Tarantula Surf Interview

We recently caught up with Tara Ruttenberg, founder of Tarantula Surf, to learn about a rather unique surf and wellness experience she’s created in beautiful Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.

tara ruttenberg

Where do you hail from and what brought you to Costa Rica?

Hi there! I was born in the mountains of Colorado, and raised on the sunny shores of Southern California before my family moved to the desert lands of Tucson, Arizona.

I lived in Washington, DC for university before moving to Costa Rica. My first visit here was on a Spring Break trip during college. I came back for what was supposed to be just a semester of study abroad.

In the meantime, I fell in love with surfing and Costa Rica became home when my parents moved here and opened AmaTierra Yoga Retreat and Wellness Center. Fifteen years and a million waves later, I’m still here in my adopted home away from home, more in love than ever.   

How long have you been living in Santa Teresa for?

I started visiting Santa Teresa regularly in 2007, and moved here in December 2015.  

tara surfing

What makes it such a special place for you?

I live towards the North end of town, a quieter respite from the hubbub of high season. The waves are inviting and consistent with a range of beach break, reef and point-break setups nearby.

The local and year-round resident community is a special mix of Costa Ricans and foreigners, and the vibe in the water is usually mellow and friendly.

The beaches are absolutely breathtaking, and while development is a serious threat, the community cares deeply about keeping the environmental pressure from tourism from ruining this special paradise. 

Tarantula Surf combines a writing immersion program with surfing and yoga. Can you tell us a little more about the offering?

Yes, our REVIVE Retreats offer surf, yoga and writing retreat immersions for women who want to tap into their creative potential and live in the flow of natural inspiration.

We work with local surf instructors and coaches to cater to all experience levels and source the best yoga classes from teachers nearby, practicing in the traditions of Hatha, Vinyasa, Tantra, Yin and Kundalini.

The writing segment features my signature Immersion Writing Program, with curated content and original writing prompts to unblock creativity and support personal transformation.

All gourmet meals are made with local and organic ingredients, and our beachfront jungle accommodations are sustainably open-air in rustic luxury, with extra effort made to reduce our impact on the earth. It’s a pretty unique experience, if I do say so myself.    

Your website clearly conveys your penchant for writing. What type of writing are you most passionate about?

I do a lot of academic writing for my PhD at the moment; but when I’m at my leisure I also love creative non-fiction story-writing, which is what I share mostly on my website platform.

My soul work is supporting women, including myself, in writing our life stories into being as an avenue toward freedom and social change. I am known to dabble in topical essays, poetry and prose-poetry, as well. 

revive retreat

You’re currently doing a PhD in Development Studies and applying this to your immediate environment – surf tourism. Can you explain some of the challenges surf tourism faces within this context?

My PhD specialization is in decolonizing sustainable surf tourism. This approach critiques surf tourism as perpetuating colonization via cultural marginalization and ecological destruction in popular surf destinations around the world.

Surf tourism in the context of a capitalist, growth-based economic framework is an unsustainable and colonizing industry. It transforms local places and ways of life into homogenized modern towns and puts extreme pressure on nature and survival via settler colonialism (Westerners coming to live, visit and own businesses in other places).

This in turn results in overdevelopment, real estate speculation, land grabs, upward pressure on prices, social inequality, water scarcity, waste management concerns, and impacts on the biodiversity of the region.

surf retreat santa teresa

How have things been in Santa Teresa since the pandemic hit? I guess you’ve had the waves to yourself pretty much 🙂

The pandemic put an overnight halt to tourism in Santa Teresa from the end of March to the beginning of November. Beaches were closed and we couldn’t legally surf for a few months.

The community rallied to raise money and purchase basic food baskets for those most affected by the economic reality of a tourism-dependent location whose regular income dried up from one day to the next.

Non-human nature seemed to breathe a little easier, and we got a nice break from the dust and crowds. Now things have picked up significantly and the town is quite crowded with visiting tourists escaping Covid restrictions in their home countries. 

What’s the best wave you’ve ever surfed?

This morning, a few steps from home. 

Longboard or shortboard?

I’m a longboarder soul trapped in a shortboarding life. I like a fun-shaped short board on a small day, and a performance thruster on relatively bigger days. I think longboarding is so stylish and beautiful, I just suck at it and am generally a danger to society out there when I go out on a longboard

What are your thoughts on surfing as an Olympic sport?

No, gracias. But if you must do it, Hawai’i should be represented as their own nation.

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