Surf Mama: Paddle Harder To Live Better

My first foam-top surf session was typical in nature. Standard dryland training: how to “pop up” and “stay low” drills. Then it was straight into the ocean to float like shark bait and wait for waves. When the set arrived, my coach indifferently told me to “paddle” and “stand-up!”


Pura Vida Surf Mama, Andrea Diaz. Photo: Ashley Barker

words :: Taylor Godber

My flustered confusion paired with panicked need to survive (and the obvious desire to impress my gladiator-built, Hawaiian surf instructor) immediately caused me to fail. Heels over head and underwater for likely ten seconds (but I swear it felt like at least a minute), the tumble ended with a misplaced bathing suit triangle and a nose full of salt water. Mortified that my dreamy, future ex-boyfriend/instructor had to see me in such a dishevelled state, my initial surf experience wasn’t magical and I slunk away with an ego as soggy as the bin of used rash-guards at the surf shack.

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Surf Mama doesn’t do it that way. “Life is like surfing,” she says. “Never flat, always ups and downs… The key is learning to go with the flow, be one with the wave in a moment of chaos and tranquility all at the same time.” Doling out this wisdom, she bobs up and down in the pool then fiercely gives her students boot camp drills, the Surf Mama version of calisthenics (aka “cal-surf-genics”). “Grab ten leaves from the bottom of the pool!” she commands.

Surf Mama is the nickname I gave Andrea Diaz, coordinator of the women’s retreats at Safari Surf School at Olas Verdes eco-lodge at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica. Her style of teaching is a motherly balance of being completely composed but always ready to give a snap of authoritative love.


Cal-surf-genics break, still smiling. Photo: Ashley Barker


Born and raised in Costa Rica, Andrea was 17 when she scooped up a volunteer position at Playa Grande National Park, as a ranger tasked with protecting the resident leatherback sea turtles. The job was a strategic break from her previous life as a competitive swimmer, but the beach she patrolled happened to also be one of the best surfing breaks in northern CR.

“Women have different strengths, and when I realized that my job was more of a mentor role than just an instructor, I could help demonstrate that it’s okay to take your time to learn certain drills.”

“Once I got my hands on a board and paddled out, I was hooked,” Andrea says. Even if it meant living in a hut with only her surfboard, she had decided what to do with the rest of her life. And it was a good fit – Andrea’s swimming background and fearless approach to life helped catapult her into a paying career surfing. A late bloomer to the competitive surf world, she still managed to turn pro with Roxy for 7 years, taking home fifth place in the International Surf Association’s World Masters Surfing Championships. She also nabbed a cover on Latin America’s biggest surf magazine and spent years travelling with photographers to document surf travels and do photo shoots for the brands that took care of her.

Now in her forties and a mother of three, Andrea has created a lifestyle where she can continue to share her passion for surfing. “I have taken the time to study the holistic development/process needed to become a surfer,” she says, “and I have the passion to really communicate the scientific, technical, psychological, and physical aspects of surfing. I am a surf nerd, I am a woman surf nerd.”


Andrea Diaz, self-proclaimed ‘Surf Nerd.’ Photo: Ashley Barker


Surf Mama’s training reveals how much she truly cares about creating a platform for everyone to thrive in when they paddle out into the real arena, the ocean. She explains, “Women have different strengths, and when I realized that my job was more of a mentor role than just an instructor, I could help demonstrate that it’s okay to take your time to learn certain drills.”

Like any mom, Andrea always has a reason behind her madness. Even through her drill sergeant “cal-surf-genics,” it’s easy to feel her wisdom. Surf Mama can create a new appreciation and understanding of the ocean and surfing, an understanding that extends into the ebb and flow of life.

“My goal is to empower women through surfing. To give these ladies all the knowledge, give them take-home drills, and to build their confidence in the water so that they can become better surfers.” And better people.

She adds, “Surfing is a contact sport. Getting pounded and pummeled by the waves means you could probably end up losing your top or bottoms. A major plus to having a woman surf instructor as this won’t hurt your ego as much.” Oh, where was Surf Mama on my first paddle out?


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