The Tour Operator: Eco-Tours (Tour Desk)
The Scammer: Alex
The Location: Main intersection in Montezuma, Costa Rica. On the corner (across from Chico's bar). There is the Eco-Tours Desk, internet cafe, and real estate office, all in the same location.
Type of Tour: Surf Lessons (from Alex)
- He's not a surf instructor (local Tico's at the beach couldn't believe he was teaching somebody, expecially in those conditions).
- Brought me to an unsafe location (not a beginner beach, rocks, etc.).
- Unsafe waves and situation (nobody else was teaching).
- Had no idea what he was doing (I heard later that local Tico's have told him before to stop scamming tourists and leave the surf instruction to actual surf teachers and shops). I heard this from multiple sources in Montezuma.
- Used our transportation to get to the beach. (Scratched the hell out of the roof of the rental.)
- Questionable exchange rate practices. (You pay in USD, but he'll give you change in Colones at a brutal exchange rate. You pay in Colones and he'll give you credit in USD at a terrible exchange rate. )
- Didn't ask around with various shops and surfer rental places.
- Didn't do my research.
- Didn't book in advance with a recommended or accredited surf company.
- Didn't use my own common sense.
- Booked with the first guy I asked.
- Didn't calculate exchange rate there at the time to make sure he wasn't screwing me around. Noticed something but dismissed it.
What happened: After booking a SCUBA dive adventure at Tortuga Islands I inquired about surf lessons thinking that he would directly me to a local surf shop or provider. Alex said he could provide surf lessons "himself" for $40. Problem is he's not an actual surf instructor and has no idea what "safety" is. He will do whatever it takes to grab your $40 for surf lessons chucking safety and common sense out the window. He booked a time the next morning to take us surfing. As we had our own rental vehicle, he told us to meet him at the shop. He strapped surf boards to our roof (we didn't have a roof rack). I wouldn't recommend this, by the way, it scratched the hell out of the roof as he didn't use protection or antyhing (between the car and surf boards). I should have said something (I thought about it, but thought the guy new what he was doing and had my best interested in mind). We drove to a beach on the way to Cabuya parked and started the instruction. We spent a whole of 5 mins of "beach instruction". I heard later you should have a lot more. Then, in the water. Surf was very high and powerful. Later, I learned that most all the shops and instructors weren't teaching that day due to unsafe conditions. Those that were still teaching were at Playa Grande where it was a little easier for beginners and safer (no rocks). This particular beach had hidden rocks (I felt big ones with my feet, close to and just after my face and head was grilled into the sand underwater for 5 seconds when a wave knocked me over. The experienced locals surfing that day could not believe he was teaching beginners in that location and on that day. As soon as we hit the water I was ravaged. The waves knocked me and the long board about. It was crazy. Wave after wave, we couldn't even paddle out. Every wave, I got off and tried to go to the front of the board to duck down into the wave. Sometimes it worked, mostly it didn't. I couldn't get up once. The white water would come, even when my positioning was perfect, and crucify me. The force of everything threw me and the long board about like a rag doll and a toy. After 20 mins or so I was absolutely wasted. I'm in my early thirties, reasonably fit, and comfortable in water (swimmer, advanced SCUBA diver). I fear if it was a weaker individual out there that day, that it wouldn't have turned out very well. I didn't mind getting knocked around a bit by the waves (even had a smile on face for a bit), I didn't know any different until the Tico's at that beach told me otherwise. I also became aware of my safety when I felt the collection of waist high rocks under the water where I was wiping out consistently with my feet. That brought me to the realization that I was playing with my life. I asked for a break and never went back in. Alex proceeded to go surfing himself (to show-off?, prove it could be done?). He couldn't even get up! Used the board like a boogy board and rode back on his tummy, standing up the last few meters when the surf died down. It did give me a chance to talk to the locals on the beach. Some of them were instructors in the area....surfing because they didn't have to teach that day.
So, I felt ripped off. I thought I would share it with you kind folks out there. The Montezuma area is a wonderful place and Costa Rica is amazing. Tico's are awesome people too! But, I did feel a little hussled by this guy. I'm sure I could have had a way better experience with a reputable surf company or instructor. Next time.
Other negative experiences with Alex:
- booked our SCUBA trip with him. He lied about the accreditation of the SCUBA company I thought I was diving with. Divemaster? Awesome guy, very attentive and skilled. But an accredited 5 star PADI dive shop operation? Far from it. Visitbility? Brutal. Gear? Ok, but didn't get a depth guage. They shouldn't have been taking people out with that type of visibility. Didn't see a thing. Took everything I had just to keep track of the Divemaster. A waste of time and money that day.
- Alex's exchange rate practices between Colones and Dollars were questionable. He did it quick and after I went over everything in my head I saw that he screwed me over a bit. My fault for not questioning or noticing, but it was the first time in Costa Rica that it happened to me.