People Who Surf

Carlos Velarde's transition from corporate climber to Costa Rican barrel-chaser

Carlos Velarde's new position may pay less monetarily, but you just can't beat the benefits. Photo: Gilley

Despite having a beautiful young family and a highly coveted, well-paying job, Carlos Velarde had a disturbing turn-of-the-century revelation: He wasn’t happy. Having spent the last seven years clawing his way up the corporate ladder, Carlos woke up one day and realized that he had sacrificed too much in order to get there—he had strayed too far from the precious ocean lifestyle he held so dear. He suddenly saw himself as just another hamster on the wheel, another rat chasing the proverbial cheese. So the young Peruvian gathered the family, collected his life savings, and, like the legendary explorer Thor Heyerdahl, left Peru and struck out for broader horizons.

While sacrificing family security may be an ill-advised plan for others, it was a fitting decision for someone with Carlos Velarde’s past. Growing up under the auspices of Club Waikiki, the shadow of Pico Alto, and the rich Punta Hermosa surfing culture, this goofy-footer knew how good life could be. As a younger man he had taken a chance and moved to Hawaii, and discovered a path to inner peace through surfing there. He had channeled anger from a family divorce, made a calculated assault on heavy Pipeline barrels, and by testing the limits of his courage, he was able to let go of some deep-seated angst and find a cathartic path to happiness.

During his stint on Oahu, Carlos was one of those surfers who would show up in a surf magazine with the label “unidentified”, and although he would have loved to have had his name attached to the images, he was perfectly content to exist under the radar. Carlos was just happy to be there—to be immersed in the Polynesian lifestyle. And while immersed, Carlos couldn’t help but notice some of the uncanny similarities between Hawaiian and Peruvian culture, especially in terms of cuisine. From the construction and techniques used with the underground Imu oven, to specific and complex uses of the sweet potato, Carlos noticed so many parallels that he grew to believe in Thor Heyerdahl’s trans-cultural diffusion model—that there had to be some sort of ancient Polynesian/Peruvian connection. It also rekindled a long-held culinary interest in Carlos.

When he left Hawaii, Carlos went back to Peru to get serious about his education. He eventually earned an MBA from San Ignacio de Loyola, and began his corporate ascent. But, ultimately, it was Carlos’ time in Hawaii that made him realize that he had sold his soul for the comforts of a paycheck, and so instead of grinding his career out until retirement, he got radical, used his surfing instincts, and changed course. He began by searching the Pacific, eventually deciding to take a trip to Costa Rica. Like many other travelers, Carlos and his wife, Andrea Raffo, became enamored by the Northern Costa Rica Guanacaste vibe, and looked at it as a cosmic sign when their car got stuck in the mud right in front of Playa Negra.

They had found their new home.

Slowly and steadily over the next few years, Carlos and his family took root in Playa Negra and now have a great little hotel and café in town, Café Playa Negra. They also have two beautiful, intelligent, and vibrant teenage daughters, Cloe and Maia, who have grown up living the Pura Vida.

The Café Playa Negra is a highly-rated, open-air establishment that offers excellent Peruvian fusion dishes and a relaxed atmosphere. It sits in the center of town, and is a gathering place for surfers the world over. On any given night it is not uncommon for wave riders from Europe, South America, North America, Polynesia, and the Caribbean to all be enjoying the café cuisine at the same time, with nothing but laughter and good times filling the air.

So the next time you go to Costa Rica, stop by Café Playa Negra for a meal and say hello to Carlos Velarde, the man who branched out and brought a trans-cultural diffusion model of his own to a surfing paradise.