My initiation to Costa Rica was tame. Tagging along on a good friend's family Christmas vacation, we were shuttled from San Juan to the air conned villa, a poolside bar view of the sleepy off-season Pacific rollers that gently washed onto the molten black sand of Jacó. After a week of relaxing and some raucous New Year's celebrations my mate and I hopped a bus from San Juan over the mountainous rainforest of the Costa Rican interior and crawled our way into the Caribbean coastal town of Puerto Viejo. As we disembarked we were no longer tourists but travellers, travellers in search.
The town was clogged with people and we struggled the streets with our boardbags, constantly being told there was no room in the inn. A fellow traveller we met on the bus later told us he spent his first night in town wrapped in his boardbag on the sand, being mauled by mosquitoes.
The air was dense with humidity and Reggaeton that blasted from over-driven speakers, the sound of the Caribbean. Afro-Caribbean dudes with sun-bleached mushrooms of hair lounged on logs by the calm lagoon that was fringed by wash further out to sea.
The town was but a few streets, circling the lagoon and stretching back a little. Bars, cafes and hostels all had the look of having been built from repurposed flotsam and driftwood, real Caribbean surf shacks.
By teaming up with some other lost souls we eventually secured a room for a reasonable price and went in search of Puerto Viejo's aquatic crown jewel, Salsa Brava. It was meant to be right off the lagoon but we hadn't spotted it on our way past. Translated, Brave Sauce, we knew little of it, except that everyone spoke about it with reverence, hushed tones or wide-eyed hyperbole. Even when aware of its location, standing on the curved and coconut laden shore, it's not that easy to get a read on. All this naivety turned out to be a blessing. If I'd known the full extent, I wouldn't have slept for weeks in the lead up.
A torrent, akin to the surge of a swollen river, tore out from the lagoon, striking towards the incoming swells. Maintaining a steady footing on the coral shelf amidst the surge felt like trying to brake your bike with bare feet whilst crossing a bed of nails.
Once off the shelf you were hurtling towards the gap in the reef, barely a few metres wide, with towering Caribbean ground swells looking certain to implode on your head, towards the supposed safety of the channel behind the take off. The angle from here provides a terrifying view through the mutated and heaving first point, giving you the choice to aim straight across at it or head seaward, hoping to avoid having the whole Caribbean pitch onto your head as it meets the shallow obstruction of the reef.
Every take off was beyond vertical. If you could find your feet you were in the barrel, though not a short intense barrel. The wall would regularly stretch out and build momentum, some to the point I was convinced my board might self destruct from maximum velocity.
In Search Of Captain Zero is a love letter to Salsa Brava from a wanton vagabond so love sick with surf that his prose become pirate poetry in motion. The book traverses memoir, road and quest, though I must apologise because I have, like a selfishly over-excited lover, rushed towards the climax prematurely. Weisbecker rattles his home on wheels all the way from New York, across country and down virtually the entire West Coast of Central America before hitting the end of the road.
Whilst that adventure itself is a page turner, it's his reflective interludes, chronicling anecdotes from the outlaw fringes of earlier decades chasing waves and smuggling bud, that really drew me in.
There's a distinctly American boastfulness at times in the voice but it's countered by some very raw honesty and razor sharp observations.
You would be hard pressed to find a better surf adventure than the Caribbean coasts of Central America over December and January and you definitely wont find a better tale than In Search of Captain Zero to join you in the hammock between sessions.
“Profoundly rootless and intensely interested in the world around him in all its facets, the explorer type often has a passion that gives added meaning to his wanderings (the vast majority are solo males). Surfing is the quintessential example here, for there are very few endeavours that so perfectly combine travel/exploration with a creatively satisfying relationship to the environment.”