Walking on the Beach: JMU Alum Lives the Dream in Costa Rica

Story by Elliot McCallister

The view from Ryan Waldon’s home is what most people imagine when they think of retirement. Overlooking the picturesque beach town of Playa Tamarindo, you can see the crystal clear turquoise waters of Costa Rica directly from his patio.

Tamarindo is a tourist destination, with the population fluctuating between 500 and 5,000 people depending on the time of year. Located along the north Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, it’s one of the most easily accessible beach towns in the region. Just a short bike ride away from the beach is his two bedroom home that includes a living room, full kitchen and private pool. Although it may seem like it, Waldron is far from retired. Waldron graduated from JMU in May 2013 with a degree in writing, rhetoric and technical communication (WRTC) and a minor in environmental science. At 23 years old, the Virginia Beach native finds himself working and living in the happiest country in the world with one of the longest life expectancies in the world. When the waves are good he’s surfing, and when they’re not, you’ll most likely find him at “work.”

Waldon works in the marketing/creative department at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, Costa Rica’s most popular surf camp. He’s got a nice spot in the office where he works with the lovely reservations ladies, but says, “I spend a fair amount of the workday walking around the camp working alongside mis compañeros!” The beachfront surf resort has eighteen rooms, two restaurants, an on-site microbrewery, a surf shop and perfect waves right out front. If you don’t want to surf, or you’ve called it quits for the day, you can lounge in the infinity pool, get a massage or have a few drinks at the open-air beachfront bar where you can enjoy live music and a perfect view of the ocean.

On any given day, you can find Waldron writing for the Witch’s Rock website, blog, newsletters, social media or advertisements. He also teaches daily surf seminars every evening on subjects such as Surf Science, Surfboard Selection, Surf Trick Tips and Surf Safety, where he delivers a well-crafted presentation to each week’s guests. In addition to Waldron’s other job duties, he also maintains relationships with local businesses and helps design marketing materials for events and other in-house purposes, such as helping with the weekly production of the Witch’s Rock Pirate Radio show.

Finally, but certainly not at the end of his extensive list, when the camp needs an additional surf instructor or guide, Waldron fills the role. Traveling along the coast in boat or van, he guides surf tours to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, such as Playa Grande, which you get to by crossing a crocodile-filled estuary. “Grande” as the locals call it, is a national park and has much better surf spots because of the southerly facing orientation of the beach. It’s known for having some of the most consistent waves in Northern Costa Rica. “I really enjoy my job and the people I work with, so I generally spend most of my day at work,” Waldron says. These are not the typical words you hear out of a recent college graduate’s mouth, but for Waldron, it’s easy to see why he’s so happy.

Like the majority of college seniors, up until the spring semester of his last year at JMU, Waldron was pretty much clueless on what he wanted to do. He first realized he had a possible future in the surfing industry after securing a remote internship with Surfer Magazine. He credits securing this position to a few influential teachers and helpful advisers that encouraged him to “just go for it.”

“Ryan had a clear sense of priorities and having a fulfilling, happy and exciting life was first on the list. Everything else was in service to that goal,” says his former WRTC Professor Traci Zimmerman. “What’s great about Ryan’s attitude is that it allowed him to reflect upon, rather than react to, the opportunities around him. If you worry too much about the future, you can completely miss the opportunities in the present. Ryan got that.”

It wasn’t until Waldron had actually made his leap of faith to Costa Rica and settled into Tamarindo that he found Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. Waldron moved from Virginia Beach to Tamarindo in October of 2013 to take an internship position at a much smaller surf/Spanish school located right on the beach. “I was helping them re-vamp their surf program while learning about the internal operations of a small business. They didn’t pay me, just offered daily Spanish classes and a free place to live,” Waldron says. While living and interning there, Waldron became aware of Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, which was located right down the street. Never scheduling an interview, Waldron walked into the administration office of Witch’s Rock with a positive mindset and nothing to lose. “I had my résumé, Surfer Magazine articles I wrote, a smile, some personal surf photos — to prove I wasn’t a kook — and a lifetime of learning and loving their product … surfing,” Waldron says. After a few virtual and face-to-face correspondences, he finally began working there January of 2014.

Leaving home and trying something most people wouldn’t even consider isn’t so difficult when you’re moving to paradise. Waldron has already enjoyed visits from his parents, brother and multiple other friends. It seems safe to say that he can count on plenty more friends and family coming to visit as well. Although this isn’t the first job that comes to mind when you think of a recent college graduate, it’s actually what an interdisciplinary major like WRTC encourages. “Thinking interdisciplinary means that you are always looking to connect the dots, even when those dots may be in a completely different coloring book that hasn’t been printed yet,” Zimmerman says. “Our classes encourage experimentation and allow for a climate in which our students can become not only adept at particular skills/technologies, but also learn how to be intellectually agile.”

Perhaps students who are not in an interdisciplinary major like WRTC should try and adapt this way of thinking. “WRTC turned me on to new ideas, developed my writing and communication skills and the classes were generally fun with group thinking and some really cool teachers. I really valued all the time I spent in Harrisonburg,” Waldron adds. Waldron’s environmental science minor, on the other hand, allowed him to study a field that he was interested in, while also connecting the ideas with surfing. His career choice comes as no surprise to his former environmental science professor and fellow surfer Eric Pappas, either. “Ryan was always engaged while taking my course as well as when he was a teacher assistant for me,” Pappas says. “He’s a very genuine individual and extremely easy to like, high energy and enthusiastic most all the time. With more and more surfers tending to be environmentalists these days, I could have predicted this for Ryan, he always wanted to do something with surfing.”

For the seniors who are sick of telling their relatives they don’t have a job lined up with a major corporation, former Yale Professor William Zinsser has some insightful advice. In an essay titled “College Pressures,” he tries to remind students that they have plenty of time to figure out their lives. Things are going to happen that they could never expect. There is plenty of time to change jobs and the way they’re living, but students don’t want to hear it. “They want a map — right now — that they can follow unswervingly to career security, financial security, social security and, presumably, a prepaid grave,” Zinsser says.

Waldron was not looking for that map. When asked about his future, he says, “My goals … Just keep living everyday in a positive state of mind and always be looking for opportunity for self improvement. The past two years of my life have unfolded in a way I could have never imagined so I don’t want to limit the possibilities by saying, ‘Yes, I’ll definitely still be in Costa Rica,’ because nobody knows what could happen. I really like the position I’m at right now and just want to continue waking up every morning stoked on work. Seriously, how many people can say that?” While the one thing Waldron may be missing out on in the United States is a larger salary, who can be sure? “It’s not really something worth stressing about,” Waldron explains. “I’ve got a nice house, I’m eating very well and I’m maintaining good health.”

To those students who still have no idea what to do after graduating, Waldron says, “Find out what you really love doing and keep doing it. Don’t dismiss what you really want to do because of money or fear or failure. But at the same time, don’t be lazy and expect opportunities to fall in your lap. Be proactive, believe that you are good enough, be an expert in your field and keep chasing that Plan A. So happy I did.”


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