People Who Surf

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

| posted on July 09, 2013

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.

  • noel

    Great ! … but who is able to just make a trip to costa rica and open a “little” hotel. I thought he gave up his job in Peru. So how did he bring up that money ? Or maybe the bank just gave him a credit without asking him about his life….
    I mean, who can give up his existense and a have a great life somewhere else just like that.

    • someone

      He did not just take a trip an stay there, he took a trip, liked the place and wnt back to Peru packed all his stuff and took his two daughters and wife and they moved to Playa Negra. There they created a little rstaurant that later on grew and became a little hotel and restaurant.

  • Trevor

    Inspiring stuff. thanks.

  • et

    wow, inspiring

  • Cyrus Sutton

    Carlos is the man and his place is killer. Great piece Rob.

  • Rich

    Go there whenever I pass through town. Great spot with great food we really appreciate Carlos!

  • Chris Byrne

    #noel, if you visit, you will understand. Carlos is all this article claims and more. He just finished building us a beautiful home in the area. We had met Carlos several times during previous visits and had a feeling that he was trustworthy. We live in California so were absent during construction and hoped we made the right decision in handing Carlos the contract. We could not be more pleased with the outcome. Our ‘casa’ is nothing short of paradise. He gave us more than we anticipated. He now manages the house and the property for us.

    Carlos Velarde……husband, father, surfer (charger), MBA scholar, restauranteur, hotelier, home-builder, property manager…….what else?? Uniform: shorts and assorted t-shirts. Delivers service with self-assurance, a smile and humility. Much respect!!

  • Rodney T Andres

    Way to poke holes in a great story detective Noel! Your idea of a lifestyle change must be switching from 1st shift to second shift at the factory.

    Please tell us how sweet victory tastes at Your retirement party.
    We all have the same ability to make choices for ourselves, but in your case you haven’t figured that out yet.

    You can accept the conditions as they exists or accept the responsibility to change them. Its not too late Noel, Live a little.

    I hear the chicken avocado at the café is legendary. Super friendly people, Winning on all fronts. Go team Velarde


  • Bronson

    Wow, I recognized Playa Negra right away – looking forward to being back there in 2014, I’ll definitely have to drop in on Carlos at Café Playa Negra

  • Un tico

    I know what else this guy is, a prick. He thinks he owns the place and the peak like he was the pioneer discoverer. You can ask any tico who truly is from the area. He’s had problems with every true local there at least once, he is not humble and he often looks down on people, I’ve seen him picking up on other ticos. The surfer family think they are real locals there yelling at everyone on the lineup, but they are not. Show some respect for the real locals first.

  • noel

    Well, the article just doesn´t explain how he managed to this. Sure it´s great how he built up all this. But do you really think every story is that romantic. I am sure that there are People who accepted the challenge, but failed of whatever reasons.

  • Payam Larijani

    Great story but I hope he is giving back to his local community too! So you made a bunch of money and now you just sit 100 yds from the sand and surf all day.. how about you teach other kids and locals on the days when there are no waves? I don’t think it’s cool to just take, take, take, and never give back! Waves are not free, there is an energy that passes through us when we get stoked, keep the stoke going and make it happen for others in every way you can.. why not share the knowledge and wealth you cannot take it with you at the end anyways!

    • someone

      He does. He has a great influence in all the tico kids that are learning to surf or developing their skills. He doesnt just take, and that is something he teaches his kids not to do. He lives by the saying “Give without expecting to receive”. And he doesnt just sit around doing nothing. Do you think money lasts forever? He works his butt off constructing and doing his job in order to maintain the restaurant going and to maintain his family.

  • Yo_momma’s

    Carlos can be pretentious, believe me, i know. At first glance, i wanted to lynch the guy. You can think he looks down on some people as well but hey, who is made of $100 bills, to be liked by EVERYBODY???

    If you surf Negra on a regular basis, you will have problems sooner or later. THats the way it is there, and this is even more probable if you rip.

    And let me tell you, the bald guy Velarde can rip.

    Once you get to know him & his family, you will see they are regular, beautiful people.

    There’s too much hate & fighting in this stinky world. Besides, there are some REALLY annoying crack-head locals in Negra, so no surprise there.

  • truth

    I’m From Peru. Carlos is a trust fund old Peruvian money guy. Family of bankers, Hotel owners too, etc very well known. He has tons of $$$ family back up behind his “humble lifestyle”. Good for him , nothing wrong with it. I’ll do the same. But dislike the fairy tale story without facts.