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Feb 27, 2023 By Vasia Rigou
Project Spotlight: Surf Simply
Meet IIDA’s Latin America Design Award Winner: A surf camp with a green edge
By Vasia Rigou Feb 27, 2023
Published in

A phrase that you will hear, see, and feel everywhere in Costa Rica is “pura vida.” The term has been in the country’s vocabulary for decades and is loosely translated in English as “pure life.” But it’s so much more than that: it’s an expression of happiness, optimism, and living life to the fullest—it’s a philosophy; a way of life that is an indispensable part of the culture. Surf Simply, undoubtedly the best surf coaching resort in the world, is built on that concept.

Think light sand beaches, warm water, and crisp, year-round waves. Add a laid-back attitude with a dash of luxury and you have Surf Simply. Located on Playa Guiones in Nosara, Guanacaste, the space is a skillful fusion of tech-savvy and eco-friendly. “No one has ever built a high-end luxury surf coaching resort before,” says Rupert Hill, one of the resort’s four owners. “More than that though, we wanted this to feel like elevated, sophisticated, but casual hospitality. That's a difficult balance to pull off,” he adds. “We wanted a building that felt like a mix between a tropical hotel, a sports coaching facility, and hanging out in your wealthy friend's beach house.” Hill is well-aware that ideas might come easy; it’s the execution that’s the real challenge. That’s why there was only one way to go: Gensler. “There are so many wonderful creative people working there,” says Hill. “It seems to attract some of Costa Rica's best and brightest.”

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A training session in Surf Simply's pool in which the courtyard blends indoor and outdoor living seamlessly. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply
A training session in Surf Simply's pool in which the courtyard blends indoor and outdoor living seamlessly. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply
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Surfboard storage built using local materials and designed to blend into the surrounding ecosystem. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply
Surfboard storage built using local materials and designed to blend into the surrounding ecosystem. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply

“Surfing is a lifestyle and we had to evoke that feeling,” say Gabriela Molina, senior associate and landscape architect, and Gabriel Murillo, senior associate and studio director, part of the Gensler team that worked on the project. And what better way to kick things off than riding the wave—literally. “To understand the detailed-oriented happiness that came from surfing and the power of design within that feeling, the team took the Surf Simply’s training course so that they could live, breathe, and fully represent the mindset and their objective,” they explain. “This interaction and co-creation with the client were imperative to fully comprehend how things were structured—a strategy that also set strong bases for us to elaborate a formidable design that allowed us to respond to real and tangible necessities rather than simply aesthetics.”

The week-long sessions at Surf Simply have an extremely limited amount of attendants—only 12; “the optimal number for people to really connect with each other,” Hill explains. Think: twice-a-day surf time, theoretical classes, as well as video analysis, covering every aspect of the sport including swell forecasting, board design, etiquette, and judging. Not to mention the time one spends in the pool working on paddle technique, duck diving, turtle rolling, and board agility.

“When people are receiving surf coaching, they are quite often pushing themselves to the limit mentally, and physically. That needs to be balanced with indulgence and pampering in other parts of the day,” says Hill, explaining that the luxurious resort experience compliments the challenges guests face in the surfing elements of the week. “When people feel safe and cared for, that helps them be better students of the sport.”

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Guests enjoy the multi-purpose room designed to minimize visual noise and provide a relaxing and focused space. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply
Guests enjoy the multi-purpose room designed to minimize visual noise and provide a relaxing and focused space. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply
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Guests convene in the common areas designed for conversation, relaxation, and learning. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply
Guests convene in the common areas designed for conversation, relaxation, and learning. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply

“When people are receiving surf coaching, they are quite often pushing themselves to the limit mentally, and physically. That needs to be balanced with indulgence and pampering in other parts of the day,” says Hill, explaining that the luxurious resort experience compliments the challenges guests face in the surfing elements of the week. “When people feel safe and cared for, that helps them be better students of the sport.”

The Gensler team understands that. “Surf Simply is about experiencing the surfing process in a personal and unique way. So our most important consideration was to stay within the concept of making the experience the number one priority. With this in mind, the team made sure to utilize simple, sober, and most importantly authentic materials, like concrete and wood, to reduce any visual noise and make nature the main character,” say Molina and Murillo. “Since this was a property that bordered a natural reserve, we tried to conserve the existing nature and ecosystem, as much as possible.” More than looking after their guests, Surf Simply ensures they look after the environment: Gensler in collaboration with Sphera Sustainability approached the design through a methodical and systematized network of patterns that created an aesthetically complex layout that integrated perfectly with the jungle terrain. The sustainable strategies that were implemented included solar panels to produce local energy, onsite solar water heater, large windows to illuminate with natural daylight, rainwater collection, onsite wastewater treatment for irrigation, and high-efficiency water accessories to reduce water consumption—a delicate issue in Guanacaste.

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Guests enjoy a time to relax out of the water in the jungle surroundings of Surf Simply. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply
Guests enjoy a time to relax out of the water in the jungle surroundings of Surf Simply. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply

Surf Simply is nested among majestic trees that reflect its simple, yet elegant geometries. Its design emphasizes indoor-outdoor living and reinforces the resort’s philosophy, making collaborative and open spaces ideal for social and learning interaction. “We wanted to get away from the self-aggrandizing, atriums of luxury hotels, with that echoey, high ceilings and lobbies,” says Hill, who believes in creating an intimate community where conversation springs organically. From communal chef-prepared dinners and relaxing pool time to inspiring fire pit hangouts and non-surfing activities (paddle boarding, kayaking, and horseback riding) the overall experience becomes much more than a search for the perfect wave—it provides intimate connections between people and nature.

(Below: After a long day on the water, Surf Simply offers communal meals and poolside activities. All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply)

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No wonder the all-inclusive boutique resort won IIDA’s Latin America Design Awards (2019) as one of the most outstanding interior design and architecture projects in Latin America and the Caribbean before they were awarded Best of Competition for the year. Molina and Murillo call Surf Simply an unparalleled project. “They are characterized by a culture of collaboration, learning, connectivity, and community, so it was important to provoke and encourage these types of relationships through design” they add. “We are so proud to have created a space that unifies human experience.”

Learn more about IIDA’s Latin America Design Awards here and find the full IIDA Competitions Calendar here.

All images courtesy of Gensler and Surf Simply

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