Name: The Facts

Friday, July 4, 2008

"How Daniel Fowlie Discovered, Procured, and Developed Pavones"

How Daniel Fowlie Discovered, Procured, and Developed Pavonesi
By Justice Mendez

Dan operating the equiptment he brought into Pavones

When the people from the mountains behind Pavones hiked to the beach and discovered tractors connecting Pavones to the Red Road to Conte, they “had a big fiesta every year on that anniversary date to celebrate the road coming.”ii Yet, many fail to recognize the agent who

Walking into the cantina in the 80s
provided Costa Ricans with this occasion for celebration: not the Coast Rican government but American surfer and Pavones pioneer Daniel “Mack” Fowlie, who principally built Pavones (the gem of Costa Rica’s South Pacific) through years of self-financed and painstaking work. The road did not come from Conte. Fowlie constructed the road from Pavones to Conte, and he also built the present-day cantina, beach roads, bridges, hospitals,
The first school Dan built in Pavones
schools, and nearly every other public amenity in Pavones. Thus far, the facts about this region’s early stage of improvement have been obscured by the stuff of legends. So how did this gringo Danny “Mack” actually discover, procure, and develop Pavones?

Pavones was named after a peacock-like bird called the Pavones (a Pava Royal), which has nearly become extinct because, purportedly, it’s also tasty. No less peculiar a beginning belongs to the story of Fowlie’s discovery of Pavones. Fowlie first heard about this paradise from the infamous Kenny Easton: a bodysurfer, fisherman, diver, and all-around beach rat who socialized with Fowlie and other chief water men of Pacific Beach (PB) and La Jolla in the early sixties, still the dawn of California surfing. From a broken family, Kenny lived with his grandfather in PB. One night, Kenny came home drunk, and his outraged grandfather began to abuse him with punches to the

Big  bugs and Dan
face and body. Kenny defended himself but accidentally killed his grandfather in the process, consequently serving a minimum term for manslaughter. Fowlie won Easton an early release from prison as Easton’s employer in the mid sixties, hiring Kenny as a line tender for Fowlie’s
Kenny Easton (left)
commercial abalone operation in Santa Barbara. That Abalone season, Kenny told stories about a perfect wave that he had discovered before imprisonment, a left point break that wrapped endlessly around the southeast shorelines of Golfo Dulce.

Kenny discovered the wave while working as a copra (or coconut) harvester in Costa Rica. After harvesting copra all along the shorelines of Golfo Dulce, the small group, on their five mules and five horses, headed to Golfito (near the southwest corner of Costa Rica or southeast shoreline of Golfo Dulce), where they set camp and sold the sweet coconut meat. Years later as Fowlie’s line tender, Kenny reminisced about a wave that he claimed to bodysurf for blocks. In all likelihood, bodysurfer Kenny Easton was the first person ever to ride the legendary waves at Pavones, some of the best waves on the planet.

In 1974, Fowlie (41 at the time) decided to find these waves himself, so he brought his adolescent son Dan and son’s two

Dan Junior, Central American surfing champion in the '80s
friends on
Michelle Fowlie at Rancho Del Rio
a surf vacation to Costa Rica. He left with the dream of buying some of the land Kenny spoke of because at this time Fowlie wanted to
Dan Junior getting shacked
move his children away from what he thought had become an unruly party-and-crime scene in Laguna Beach. Since one his sons loved surfing, another motorcycling, and his daughter loved horses, Fowlie knew that all of his children would find something to love in Costa Rica. Fowlie had also been advised at this time to close his prosperous leather business, Leather Gypsy Inc., before an oncoming recession, when such markets usually suffer. Reckoning that beachfront property was his next profitable investment, he saved the millions that he had made selling leather clothing and accessories to over 3,000 international stores and boutiques for his new venture to buy and develop some of Pavones’s legendary shoreline, if it indeed lived up to Easton’s stories.

Contrary to legend, Dan did not discover Pavones by boat; he and the kids rented an Aztec airplane from Pat Hatch in San Jose and spotted the wave on a big swell from the air. (Hence, the first gringos did not arrive at Pavones in 1978, as Luz Marina Martinez,

Looking out Dan's plane window over Pavones
who arrived there in 1976, erroneously recounts; Kenny Easton arrived there much earlier, and Fowlie arrived in 1974).iii Ecstatic to locate the source of Kenny’s constant reveries, Dan had the pilot drop them off in Golfito, and, wasting no time, Fowlie inquired at the cantinas into who owned the beach property. The locals referred him to Claudio Lobo (or Cullo). Fowlie found Cullo in a Golfito bar that night drinking a few beers.

Cullo owned about 100 hectares (or about 250 acres) of beachfront property in Pavones and owned and operated the crude sawmill. During these extremely rural days of Pavones, only about thirty families lived in the whole area, both in the mountains and by the beach, and the only way to get to Pavones was by boat, either from the sea via Golfo Dulce or from Golfito via river. Because Pavones lacked roads at that time, people traveled by horseback or mule, and they did so only at low tide because the tide rose to solid jungle, a fact necessitating a great deal of night travel.

Asked if he wanted to sell the property, Senior Lobo replied that he would sell for the right price. Fowlie recounts that Lobo wanted some time to think about actually selling, but during that very first meeting, Dan gave Cullo $10,000 and got a provisional bill of sale for the property, a bill which left open the possibility that Dan would purchase the property for more after viewing it. They

Mike Hynson and Dan Junior
scheduled an appointment to see the beach the next morning, but it took several days before Cullo found Dan at his rental. When Cullo finally arrived, the family that was so anxious to surf finally got its chance after a 2-hour outboard-canoe ride across the Golfito Bay, the La Trocha, and then the mouth of the Rio Coto to Pavones. According to Fowlie, Cullo said that he had only seen a couple of people, including a German named Winford, surf there before Fowlie and the kids. Fowlie rode boards shaped by his friend Mike Hynson of the first Endless Summer.

After viewing the remote and rugged property, where untamed jungle met perfect waves, Dan drew up a deal with Cullo to buy the entire ranch, including the crude sawmill, for $30,000. Worth millions today, this prime chunk of Pavones sold for today’s price of a modest automobile! (Dan remarks that he bought Cu

Claudio Lobo in the new sawmill built by Fowlie
llo’s sawmill in order to better preserve the magnificent old trees and growth from deforestation). From 1974 to 1981, Fowlie purchased every beachfront ranch and beach concession from Rio Manzanillo to Punta Banco; only four Pavones land owners refused to sell. These purchases gave Fowlie over fifteen miles of beach-concession land and over eighty percent of Pavones, land which he still legally owns today. As it would turn out, Dan Fowlie was just what the people of Pavones needed.

Rancho Del Mar and Fowlie compound in 1980 after development by Fowlie


The kids’ trip lasted about a month, during which time Dan and they lived in Golfito, camped on the Pavones beaches, and began importing building materials from San Jose. By the summer of 1974, Dan had moved his entire family into huts on the beach. Within ninety days of Dan’s original arrival, he had built four houses, converted one house into a kitchen, dug a well, and constructed a water tower and power plant.

Dan's water-tower house, where Mike Hynson stayed when he visited Pavones
Dan Junior's house right on the point at Rio Claro in 1974
Dan's house under construction in front of Sawmill break 1974

First transportaion for Rancho Del Mar
      At first, importing materials from Golfito to Pavones by dug-out canoes through the La Trocha to the mouth of the Rio Coto was incredibly arduous work. As Fowlie recalls, one time when he was bringing horses to Pavones for beach transportation, having blindfolded and bound their legs in the canoes, one horse rejected the idea in the middle of the river and began kicking violently, a scene which could have cost the horse its life had Dan not been able to calm the animal. After time, Fowlie built large barges to supply the beach with tractors, road graders, and other farming and construction equipment.

One of Fowlie's barges
Building one of Fowlie's barges
One of Fowlie's tractors

From 1974 to the mid eighties, Fowlie employed almost every Pavones local, and together they built the soccer field, churches, two airports, medical center, several schools, twenty miles of beach roads, and the road connecting Pavones to Conte. Virtually

Agronomist John Hall
nothing was there before Dan built it. He also taught the people how to earn a living through farming. Together, they planted myriads of crops and trees—including coco, pine, balsa, fruits, and different rice species. Occasionally, Fowlie even played the role of local doctor by setting broken bones and distributing antidotes for venomous snake bites. Memorably, Dan put on a festive luau every month with Hawaiian-style pig roasts and musicians on the xylophone or steel drums, and before the luau, he always held a daytime turno (or “rodeo”) for the kids. The people of Pavones enjoyed these prosperous times very much, and many of them went on to begin their own farming businesses with the skills they learned with Fowlie. In those days, the Pavones people became not only Dan’s friends but also his family.

Experimental crops

Chico Gomez, Jimmy Obubo, Rory Russell, and Dan Fowlie at a cantina luau (from left to right)

During this golden age of Pavones, when Fowlie lived there from 1974-1985, everyone who wanted a job had one, and the roads were always kempt. Ironically, gringo Dan Fowlie did more for the people of Pavones than the Golfito municipality ever managed. In Fowlie’s absence, the municipality has let the roads deteriorate, let the people fend for themselves economically, and let squatting and random construction strip Pavones’s emerald-green forests from each fence line to the next. No wonder the people of Pavones do everything possible to secure Fowlie's return. 

               i. Much of the information in this essay is based on a series of interviews with Daniel “Mack” Fowlie: Daniel Fowlie, “Interviews with Daniel Fowlie.” Interviews by Justice Mendez. December 2007-February 2008.

               ii. Quotation is from “excerpts from interviews with Senor Jose Antonio Sandi conducted by author Anne Weston in the summers of 2003 and 2004.” “As Promised—Pavones, Costa Rica.” [E-mail]. Subject line: “Pavones History.” Message to Daniel Fowlie and Pavones Surf School. 12 December 2007. 12:01 a.m. PST. [Cited 11 February 2008].

               iii. [Internet]. [Last accessed 23 August 2007, cited 11 February 2008]. Text-only cache accessed from <http://www.cantinapavones .com/history.htm>.

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