Surfing and Sustainability: Making a Difference in Costa Rica
By Guest Contributor on Wednesday, May 4th, 2011
Although Peace Corps Volunteers who finish their 27 months of service are called Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, some never “return.” They stay in their host countries and often find creative ways to continue to make a difference. For instance, Travis Bays, founder of the Bodhi Surf School in Costa Rica. Megan Coatley tells us more.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, Travis Bays is no stranger to the sun, sand and surf. He started surfing at the age of 14 and immediately fell in love with all the excitement, exhaustion and peace that the ocean had to offer. Bays attended college at the University of San Diego and was a member of the USD Surf Team. Much too ambitious to fall into the ‘California surf bum’ stereotype, he also joined the National Scholastic Surfing Association, surfed for Don Laughlin Sea Brothers Surf Boards and owned/operated Evening Glass Surf School, all while keeping up his college studies! Bays graduated from USD in 2003 with degrees in both economics and anthropology.
Shortly after graduation and an attempt at an uninspiring day job as a Credit Manager at Wells Fargo, Bays enrolled in the Peace Corps and left his home, family and surfing buddies behind to serve as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Bahia Ballena-Uvita on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. While acclimating to a foreign land and culture could be tough for some, Bays soon found that his placement could not have been more opportune! What better locale for an energetic surf-junkie-turned-conservationist than a coastal village just footsteps outside of Costa Rica’s first marine national park.
During his two-year Peace Corps commitment in Uvita, Bays spent his mornings catching waves in the warm, salty Pacific and his days helping local business owners develop sustainable eco-tourism practices. As Uvita’s culture and economy were shifting to accommodate domestic and international tourism, Bays had the opportunity to working side-by-side with community members, helping tour operators take steps to minimize their impact on the nearby land and marine habitat and provide meaningful, profitable work for local people. As a micro-credit guru, Bays also initiated the development of a Community Credit Enterprise that helped finance several small business start-ups, including Bahia Aventuras.
After two years making great connections and gains in Uvita, Bays was accepted as a Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator and Trainer at the central offices in San Jose. Though he was pulled far from his ocean paradise, Bays credits the move with introducing him to his wife, Pilar, a Costa Rican native, certified yogi and dedicated practitioner of eco-tourism. As his contract in San Jose came to an end, Bays was offered a position managing a micro-credit project in the Osa Area of Conservation which would involve travel to the communities of Bahia Ballena-Uvita, Cuidad Cortes, Sierpe, La Palma de Puerto Jimenez and Puerto Jimenez. Bays leapt at the chance to be based in his seaside home-away-from-home and moved with Pilar back to beautiful Uvita.
After 9 months traveling to Costa Rica’s remote communities and assisting community-based organizations acquire and utilize micro-credit, Bays’ wife, Pilar, finally convinced him to take stock of his work and his true passions. Pilar realized that there was a need, within her husband and within the community, for Bays to settle down and focus his time and energy building capacity for eco-tourism in his own backyard. With much excitement, the two decided to meld their combined talents for yoga and surfing and create Bodhi Surf School in the heart of Uvita. Bays contacted one of his college surf buddies, Gibran Garcia, who was eager to join the cause as a co-owner and Bodhi Surf School opened its doors to students worldwide in August of 2010.
From its inception, Bays, Garcia and their wives have set forth to become the most environmentally responsible surf school in Costa Rica and they are committed to contributing back to the local community. To that end, Bodhi Surf School has several community development and capacity building projects in the works in Uvita and beyond. For their efforts the received the January 2011 “Making a Difference” award from SustainableTrip.org. As communicated by Dipika Chawla from the Communications, Education & Marketing Division at Rainforest Alliance, “Bodhi Surf School stood out for its excellent community service programs and spirit of social responsibility.”
In response to a question about how Bodhi Surf accomplished the award, Bays says, “I’m applying all the knowledge and skills acquired during my service as a community economic development Peace Corps Volunteer to the Bodhi Surf business model, it’s really that simple.”
Inspired by Bodhi Surf and Uvita, Megan is partnering with Travis to lead The Empowered Self – Yoga & Surf Retreat at the school this summer, August 13-20. Currently serving and returned Peace Corps Volunteers should inquire about a discount when they register.