Bodhi Surf School, Costa Rica: Building Awareness and Promoting Change
By Megan Coatley
A Surf School with Soul
Travelers in Costa Rica have plenty of choices when it comes to surf schools and coastal retreats. But Bodhi Surf School is not just your average surf school; it is a company built on sustainable principles, and with the conscious traveler in mind. Nestled in the heart of the small Pacific fishing village of Uvita, Bodhi’s mission extends far beyond simply getting visitors to stand up on a surfboard. In Sanskrit, the word “bodhi” means “awareness.” With this in mind, the owner of Bodhi Surf School, San Diego-born Travis Bays, is wholeheartedly committed to the mission of ‘providing personalized surfing experiences that connect individuals with nature and increase environmental and social awareness.’
Building awareness, one surf board at a time
This mission to connect people with nature is the focus of every surf lesson, where students progress through four stages of training: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. Generosity, the fourth stage, brings the student’s training full circle. In this stage, students are encouraged to pass on the knowledge they’ve gained and to incorporate eco-friendly and sustainable practices into their own lives. In the beautiful setting of Uvita Bay, participants at Bodhi Surf School are often inspired to become Ocean Guardians, pledging their ongoing allegiance to our planet’s marine resources.
Surf Lessons at Bodhi Surf School
Students at Bodhi Surf School have the opportunity of exploring the Uvita community with Bays and his colleagues. While walking through town, visitors can see families with smiling toddlers in bright swimsuits, making their way to Marino Ballena National Park for an afternoon on the pristine white sand beach. Typical daily life ensues here, business as usual, as does a happy, lively vibe emanating from the Latin music which booms from small cafes and souvenir shops near the park entrance. In spite of this upbeat atmosphere however, Uvita is also working to address its share of issues. During these village tours, Bays makes a point to reflect equally on points of community pride, as well as on areas where there remains room for improvement.
Though community members are dedicated to the town’s progress, Bays notes that many locals don’t fully realize the value of the area’s environmental resources. Having grown up in Uvita, the locals are quite accustomed to the bounty of flora, fauna, and marine life that surrounds them. Thus, many of them are surprised by the recent swell of international interest in the lush ecological sanctuary of Uvita. Bays strongly believes that he and his team can help to instill greater passion for protecting this sacred space by engaging tourists, youth, and local business owners in the area’s natural resources and by educating these groups about the importance of environmental conservation.
Working Together with the Community
Though his love of surfing is strong, leisure comes second to Bays’ interest in protecting the culture, community and ecosystem in this verdant place where the jungle meets the sea. The staff at Bodhi Surf School contributes substantial time, energy, and materials to the local community. The school also works together with local businesses to build capacity and promote positive change. Bays’ wife, Pilar Salazar, currently works with the KETO Foundation Costa Rica and the Marino Ballena boat tour operators association to coordinate local marine sustainability efforts. Bays and his partner Gibran Garcia have created Grupo SURF, a program that provides local children and teens with free surf lessons and engagement in community conservation efforts.
Planting trees in the community
Bodhi Surf School also partners with local tour operator Bahia Aventuras to accomplish common goals such as arranging educational tours of the bay for local youth, developing an on-site recycling center, planting and labeling indigenous shrubbery and making continual improvements in regards to Costa Rica’s sustainable tourism guidelines. Bodhi’s efforts are already being recognized across Costa Rica. In January 2011, Grupo SURF teamed up with Peace Corps Costa Rica to host a two-day environmentalism workshop for the Environmental Leadership Alliance (Alianza de Liderazgo Ambiental), a group of ambitious young students from ten different communities across Costa Rica.
Volunteer at Bodhi Surf School
Visitors to Uvita who want to have a more enriching experience can volunteer in the local community through programs coordinated by the Bodhi Surf School. Recent volunteers have included a group of students from Case Western University as well as several independent travelers who contacted Bodhi prior to making arrangements for their vacation in Costa Rica. My husband and I were some such volunteers. Details about our experience can be found on our travel blog: chuzyourownadventure.blogspot.com.
Bodhi Surf School is treading lightly into the burgeoning industry of voluntourism. During his time working with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, Bays has learned that in order to be successful, opportunities for growth and development must come from within a community, rather than be imposed upon it. Having lived and worked in the Uvita community since 2005, Bays is sensitive to the town’s issues, and is also aware of the complexities associated with foreign assistance.
Recycling Center at Bodhi
Bays currently works in close partnership with local officials and association members to develop flexible, ongoing volunteer opportunities that fit the needs of the local people. Volunteer projects are wide ranging and include community upkeep, national park maintenance, assistance with youth surf lessons, and assistance with website development/social media for local business owners. Bays keeps an up-to-date list of priorities so that Bodhi Surf’s customers can contribute to projects that align with their own skills and interests, as well as being of real value to the community.
Proud of their growing business, yet focused on maintaining perspective and balance, Bays and Salazar quietly live and work in Costa Rica with their beautiful new addition to the family and point of inspiration, baby girl Maya Paz. Gibran Garcia, Bays’ business partner, currently resides in California with his wife, though they are planning to relocate to Uvita in the near future. The two couples are excited to live near each other and to work in a place where they’ll be just a short walk from the famed Whale’s Tail beach of Marino Ballena. For Bays, Bodhi Surf School represents a perfect combination of people coming together to enjoy and protect this piece of paradise that he has come to call home.
About the Author
Megan Coatley is a newbie surfer, an avid volun-tourist, a travel blogger and a psychologist by profession who, for the last decade, has been working in the field of autism treatment. Since the summer of 2009, when Megan and her husband took a volunteer vacation in Montana, they have been focusing on travel and volunteering as a full-time gig. Over the past month, Megan has been working with Travis and Gibran at Bodhi Surf School to lead a unique surfing, yoga and behavioral life coaching retreat – “The Empowered Self – Yoga & Surf Retreat”.
Photos by Megan Coatley