The Story of Witch’s Rock Surfboards: (Roca Bruja Part I)

I’ve always been inspired by people who say less but do more.  I’ll use that philosophy as a convenient excuse for my absence from our blog for most of the past month… which is partially true as I’ve been traveling and working a bit more than I should.  I did however have an incredible time surfing down in Costa Rica a few weeks ago, and in the process got to know the owners of The Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.

Believe The Hype.

Witch’s Rock (Roca Bruja) Surf Camp is based out of Tamarindo, Costa Rica; a place that’s also at the heart of a fantastic series of surf breaks.  The surfing was great, and the weather was perfect.  The trip was a wonderful opportunity to unwind after an insanely busy year and just surf until we were completely exhausted, then wake up and do it all again the next day.

Pura Vida

Every night after surfing we would go to the restaurant downstairs for fresh sushi and got to chat with the owners Joe and Holly.  Their story is the stuff of fiction: they left San Diego 9 years ago in a school bus with a bunch of surfboards in search of good waves and the dream of setting up a surf school.  Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is the result of that adventure.

Joe with an old nearly destroyed longboard.

After a few conversations with them, we started to learn more about their self-reliant business and their commitment to the environment.  What they created at Witch’s Rock has been an unequivocal success as a surfing destination, but more importantly… they told us with pride how they built their own sewage treatment plant, ran all their buses off of cooking oil and were in the process of teaching themselves to recycle surfboards.

I had heard of recycling metal and plastic... but surfboards?

So between surf sessions the next day, Joe invited me to his newly built shaping room… where he was literally piecing together old boards to make new ones.

Joe and a freshly trashed longboard.

Major Board Ding.

Recycling surfboards at a remote surf camp in Central America seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do for Holly and Joe.  After all, it was expensive, unreliable and wasteful to bring in surfboard blanks from out of the country.  Besides, broken foam boards were filling up local landfills… and just because they had never shaped boards before didn’t seem to slow them down one bit.

The Witch's Rock Surf Camp Secret Formula.

Step one to any new endeavor is to just begin.  Back in the day, I used to build wooden boats, and the first boatbuilder I worked for told me that “Experience starts when you do.”  Nothing could be more true and Joe has embraced that philosophy completely.

How to shape boards: Read a book, make a shaping table from beach sand cement/duct tape & get to work.

Part of living well (in my estimation anyway) includes living as simply as possible.  Being in Central America was another reminder that most folks in this world can’t (and shouldn’t) walk down to their local big box store to get something new every time it breaks.  There is joy to be found in repairing things, in making do and in thinking deeply before consuming or discarding something.  There is a simple beauty to having to live resourcefully.

Fin Boxes

The first part of recycling a surf board includes stripping the fiberglass and using everything possible for the new board.  Often, longboards get snapped in half: in those cases Joe makes them into shortboards.  In other instances, he repairs the dings, salvages the fin boxes and modifies the board shape to make up for imperfections.

Joe teaching fractions in a metric world.

One aspect of Joe & Holly’s business that we loved was the fact that their employees are like family.  Many of them have been with them from the beginning 9 years ago, and as the surf camp grows to include a restaurant, hotel and now board repair/manufacturing… their employees are learning new skills along the way.

The beginnings of a fractions cheat sheet on the wall. Surfboard measurements are universally referenced to as fractions. As such, all the Costa Rican guys struggled to learn fractions despite living in a metric based country.

Working with a power plane, the blank is shaped.

Just like wooden boatbuilding, boards are measured off a centerline.

Final Step: glassing the board.

The Witch's Rock Surf Camp quiver of boards.

Finished boards are prepped by Maxi... and then they're ready for surf!

Ok, so surfboard “recycling” is a cool concept right?  It gets better: over dinner one night Joe asks me if I’m familiar with Earth Bags… an environmentally sustainable (and simple, and strong) building material/process.  Think sandbags that are then cemented/stuccoed together.  The end result is stronger, more durable, more efficient and sustainable construction.

A beachside bar made from beach sand, palm fronds and Earth Bags.

I’m duly impressed.  I’m stoked to hear that other folks are out there doing their best to make a living while caring for our planet.  Besides being super nice folks, and wonderful hosts… the story of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp is a success story to be shared.  It is possible to do what you love, live simply, pay your bills and protect our environment at the same time.  If you do get a shot to visit Witch’s Rock, please tell Holly and Joe we said hello!

Though she tried hard to avoid this from happening... I had to include a photo of Holly.

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