Art by Tom Swanson

Angry Sauce: Pioneering ‘Salsa Brava’ with Richard Martin

“Daniel, going to try and answer your questions bout Salsa and Caribbean of CR.   Going to answer like 2 questions and then send them and then answer two more because my internet is so screwed up here in Caleta/Nexpa where I live.  I actually started answering them a a few days ago and got done with 3 questions and then lost my internet and everything I had wrote, so here we go again”.

…  And that was kind of how the interview with Richard Martin went: distance, time and timing, internet and health issues all slowed it down.  I met Richard and his wife in a wonderful little surf camp in Michoacan Mexico as I drove down the mainland’s  west coast last spring.  The guy’s been surfing for a long time:  His life obviously revolves around it and I was fascinated by his stories.  Somewhere not too far from where we were, a stalled hurricane was sending us messy swell;  we chilled a good while under the roof of the hamaquero as a light rain fell.  Richard spoke with a bit of a southern accent and I was fascinated by his stories.  I got around to asking him experience with Costa Rica, one of the few spots where I had a little surf experience.  When we turned our talk to the famous ‘Salsa Brava’ on the Caribbean coast, I knew there was a story to share on Exogenista.

To this day, new surf spots are still being found; surfers have been combing the globe for decades in the hunt for every size and flavor of wave the ocean can produce.  And when a new spot is discovered someone has to test it.  So whether it’s a mellow long- boarding wave or the heavy ones like Cloudbreak, there’s a pioneering ride or session.  Someone else might claim they rode Salsa first, but Richard has something to say about that.  And though I’m kind enough to lend a listening ear to the occasional bullshitter, I didn’t get the sense he was telling me any tall tales.   We didn’t get to all the questions I had or even get any pics, but it’s a blessing to provide a forum for his account.

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Daniel: Give us some background… How long you’ve been surfing, where you live, and some of the top spots you’ve surfed (that aren’t secret).

      Richard: I’ve been surfing since I was 12 years old and am sixty one and will be 62 in December.  Started surfing in north Florida where I am from, in St. Augustine.  Still own house there, in Summer Haven, at Matanzas Inlet, 20 miles south of St.Augustine.  Have surfed Sunset Beach, Jockos, and quite a few spots on North Shore of Hawaii plenty…. Bali: PaDang Pa Dang, Impossibles, Ulles, and surfed G Land on Java.  Surfed Peru, Chicama, all the spots around Lima.  Puerto Rico extensively, all the spots basically on North Shore there.  All over Mex and pretty much everywhere on both coasts in CR.  In Panama on Pacific coast , Santa Catilina.  Sure there are more, but ’bout all I can remember.  I live in Caleta de Campos now, 2 1/2 miles from Rio Nexpa, been here for 10 yrs basically, built a house,  the whole deal.  Somewhat basically retired here.

Daniel:  When was the first time you went to Costa Rica?  Was that also your first trip to the Carribean side of the country?  Costa has been a major destination for lots of travelers and expats since the 80’s.  What was the country as a whole like when you first arrived?

Richard:  Went to CR the first time in January of 1974, with my lifelong surfing and bigwave buddy Dusty Welsh, who actually named Salsa, Salsa Brava… And the name has stuck and if anyone says different they are full of shit.  There was literally no one in country when we got there, there were a few surfers here and there, but very few. We went straight to Tamirindo and caught it just firing, the rivermouth.  I have never caught it again and have been back numerous times. There was nothing at all there, now its a full on city just like Puerto Escondido…   Didn’t even think bout surfing  the Caribbean. But we had one of mine and Dusty’s best buddies already living on Caribbean diving and fishing, so I left Dusty and headed for Caribbean to look up Billy, he was in Calweeta, he was actually first gringo on that side except for the Peace Corps organization, a few tarpon and snook fishing camps and Archie Carr’s turtle camp from the Univ of Fla Bio dept, down there studying the green sea turtles, and tagging them.  Was werid but I was really good friends with  Archie Carr’s son David and got invited to go there in 8th grade,but it never happened.  But all those places were north of Limon and we went south in beginning toward Panama and Calweeta and Puerto Veijo, later we were all over north of Limon fishing etc etc.  Was actually a guide for tarpon and snook, for quite a few years but thats a whole nother story.

Daniel:  How did you end up on the Carribean side?  Did anyone know of surf over there?  To this day, there really aren’t that many waves over there that people head to for surf.  Was this total exploration or had you heard rumors of spots.

      Richard:  Kind of already answered question.  But yes there were a handful of surfers already there from Fla,but they were just surfing up near Limon,at the beach breaks and 2 points called Porteta and Playa Bonnita.  We headed south bout 30 miles to Calweeta.  When I got there it was January and just huge at all the beach breaks and I mean big, not by todays standards, with all the crazy shit being done, but really big.  Where we were there were no surfers.  Down the road after we got settled in and were already riding Salsa and Playa Bonnita, we saw it two years for two months never get below head high for the months of feb and march.  At that point in my life by far the most consistent surf I for sure had ever seen.

Daniel:  What was it like to get over to Limon at the time you first headed that way?  Roads?  Was there even a town?

Richard:  Yea, Limon was there,it was just a lil dirty nasty port town.  In beginning we just went there for supplies.  Ended up living there for a while, bought a lot right in front of Playa Bonnita.  It was the Salsa left and really just as good, just different type of wave, but a heavy grinder for sure.  Guess it doesn’t really break anymore after the earthquake and all, ruined the break so I have been told.  Roads sucked,pot holes so big it would eat your whole truck, seriously.  In the beginning it was I believe 12 miles from Calweeta to Puerto Viejo(Salsa) and it would take almost forty five minutes cause roads were so bad.  My first trip to Limon from San Jose was by train and took like 8 hours or so,then I picked up another train towards Calweeta.  The train let you out at the Pensurst River (was no bridge across back then).  At that point you got in dugout canoe with some black dudes poling you across river.  Once you reached the other side you got on a bus and this is the full on truth, no exaggeration, the bus had a visqueen (clear plastic) windshield, fifty gallon drum behind the drivers seat for a gas tank and 2 negroes with flashlites sticking there arms out the spot where windows should be for gas tanks.

Daniel:  Did you ask around with the locals – there were no surfers there at the time, correct?  Was Salsa Brava receiving swell when you got there?  It’s a fickle wave from what I understand, so if it was getting wave, you lucked out.

Richard: Like I said we first got to CR in Jan of 74 and went to Caribbean 3 weeks later.  We just surfed the beach break in Calweeta mainly (Black Beach) and at Playa Bonitta right north of Limon, the left hander.  And no Salsa was not fickle back then if you were there at right time of year, which was winter and summer times.  Once it started pumping it could pump for weeks.  But we probably started surfing there in late seventy five or seventy six, really don’t exactly remember.  There were definitely no surfers in Puerto Viego at that time, we were buddies with all the locals and the fisherman as we also dove and fished with them.  My buddy who was four years older that me, John Murphree, who died of cancer years back and who I sold part of my farm to, was down there and we all just kept seeing this wave breaking when we were down in Viejo and for months we just looked.  Then like every wave I guess, you look for a long time and then finally you go “man we got to give this a try”.  Well, my buddy Dusty, who named the place, and who was really a better surfer than me, and our Cuban friend Albert, who still lives there and builds boats there, was from Miami, and our other really good buddy Bill Enniking (Ragga Dagga, his nickname) were there and we decided to give it a go.  Dusty was hurt and couldn’t go and Albert wasn’t experienced enough to go out…  so Albert and Dusty climbed in an almond tree and me and Ragga Dagga paddled out into about 8 to 10 foot Hawaiian mesurements and style surf. Didn’t catch a lot of them that first day but enough to get the juices going and the game was on from there, and also the rest is, history as they say. 

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