Before the Oakley Pro night surf expression session before Nike’s ‘The Chosen’ night promotion and well before the Strongbow Bondi neon promotion; night surfing competitions happened every week in Playa Jaco, Costa Rica.
The sun sets on the volcanic sands of Playa Jaco. When the moon replaces the last traces of orange and pink in the sky, the lights are turned on. The tide continues to rise and the surf grows with it. The competing surfers group are out tuning in their night vision. The crowded, black sand beach holds it’s breath for every wave surfed. The anticipation and fear for safety do not reflect the size of the surf. The waves are very surf-able in daylight hours so it is the lack of light that has the crowd on edge. Cutbacks and roundhouse turns are cheered for wildly, it’s like every move is more radical than ever.
Jaco resident and ISA qualified judge, Fernando Lander, has years of experience judging night surfing in Costa Rica and knows what is and isn’t possible.
Do you night surf?
For a judge it’s good to know the conditions intimately. Being able to see and judge the waves does not fulfil the difficulty section of the judging criteria. If you don’t know what the push and pull of the water feels like or how quickly the waves come upon you when taking off then you can’t accurately rate the wave surfed. At night the only way to judge accurately is to get out in the water before the competition starts. So I’ve been night surfing for more than three years.
What other difficulties do you experience in the water?
It’s 10 times harder to night surf. At night you can’t see the coming swell clearly from far away. You don’t know which direction it’s breaking. You can’t see exactly where the wave is going to break. You just see a shadow coming and then it’s right there in the line-up. You can’t look back to shore from the line up either, as the lights are so bright, the reflection on the water is blinding. Also it’s not fun knowing that the big animals eat at night.
How about from a judging point of view?
It is exactly the same procedure for day as night surfing. The organisation doesn’t signal incoming waves. The surfers are by themselves in the water. They get no extra help.
Do you see world tour night events in the future?
There has been great support and encouragement for a revival of the night events in this community. In 2009 the Billabong ISA World Surfing Games was held at the Hotel Terrazas Del Pacifico, Playa Hermosa, and there were a record number of people on the beach for the night surfing event. That can easily be repeated in the right facilities.
There are limits as to what’s possible at night making it harder for the professionals to complete the radical manoeuvres we’re used to. But to see a Gabriel Medina or Jordy Smith backflip at night, in high performance conditions would blow minds.
By Harry Patchett
Instagram – @harrypatchett
Website – hbpatchett.tumblr.com