Planning your first Central America surf trip? Ensure the vacation goes smoothly with this packing list of what to bring down with you.
We’ve said it a million times on this website, and we’ll say it a million more times – Central America offers the best surfing in the world! Shout it from the rooftops. From warm Caribbean tubes in Costa Rica and Panama to competition-standard Pacific waves in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, the region has everything a surfer could ask for, whatever their level.
But what should you bring with you on a surf trip? How do you pack for a surfing adventure in Central America. It all depends on the type of surf trip you’re taking. For example, if you’re learning to surf, you won’t need much, not even a board. It might be worth investing in a rash guard and decent swim gear, but not much more than that. Your surf school will provide everything else, so you can just bring down your usual suitcase or backpack filled with the usual vacation gear.
But if you’re a level up from beginner and you’re planning your first proper surf trip, then you need to start thinking like a surfer when it comes to packing. Below, we list the essentials to pack for your Central America surf trip, whatever country (or countries) you’re visiting:
As @ISAsurfing hosts the 2023 World Surfing Games at @surfcity again (and for an unprecedented SEVENTH time in Central America since 1996), is it time to admit Central America has the best surfing in the world?https://t.co/qKlfZYEs2D
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) May 30, 2023
As mentioned above, if you’re a beginner, you don’t need your own board. Central America is full of surf towns and communities on both Caribbean and Pacific coasts which are, in turn, full of surf shops and schools where you can rent a board.
But once you’ve learned to surf and love the sport, you’ll undoubtably own at least one surfboard of your own, and yes, it’s essential. Yes, you can rent boards in Central America. But you never know if they’ll have the length you like or suit your style. Serious surfers have their own boards. Most serious surfers have more than one board, and we would recommend bringing down at least two with you, especially if you’re traveling around.
It’s worth investing in a decent, padded bag to store your surfboards in. You’re going to have to check your surfboards when flying down, and airline stuff toss around luggage like salad. They don’t care. It’s not uncommon to collect your surfboard after a flight and find it battered up and broken before it’s even hit the water. A good bag helps to alleviate that. You can also stuff in a bunch of t-shirts, towels, and other clothing to lighten the rest of your luggage and protect your boards even more.
And remember, it’s not only the flights. Central American roads get bumpy and if your board is in the bottom of, say, a bus, it needs protection. Bottom line is your boards need protecting to ensure the best surf trip possible. Get a decent bag.
Soft surfboard car rack
If you’re renting a car, it might well come with a rack for your boards. All well and good. But you might not be renting, or your car might not have a rack. Taxi drivers might not have room for you, your friends, and all your boards. If you have your own lightweight, soft rack, it solves no end of problems when getting your surfboards around Central America.
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) June 8, 2022
Fins and dings and waxes
And talking of of battered and broken boards, you’re gonna need the basics to keep your board – and therefore your surf trip – on board, so to speak. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to get your board fixed up in a surf shop, but it’s easier and cheaper to do it yourself. So bring down some extra fins for your board and don’t forget the fin keys and screws either.
Along these lines, it’s also worth bringing your own ding repair kit to patch up minor damage to your board on your own. Bring it with your surf wax. Again, you can buy all this stuff down here at any decent surf shop but it’s much cheaper to have your own in advance.
Another easy oversight is to forget to bring extra leashes for your board. Bring down at least two or three backups for when your main leash breaks.
Some might say that a rash guard isn’t essential in Central America and that the warm tropical waters are perfect for bare skin surfing. To a certain extent, that’s true, and you won’t use your rash guard all the time down here. But bare skin can irritate very quickly on hard, waxed salty water. And then there’s the sun. You might think you don’t need a rash guard on your Central America surf trip, but you’ll find out fast that you wish you had one instead of an old t-shirt or whatever. So bring one down.
Surf booties and helmets
If you’re surfing in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, a pair of booties and a surf helmet is essential to avoid serious injury. But it’s not only Puerto Viejo – if you’re surfing reef breaks you’ll want protection and there are plenty of reef breaks all over the region.
Planning a Costa Rica surf trip? Put the Caribbean side in your plans. Cameron from @VisitCahuita talks surfing in Cahuita and Puerto Viejo and highlights the rise of local surfers from the area.#CostaRica #surfing https://t.co/jc6YGFKxkL pic.twitter.com/ezjBd3zEhZ
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) March 19, 2019
You’re coming to the tropics to spend a lot of time in the ocean. You’re going to get sunburned unless you bring down some decent sunscreen. Make sure you buy reef safe sunscreen to protect local coral reefs alongside your skin. Don’t forget sunscreen because it’s so much more expensive in Central America than it is in your home country.
Basic first aid kit (tailored for surfing)
Perhaps this should be in every travelers packing list, whether they’re surfing or not. But surfers definitely need a basic first aid kit. Surfers swallow water and get stomach issues. They cut themselves on reefs and rocks. These things are part of life for a surfer. Most of the time, luckily, these are minor issues that a basic first aid kit can easily treat. A true surfers first aid kit will include the following:
- Steri-strip skin closures
- Medical superglue
- Blister protectors
- Plasters, bandages, medical tapes, and waterproof patches
- Antiseptic wipes
- Rubbing alcohol
- Saline solution
- Spray plaster
- Medical gauze
- Antibiotic cream
- Ear drops
- Suture kit
- Numbing cream
- Mosquito repellent
Just in case something happens which you can’t fix up with your first aid kit.
Yep, CBD is, we believe, an essential item for surfers in Central America. A CBD salve is great for soothing sore muscles after a day out on the ocean. Be aware that in Central America, Costa Rica is the only country where CDB is totally legal.
Looking for legal CBD in Central America? We’ve got you covered! Find out which countries allow you to buy high-quality CBD products and take a step towards natural well-being.https://t.co/nwFx186T2U
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) June 22, 2023
If you’re surfing all day in Central America, you don’t need much. Shorts and t-shirts, really. If you’re spending time in any major cities away from the surf, bring something smarter, but beachy stuff is fine the rest of the time. Make sure you bring a hat and shades!
Local maps and language tools
Finding the best waves on a Central America surf trip often requires getting off the beaten path. Be prepared for this with offline maps, guides, and navigation apps. Taking the time to learn some Spanish can enrich your contacts with locals and add a new dimension to your surf trip.
There are plenty of other things you can bring down for your Central America surf trip
For example, if you’re filming yourself and your friends shredding waves, you’ll need the equipment for that and a Go-Pro. A head lamp or torch is great for walking down to the beach for those early dawn sessions. You’ll also need a dry bag for your things if you plan on getting to some surf spots by boat – and many spots are only accessible by boat, like Witches Rock in Costa Rica, for example).
But all in all, the above list covers the essentials to make a Central America surf trip go smoothly and save you time and money to boot.