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How This Costa Rican Surf Retreat Is Helping Women Stem the Tides in a Male-Dominated Sport

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Photo via Pura Vida Adventures

Santa Teresa’s swell lured Tierza Eichner to the once little-known stretch of blonde beaches ripe with jungle creatures and in-the-know surfers alike. The year was 2002, and the “pura vida” soul of this Costa Rican small town was infectious. Eichner was not impervious; by 2003, she quit her job in California to build a business for herself in the village where she fell in love with life.

Enter: Pura Vida Adventures, a women’s-only surf camp and yoga retreat.

Flash forward, Santa Teresa is a distinguished destination for surfers and yogis, all of whom find themselves, too, charmed by the spiritually satiating vibe. An empowering entrepreneur, Eichner invites them to explore the depths of themselves as they explore the verdant coastline.

“I came here 17 years ago… and it was the first time that I truly found Zen, which is why I wanted to do something here—the waves, the beautiful beaches, the people,” Eichner says of her dream of “turning women into super stoked and self-sufficient surfers.”

Eichner, herself, hopped on her first surfboard in southern California at 20 years old. She remembers getting “so pummeled by the waves” that she’d sworn off the sport entirely. More than a decade had passed before she tried again, at 32 years old, with a lesson in Santa Cruz. She was hooked thereafter.

“For me, that first real wave that I took… I can’t even explain it—getting submerged in the water, the lulling feeling,” she says. “I remember some seriously magical moments. Once, when I’d been surfing for maybe four months, I went surfing in Hawaii. There was a full-on rainbow and, in the middle of the rainbow, these dolphins were doing flips. Someone screamed out, ‘There is a God!’ And it gives me shivers thinking about it. I wasn’t even that good, but I took the next wave and rode it, and I thought, ‘There is a God.’”

Surfing is also a humbling sport, Eichner adds.

“There are days when I want it to kick me in the butt,” she says. “It gives you this whole leash on life, reminding you that life is good. Sure, we all go through terrible things but, coming back to something that gives you inspiration, it makes you realize that things are going to be alright. That’s what the ocean means to me.”

Photo via Tierza Eichner/Facebook

Eichner says she wanted to build a business that fulfills other women in the same way, and she wanted it to be for women so they could share their experiences, open up and become vulnerable together. Today, her efforts in attracting more women to the primarily male-dominated sport are unwavering.

It’s thanks to those efforts that women have evermore opportunities in the surfing world, as sexism in the sport is endemic. It wasn’t until 2018, for example, that the first (and only) United States-based global sporting league, the World Surfing League, which operates more than 180 global events across the Women’s and Men’s Championship Tours, Longboard Tour, Junior World Championships and Big Wave Tour annually, announced equal pay for male and female competitors in all 2019 events and onward.

The move was long overdue.

The 1977 Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour featured an event in Australia sponsored by Coca-Cola, in which 24 men competed for a total prize purse of $16,000, while 12 women competed for $1,600. By 2012, in a Rip Curl Pro competition in Australia, 36 men competed for $425,000, while 18 women competed for $110,000. And, in 2016, when the World Surfing League had instigated a move to address the gender pay balance, the men’s purse was $551,000 split between 36 surfers, while the women’s purse was $275,500, divided among 18 surfers.

Take, for example, Courtney Conlogue of Santa Ana, California, who won a surfing competition in 2009, earning $4,500 that was ultimately upped to $10,000 because of her performance. But the male surfers who caught the same waves in that competition earned a $100,000 prize purse.

When asked about challenges facing women in surfing, she told Forbes: “My road was manufactured by me and will power. It wasn’t always easy. There have been ups and downs with sponsors. I have had to maintain my true authentic self through everything.”

Surfing is an expensive sport, but it’s not only the gender pay gap that hampers some women’s success in the industry. A wealth of research calls out the objectification of women in media surrounding sports. And activists have started campaigns against the sexualization of female surfers.

“I’ve been surfing for as long as I can remember and worked hard to become a professional surfer,” writes Cori Schumacher, former world champion and self-proclaimed surf feminist and activist, in a petition in response to Roxy’s 2013 “all sex, no surf” teaser for the Biarritz Pro, a women’s surf contest. “In my time competing, I noticed that male surfers were able to earn a living off their prowess and performance and easily picked up sponsorships and large prizes at competitions. Female surfers, on the other hand, had to present themselves as modelesque beach babes in order to get meager sponsorships, and even to move forward in many competitions.”

Nonetheless, women continue to, quite literally, stem the tides. Over the years, the number of recreational female surfers continuing to grow around the world. And, thanks to businesses like Pura Vida Adventures that are teaching women more skills and instilling more confidence in them, more research anticipates that ever more women will establish their territory in the waters.

Pura Vida Adventures isn’t another “push-and-cheer” surf school, either. The surf instructors who, together, have decades of experience, are all CPR-, first aid- and lifeguard-certified, and they each hold the highest level of an International Surfing Association (ISA) certification. As such, they take surf instruction to another level, offering beach-based theory sessions, video analysis of lessons and paddle school sessions on the bay, so students of all ages, skill levels and abilities can learn to paddle and turn on their boards in shallower and much calmer waters.

“I’ve had a staff that’s incredible,” Eichner explains. “We’ve done a lot of stuff throughout the years that pushes the envelope in terms of surf instruction. So one thing that completely sets us apart from other all-women’s surf camps and surf camps, in general, is that we will absolutely teach you how to surf—and I can guarantee that to anyone who comes through our doors.”

Whether students want to challenge themselves by surfing for the first time or whether they want to feel more comfortable in the water, master advanced techniques like turtle rolls and duck dives, or get a handle for any of the camp’s 35 different boards (from soft-tops to high-performance longboards, fishes, short-boards and more), Pura Vida Adventures is an inclusive community for all women.

Pura Vida Adventures takes pride in its small instructor-to-student ratio (no more than one-to-three) and goes the extra mile for hands-on learners by offering concentrated one-on-one sessions throughout the week with hyper-focused guidance and encouragement.

Beginners work on choosing waves, paddling, popping up, balancing on the boards and keeping safe while getting a feel for acceleration and deceleration, turns, angled take offs and cutbacks, and a variety of techniques.

Meanwhile, intermediate and advanced students will undergo assessments for skill level and, through progressive programing, work to strengthen those skills such as wave-reading, turning, dropping in and advanced maneuvers. They’ll build more confidence in the line-up and learn how to catch even more waves.

Pura Vida Adventure’s all-inclusive camps last one week. Each one begins with a welcome day, followed by a few days of yoga, breakfast, surf instruction, lunch, some afternoon activities, sometimes video analysis or paddle school and dinner.

To learn more about Pura Vida Adventures, check out the site here.

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