, Esterillos Oeste, the wind and swell direction were perfect for this spot. I was so stoked! I was frothing to get out quick but didn’t like the big log in the water that was bobbing around. Occasionally a piece of large tree debris makes its way from the rivers into the ocean and floats down the coast.
This favorite spot of mine is known for a really cool mermaid statue that was built on top of a lava rock point and it sits right in the middle of crashing waves. I still can’t figure out how the guy ever made the statue with waves and tides always coming and going. The locals in the area call the Mermaid Vagabunda, because she appears to be homeless—they say she’s just been sitting there forever. When the tide is out you can walk out to the statue which is actually pretty big, about 15 feet tall. The formal name of the statue is “La Sirena de Esterillos”. It’s really cool to be out surfing and look north and see the waves crash around her when the tide is high.
Esterillos is a really quiet little town, and I don’t think much exciting happens there. Except for the day I wanted to surf my favorite spot. I’m cool with the occasional shark sighting in the line-up at home, but I don’t ever get used to what I see in Costa from time to time. Like I said, the conditions were perfect and I was amped up to surf. I was standing there staring out at precisely the spot I like to take off on waves from. I looked north and saw the mermaid and then looked west at some great waves. Everything was good. But what I didn’t like was the huge log that just wouldn’t go away. It’s no fun surfing and running into a log in the ocean. They bob around, sink and rise, and you never know exactly where it is when you’re surfing because it’s always getting tossed around in the line-up.
The log was stubborn so I was ready to just give in and go surf around it but the big log kept catching my eye and I kept hesitating. I asked my coach if she saw the log and what she thought about it. And then it happened. The log changed its appearance at one end. The log had a mouth! The log was a crocodile! Over 10 feet! And it was sitting right where I like to sit and wait for waves. Not cool!
At Oeste, there’s a river mouth to the north and also one down the beach about a half mile south. This croc was apparently making its way from one river to another, but he liked my surf spot and didn’t want to leave it. Costa Rica’s entire Pacific coastline only has a few lifeguards. Fortunately, Esterillos has one and he and a couple local fisherman prepared one of the fishing boats on the beach to go out and lasso the croc. The locals said that these guys are masters at catching them in the ocean and dragging them south to the next river mouth. By the time they were ready to get him the croc decided he’d rather slowly head south on his own. Crocs don’t like to be in saltwater, so it’s rare to come across them surfing. Once this big dude was far enough away that I couldn’t see it anymore, I trusted that he was definitely going to his other destination so I grabbed my board and paddled out and had an incredible session. Note to self…not every log is a log!
This actually wasn’t the first time I encountered a croc surfing. When I was around 7 years old I got chased out of the ocean in Tamarindo by a huge croc that had made its way into the line-up just south of Playa Grande. My parents were on the beach and were watching everyone slowly get out of the ocean but nobody was panicking so they didn’t think much of it. It was me and a few other surfers still out in the ocean surfing and then we all saw it…a HUGE croc right on the face of a wave like 50 feet away from us. In like a millisecond I was out of the ocean on the sand!
Hanging out with four-foot black tip sharks in New Smyrna is no problem. Surfing with crocs in Costa, no thanks! Guess I’m going to have to share one of my favorite surf spots in Costa from now on and hope that the mermaid is watching out for me!!
Stay stoked and share the stoke!