Costa Rica | Surfing Tamarindo, Avellanas and a week in the land of pura vida

Friday night

Friday night’s alright for bull fights on the Nicoya Peninsula. Just one of the amazing, random good times we stumbled into on our week of living pura vida.

I’ve just returned from a week in Costa Rica and wanted to get my thoughts down while the pura vida vibes were still fresh (rather than wait weeks or months, which is my usual modus operandi). First off, the trip was incredible and I can see why so many of the people we met down there return again and again. A week was clearly not long enough and I’m already looking down the line for an opportunity to return.

The trip, and my fond memories of it, are especially sweet because it almost didn’t happen.

Anastasia (my lovely girlfriend) and I were looking for a place to meet up at the end of one of her multi-week work stints – the catalyst for many of our adventures – and the proximity of El Salvador to where she was working, deep in the jungles of a neighbouring country, put it atop of the list of convenient rendezvous locales. However, after some guidebook reading, the promise of easily accessible surf, off-season crowds (or lack thereof) and regular, reasonably priced flights tipped the scales towards Costa Rica. The choice turned out to be a happy accident that didn’t become apparent until we’d set off for the Nicoya Peninsula the night after landing in the San Jose.

The journey to the coast took about three-and-a-half hours, mostly as a result of poor signage, narrow motorways, crazy intersections, seemingly random tolls and the general road chaos typical of developing countries. In retrospect, it all adds to rural Costa Rica’s charm, although Anastasia might disagree. (This also happened to be my first crack at driving stick so she, sensibly, shouldered most of the critical driving).

One of the countless drive-by scenes we wished we

One of the countless drive-by scenes we wished we’d stopped to savour. Alas, we had people to see and waves to surf.

Horses are just one of the numerous species of animal one passes when the pavement ends. Much of the three-and-a-half hour drive from San Jose westward is done on dubiously paved roads with the last legs done on dirt tracks.

Horses are just one of the numerous species of animal one passes when the pavement ends. Much of the three-and-a-half hour drive from San Jose westward is done on dubiously paved roads with the last legs done on dirt tracks.

Shades of New Zealand-esque pasture on the road to the Nicoya.

Shades of New Zealand-esque pasture on the road to the Nicoya.

Where the pavement ends, there is no telling what challenges your rental car will face. Guidebooks targeting those looking to get beyond the wire recommend a 4x4 just in case. Our little Daihatsu, equipped with a fuel-saving rev limiter that kept the RPMs below 3500, left plenty to be desired on the highway, but made up for its lack of guts with plenty of river-fording tenacity.

Where the pavement ends, there is no telling what challenges your rental car will face. Guidebooks targeting those looking to get beyond the wire recommend a 4×4 just in case. Our little Daihatsu, equipped with a fuel-saving rev limiter that kept the RPMs below 3500, left plenty to be desired on the highway, but made up for its lack of guts with plenty of river-fording tenacity.

Stas and Nastia, reunited siblings with boards in hand outside our villa near Playa Avellanas.

Stas and Nastia, reunited siblings with boards in hand outside our villa near Playa Avellanas.

The trip was also a reunion with Stas, Anastasia’s older brother. He and I share an obsession with surfing (we’d shared waves once before on a trip to Hawaii) and this time, unlike the trip to the islands that involved diving of the sky and SCUBA varieties, surfing was the primary objective. Stas, had landed in Tamarindo, where he attended the famed Witches Rock surf camp, a week prior and was already well acquainted with the local breaks by the time we showed up.

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Sayulita surf reunion | Tequila, broken bones and small wave fun » blog | evan mitsui dot com - […] Christmas, the boys and I got together to hash out our biannual surf adventure. Fresh off a trip to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, I was keen to keep the ball rolling on warm water destinations so, after kicking around a few […]

Nova Scotia | An East Coast surf reunion

The evolution of the short board and the search for something to ride them on.

The evolution of the short board and the search for something to ride them on.

Last month I got the chance to zip out to the Atlantic coast – something I’ve been wanting to do since moving ‘out east’ to Toronto two years ago – to visit some good friends who, for various reasons, relocated from the west coast to the opposite one.

The goal was to reconnect with good buds, escape the city, eat lobster, drink good beer and score some classic Nova Scotia point breaks. Almost all those things happened.

And an unexpected consequence, although perhaps not so surprising for anyone who has had the good fortune to score a couple crisp, clear autumn days on the edge of N.S., I’ve fallen in love with Halifax… and not just because there is a giant wave on the waterfront.

Getting tubed, on the Halifax waterfront.

Getting tubed, on the Halifax waterfront.

Demonstrating where not to stand on the Halifax waterfront wave.

Demonstrating where not to stand on the Halifax waterfront wave.

Theodore the tugboat was a CBC kids show shot in Halifax and set in the fictitious land of Big Harbour. The show went off air (on CBC, anyway) in the early 2000s but Theo still hangs out in Halifax, where he

Theodore the tugboat was a CBC kids show shot in Halifax and set in the fictitious land of Big Harbour. The show went off air (on CBC, anyway) in the early 2000s but Theo still hangs out in Halifax, where he’s retired from show biz and now runs tours when the weather is fair.

Nastia getting ready for breakfast, sporting her Granted cowichan.

Nastia getting ready for breakfast, sporting her Granted cowichan.

Breakfast at Caroline

Breakfast at Caroline’s. Caro lives in the Hydrostones. I challenge the rest of the country to offer up a neighbourhood with a cooler name. The breakfast was great too. That’s Sterling making it. Thanks buds!

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Getting TIFF’d | A first-timers account of photographing the red carpet

Just another night in the pit.

Just another night in the pit.

“We want you to photograph Scarlett Johansson, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts… all the biggest stars.” Sounds like the making of a dream assignment, no? Far from it. But I’m not complaining. Let me explain.

The 38th edition of the Toronto International Film Festival ran from Sept. 5-15 and I was assigned to shoot it for a big, festival-long feature site the CBC Arts unit builds every year to house the mass of content generated during TIFF. Its a big deal and represents a significant boost to CBCnews.ca traffic. Photos of the stars are the main draw, which means my dispatches from the red carpet get creeped and crawled tens of thousands of times, which is super cool.

The down side… I’ve never shot a red carpet before. Ever. Let alone one with a mega star like ScarJo or Sandra Bullock… or Pitt. These are stars for whom fans in the hundreds will gladly roast in the sun hours on end for, just to catch a glimpse. And, stars who attract photographers from all over representing the biggest press agencies and wire services in the world. Real hardened pros who make their living in this environment. Right next to… me.

I felt like that teenager in high school who, upon arriving at the pool, reveals he never learned to swim… But I didn’t want the girls to laugh at me, you know?

It was crash course time. Google to the rescue. Prowling the forums… and a lot of learning the hard way. Luckily for me, a few (not all) of the red carpet pros I met over those two weeks were helpful and, in their own emergency-room-humour-sort-of-way, kind.

I learned a lot by imitation and, should I get the assignment again next year, I have a list of hard-won tips I’ll fall back on.

Here are a few:

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7 days in Russia | Moscow to St. Petersburg

June 1st, two days before my 32nd birthday, I lifted off on a much-anticipated trip to the Mother Land. It was my first time in the world’s largest country and we had a tight timeline —just under a week — to check off a hit-list of must-see-stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg, our two primary city-stops on this seven-day epic.

The back story

My girlfriend, Anastasia — who appears in some of the images below — has family in the old country and that meant places to stay and people to visit, which is key in a land where foreigners like me need a letter of invitation and a Visa just to get in.

Also, Russia is expensive. Moscow in particular. How much is a coffee at Starbucks RU? Forget about it. You can’t afford it. And neither could we… which is why it was nice to have the inside track from the fam. ‘Papa’ took care of the otherwise-un-obtainable treats, like an incredible b-day dinner at one of Moscow’s most sought-after reservations, Cafe Puskin, and ‘Uncle Sacha’ helped break down language barriers in St. Pete’s, while also pulling strings to get us access to a few places foreigners and locals alike seldom get to see — like the tallest tower in the city.

From here, I’ll let the pictures (and their captions) do the talking.

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Skiing Kootenay Pass | GoPro faceshots and good times

Kootenay Pass highway pano

Its July and about 30 degrees outside my air conditioned Toronto apartment. Perfect time to be hermetically sealed inside, editing ski photos. Needless to say I haven’t been doing as much skiing as I’d like during my tenure in Toronto but I was able to sneak back home for a surgical strike mission to Nelson, B.C. in March.

After several weather delays and a burnt day at YVR, I made my connection to Cranbrook, grabbed the last (super-over-priced) rental from Budget and bee-lined for Ainsworth hotsprings where the team was waiting. What followed was three days of deep, blue, satisfying days around Whitewater and Kootenay Pass.

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