Some of you will think less of me after reading this. But I’m going to convince myself you were just looking for an excuse. This one’s kinda long, better get something to drink. If you are drinking shooters, make a few.
Five a.m. Saturday, I drive the boys into downtown San José to catch the 6am bus to the beach. They are going with a friend, Andy, and Andy’s dad, Martin, for a day of surfing. Not a great day to surf, very calm and the tide charts say it’s all wrong to be doing this, but it’s the day everyone can go. Since nobody is itching to be the next Moondoggie, that’s reason enough, right?
They arrive 9am, start scoping out surfboard rental places. The one they’d used before wants a deposit on a credit card. Eeeyouuuu. They decide to look for another place. They find one (because there’s only a million surfboard rental places in Costa Rica), a makeshift tienda [tee-IN-dah, store] near the water. No deposit, no instructions, no contract. The Surfboard Dude held Martin’s U.S. driver’s license and gave out two shortboards, $10 each for the day. Cool.
They walk into the water. Morgan and Andy catch a wave or two. Not long into the fun, both boys are on a good-sized wave and decide to ditch. They fall off the boards, ride the wave to shore. Where they find both boards, Mo’s being in two pieces. Right across the middle. Bummer.
They pick up the pieces and head to the rental place. I’m not there, remember, I’m in Pavas rehearsing showtunes with my friend Sheila, when I get the phone call. It’s Ryan. He says, "Morgan’s board broke in two and Martin wants your okay to pay for it. $450." Without a conscious thought, I morph into Criticia Voluptua Right-Right, Pitbull REALTOR®. Sheila says I looked different and she was sore afraid. By the time I got off the phone, she and Carol, our pianist, were staring at me, wide-eyed and, I think, kinda awed. Trust me when I say you want Criticia on your side of the table. Surfboard Dude didn’t have a chance.
BACKGROUND: I am paranoid and suspicious by nature. Yes, I think they are out to get me. How do you think I earned that nickname? I was immediately suspicious. I gotta nose for B.S. and I’m not usually off the mark. I mean we lived in the Mecca of All Tourist Traps for 30 years. You learn to watch your back. Every other week, you read of some hapless tourist getting scammed by a t-shirt or jewelry salesperson. If you shopped on Duval Street without being completely paranoid and suspicious, you ran a good chance of getting taken. It’s better there these days… tourism is down and vendors are a little more grateful. That phenom has not hit Costa Rica. Yet.
I’ll spare the gritty details. I was not a raving lunatic, I was firm and to the point. I asked if there was anything in writing: no. Was there a sign that said, "You break it, you buy it." No. No instruction, no contract, no deposit, no upfront rental agreement… nada. I talked to Ryan, Morgan, Martin and Surfboard Dude, whose name I still don’t know. Dude was nice at first, then whiny, then a tad nasty. I told him I was definitely not paying anything for the board that day, to send a bill home with my sons, I would present it to my lawyer and get back to him. I told him we lived in Escazú, I told Martin to tell him the name of this website, my name, whatever they needed to know. But I was not paying anything right then.
I needed time to think. If we had been told upfront we’d owe $450 if we broke a board, we would not have rented. At least not without a thorough examination of the board, many photos (I’m big on photo-ing things I rent) and enthusiastic assurances that broken boards are rare. I’m good with agreements I make upfront. But this reeked.
I asked Martin to get a copy of their business license and to mention the phrase "sales tax receipts." If they don’t have those, then who are they to demand their version of fair play? It’s the pitbull thing.
Martin was not happy about leaving his driver’s license. But he doesn’t drive in Costa Rica and getting a replacement isn’t that hard. It surely doesn’t cost $450! I didn’t want to be blasé about his predicament, but his driver’s license wasn’t worth $450 to either of us. Actually, at some point the price dropped to $350. But Martin had to deal with them face to face. I felt plenty guilty about that.
I SO wish I’d been there.
At one point, Martin asked would I pay $100, just to be done with it and get his license back. Not happy but anxious to have them out of that situation, I said, "OK. But be sure to tell them this is the last dime they’ll get out of me." Unfortunately, this was like phone call number three or four, and by the time Martin and I hung up, Dude had taken his broken board and headed home. I figure Dude has my phone number, he’ll call.
The boys go eat, then head to the bus home. They are on the bus when Dude and Dude’s Boss get on the bus and demand $200 for the repair. "We got a quote," they say. They also say they are not letting the bus leave until they get paid. Or at least extract a promise to pay. Which I’ve already given, but, hey, I’m a girl. This is a last ditch effort for cash, but Martin is wisely doing the estoy limpio thing [s-TOY LEEMP-ee-oh, I am clean which is what you say to beggars].
They call us again, since that’s been so successful. Hal has the phone now. He asks, "How can you hold up the bus?"
The Dudes answer in unison, "Because we live here. We can do whatever we want."
I swear to you that’s verbatim. This does not help their case. Hal is livid, Morgan is completely traumatized and feeling a heavy weight. Martin, Andy and Ryan are like, "Whoa… get us the heck outta here."
Hal tells them to send him the repair bill, he will pay it. Unfortunately, this promise is extorted. We want our boys home and away from these hooligans. We would have promised anything at that point. Dude and Big Dude get off the bus, the boys get home. Actually, Morgan has to go right to the Little Theatre to rehearsal because he is running the lights for the upcoming play. By the time he does get home, he is exhausted physically and emotionally.
By today, Morgan and I are pretty wrung out. Things like this take it out of you. Mo is still not quite himself, it was a pretty big burden. He felt like he ruined the day for everyone, that those men were jerks because of him. I want to punch them. Morgan wasn’t even touching the board when it broke, everyone attests to that. It was a freak accident or a really crappy board.
I’ve spent the past day and a half researching, questioning, thinking. What is the right thing? Basically, if we’d agreed to buy the board, we would have. But we didn’t. Prior to board rental, we made no promises, none were made to or asked of us. End of story.
If they come up with a repair bill, I will make sure it’s legit before I consider paying it. As well as research their business license and check out their reputation. It’s a small country.
Is it the money? No. You are talking to a woman who could spend $500 in Kmart in the Martha Stewart section alone. In under an hour.
So that’s where we are. Morgan is at rehearsal. I think he understands those Dudes were jerks because that’s what they do, not because of him. Agreement #2: don’t take anything personally.
Have not heard from the Dudes. I did get a quote today to fix a board broken in half: $80.
This is the last thing, then I’ll shut up (sure): if they had said, "Wow, that board broke. Let’s see, it’ll be $100 to fix it." Any reasonable response, we’d have probably paid, even without an upfront agreement. But they don’t get a credit card or sign a rental agreement or tell you anything upfront because this way works better for them. Usually.
Your best bet is to buy boards for the boys and this will never happen again.
Everyone here is out to make a living and boards can be very expensive. Those guys were not smart enough to cover their butts by having contracts, etc. so in this instance, it’s their loss.
If Mo shows continued interest in surfing, we will buy a board. Definitely the way to go. We can buy them online. Crappy boards are $50, good boards are $250 and really good boards start at $400. Then there is ebay and all the used boards… With one of our five $500 duty exemptions every six months, we could get one here pretty reasonably.
I found a guy near me who makes surfboards, if he’s still there. We’re going to check him out today.
If these guys are above board, they need to have rental agreements and take a deposit. Then we’d know what our responsibilities are and to thoroughly examine the board. Best case scenario, they just take a shot on renting with no deposit and, on Saturday, they lost. I’ll bet they don’t lose often.
The board they rented looked like a real old beater. If they were in Jaco call Carton surf boards they do repairs/make boards and will be able to give you a price. Actually they post repair prices out front on there wall, next time rent from them as well.
Thanks, Keith. I will do that.
On the back of the board is a signature by the guy who makes the board. I checked it out online. Turns out the maker of the board, Javier, is a guy here in San José.
Yesterday, I went to his shop. Nice guy, plenty of nice boards there. All signed and ALL have his logo in the middle, front and back. The board Mo rented had a different logo, “Walter”, which we now realize was a sticker over the logo. Or maybe it was painted on over Javier’s logo, then re-finished.
Thinking “Walter” was the surfboard brand, I researched that online but couldn’t find it anywhere. Duh.
This just confirms to me that the board was NOT new, as the Dudes claimed, and quite possibly repaired already… a real old beater, as you suggest. Fine if they’d told us that, but they insisted it was new. Not.
Carton makes great boards, and they are made for costa rican big surf. My husband has a couple of his boards and a few that were hawaiian made, also for strong surf. Thin boards can snap like a potato chip. I have to say that 100 bucks is way to much to fix a board, I would bet it is more like 20-40 bucks. Also, if you bring a board from the states the airline charges oversized baggage or sport equipment fees of up to $100 per direction. If you bought two cheap, wrapped them in bubblewrap, tapped them together in a board bag it still might be worth it.
Thanks for that info, fortunecookie! Good to know. We will definitely check out Carton’s shop and boards when in Jacó next time.
“Walter” is a well known surf shop in Jaco. $80-$100 is about right to fix a board that has snapped in half.
Thanks for that info, Keith. Walter’s surf shop hasn’t come up in any of my searches so I hadn’t put that together. I assumed it was, but couldn’t find any supporting evidence. Someone must have put the Walter sticker over the shaper’s logo. Maybe this is common practice for used or repaired boards, so if it breaks again, the shaper’s reputation stays intact.
Hi, this is Martin.
Thought maybe I should drop in with my point of view. I’m the guy who
left his driver’s license at the beach.
I guess my biggest regret is that three teenagers who were looking for
fresh air, exercise, and a good time were instead traumatized (as was
I). It was a nerve-wracking experience: we were desperately
trying to do the right thing and at the same time we had no desire to
be the victims of a scam. I guess we’ve seen so many scams, we’ve
begun to expect them.
A few years ago, in my home town, a friend borrowed another friend’s
car to take his family on vacation. No paperwork, just a handshake,
some chatter about what gas to use, how to change the tires. On the
return trip one of the rear wheels came off, on the expressway, at
high speed. The car careened across six lanes of traffic, didn’t hit
another vehicle, didn’t flip over, nobody hurt. Bottom line: the
subsequent disagreement over who should pay for the damaged car was a
horrendously painful experience, even for yours truly, the bystander. The
driver wanted the owner to take responsibility, alleging the car was
defective (a late model Cadillac). The owner said “It happened on
your watch.” Two really good friends—it was tough.
I kept my mouth shut at the time, but it seemed to me that plain
old-fashioned fair play was on the side of the owner. And I feel the
same way about the beach experience. I did not not hear every word
(phone calls I wasn’t any part of), but I’m sure I heard and saw 95%
of what happened: the surfboard owner was polite but insistent, he
had suffered a loss, and wished to press his claim, realizing that
without a deposit or a hold on a credit card, he had little leverage
beyond persuasion. Yes, his initial claim was exaggerated, but not by
much. The nearby surf shop owner had nothing to gain and his
discounted replacement cost was $385.
They did threaten to call the police–I would have done the same.
They did follow us onto the bus–I don’t know if I would have had the
chutzpa for that move. And we were truly afraid that these guys might
have some leverage with the bus company and that we might spend the
night in detention after all. Several kilometers out of town the
four of us, in unison, took a deep breath. But never in all of this
did they curse us or threaten us with bodily harm.
The driver’s license. Yes, they still have it. Yes, it can be
replaced. But the fact that they have that much information about
me, can copy it, fax it, email it, maybe even make a duplicate, leaves
me cold. It’s not a passport, but I’m sure there are uses I haven’t
even thought of. And there are uses I don’t have until it is either
replaced or redeemed: credit card confirmation, check cashing,
domestic travel I.D., etc., etc. (The security officials at the San Jose
airport already stop me every time I go there because someone else has my
name–won’t tell me what he’s charged with.)
Will these guys actually complain to the police, send someone to my
home, complain to the U.S. Embassy, stage a mugging or a home
invasion? I don’t know. Should I be fearful, take unusual
precautions? I don’t know. I’ve put considerable effort into
blending in, staying below the radar, which is part of our security
I was raised in China, Japan, and Korea until I was 18. I know what
the Ugly American looks like. And I know how easy it is for me to
personally slip into that role unawares. This should not be, for
me, another such slip.
Sometimes, we end up in situtations where we’re at odds with someone, and there seems to be no simple solution, even when neither side is trying to cheat the other. But then, it’s quite possible that the owner is trying to cheat you.
I recently saw a post on another blog on theft in Costa Rica. What are the prevailing attitudes in Costa Rica? Are people basically honest, or are there many people looking to take from the newcomers?
Hey, Martin, I’m going to respond but been busy WORKING – AGH – and want to give it some thought. Work is so demanding and time-consuming… but hopefully rewarding! Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’ll be back to it.
You are not the Ugly American, I can’t imagine you ever were, although it sounds like you’ve seen your share of it. From everything I’ve learned over the past few days about that $&*#(@&$ surfboard, the Dudes’ Surftent is a perfect example of a Tourist Trap. They are opportunists. They rent crappy used boards (I can now guarantee you that board was not new, and I’m fairly certain it’d been repaired) to people like us looking to avoid a deposit, then demand big dollars when something bad happens. I have too much experience with Tourist Traps in Key West. This is exactly how they do it. Take advantage of your sense of fair play when they have misrepresented almost everything about the deal.
Ok, sorry. I said I wasn’t going to respond, but my point is that you are an honorable guy and I believe they tried to take advantage of that fact. Neither you nor I owe them anything. If they call with a repair bill, I will consider it. But they haven’t, I don’t think they will. They’ve moved on. Plenty more fish in that ocean.
OH: a copy of your passport will take care of every I.D. need you have. Banks only want to see my actual passport; my U.S. dl never did me any good here. You can get a CR dl, did you know that? Easy… except for the lines. But a CR dl will get you in anywhere (except banks). I have to get a new FL dl and I think I can do that online. I’ll let you know on that.
My experience everywhere is that people are basically honest. My only really bad experiences have been in tourist trap areas: on the Caribbean coast at a turtle town where we were actually stolen from; in Puerto Viejo where the cabbies take advantage of you (maybe rightfully so – who wants to drive those roads for meter prices?); and this time on the Pacific coast.
At least with the surfboard scam, I’m used to that kinda shady dealing from Key West life. Having the turtle-town people steal money out of my hand, just flat out take advantage of us openly, that was very disheartening. At least the surf dudes were actors…
In a tourist trap area, you have to watch yourself, whether Key West or any resort town in the U.S., here in CR, anywhere in the world. Vendors in tourist areas know there is a 90% likelihood they will NEVER lay eyes on you again. They don’t count on repeat business, they don’t have to. Add to that a lack of enforcement in CR… the reality isn’t pretty.
Something else I learned in Key West: competitors stick together against outsiders. The other surf shop owner had much more to gain siding with Surf Dudes than with a tourist. He has everything to gain protecting his surf board prices, as well as his practice of taking a hefty deposit. What would he have gained from telling a tourist that board could be fixed for less than $100? Besides, he has to see Surf Dudes everyday; most tourists he will never see again.
It’s why the food on Duval Street is, with one or two exceptions, so mediocre: they’ll never see you again. Spend money making cute t-shirts and a nice garden (people love eating outside in the tropics) but don’t pay the chef… who cares?
Besides, he might be selling Surf Dudes his used or repaired boards to rent. Pure speculation here, but if I were Surf Dudes, I’d be looking to get boards cheap to rent for $10 a day. NO WAY would I rent a $450 surfboard for $10/day. Take 45 days to make my investment back before I started seeing profit? If that’s the Dudes’ business model, they are not as clever as I thought.
I talk a lot for someone who is not responding now. I’m puttin’ a lid on it! And listening to this:
Most rental shops buy theses boards from broke surfers for almost nothing. I’m amazed the board could be fix, or fix just enough for the next tourist.
Thanks, Russell. That is my conclusion… how could a rental shop afford to do anything else? Whether or not this board can be fixed remains to be seen. They have not contacted me with a repair bill. Nice website site for your B&B, looks comfortable and good prices!
Interesting scenario. I’ve been reading and appreciating this blog for a while from California and now is a good time to participate. I am a traveling, spanish speaking, latin america adventuring surfer. I’ve done a fair amount of surfing in Costa Rica.
$450 is way too much to charge a renter for a used surfboard that broke. The renter would then expect to own the board but that is seriously overpriced for such a board. “A you break it, you buy it” sign and a signature would be necessary to demand this kind of money. From the picture, the surfboard almost appears to be a longboard. Either way, if it was locally shaped, the reality is the materials are lower grade than US manufacture and thus demand a lower price point. The glass job looks pretty light from the way the board broke which is usually the case when resin composite is less readily available. This shop was trying to line its pockets from a youngster’s unfortunate accident.
Repairs also cost less in a third world country. $80-100 would definitely cover labor and materials for repair. The board shop should have asked that amount. I expect that they have had good results with the $450 tactic a few times in the past with well-meaning and apologetic tourists. The shop can just ride their inventory out until the end of the line when whoever happens to be renting the day the board loses its life is stuck with the bill.
Sucks about the driver’s license but I wouldn’t worry too much about that. If anything malicious is done with it, that is criminal activity on someone else’s part. The regret is something along the lines of losing your wallet and kicking yourself over it.
Thank you, Carson. I’m depending on the input from people more experienced with surfboards than I am. Which would be almost everyone in the world… but everything I’ve been able to discover has confirmed what you are saying. Thanks again for writing!
Well it’s a bummer because surfers are supposed to be laid-back not gougers but people get greedy or desperate I guess. Great blog, Saratica, I get inspiration, laughs and memories for my Latin adventures here!
It was a bummer – these guys had the laid-back rasta look down pat. The boys quoted them as repeating, “You broke my fuckin’ board, man.” Like a mantra. Sorta laid back talk… I guess. Thank you for reading! I’m having great fun writing. If I can just get Hal to do all the work, I’ll be able to be back at it. He’s almost there. I’m a good whiner.