“For me, it’s a pattern. When I’m new somewhere, I have sought out volunteering. I want to feel included. Giving back helps make you part of a community,” says Sarah Antonson, a compassionate adventurer who has made her home in Nosara since 2006. As the co-founder and operator of the Surfing Nosara Foundation since 2009, Sarah’s giving nature and service focus has contributed significantly to the Nosara area.
Tall and thin, with long brown hair done in school girl braids that makes her appear much younger than her 35 years, Sarah smiles as she relives memories of her earliest community service efforts.
As a junior in high school, she moved from small town in Ohio to suburban Pembroke Pines, Florida and adjusted by getting involved in student government in a large new school. Two years later she studied at the 50,000 student University of Florida. Again she adapted by volunteering. She coordinated the school’s Dance Marathon, raising $30,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network. She participated in a project for house building non-profit Habit for Humanity.
At the same time, Sarah says, she was always intrigued with distant places. “It was pretty isolated in Macedonia, Ohio. I have aunts and uncles who have never left.” At 15, she traveled to Spain with her Spanish class and was captivated. Sarah finished up in Gainesville with a degree in economics and a minor in business. And after graduation she became a teacher of young children.
“I loved it. They were grooming me to be the school’s director,” she says of her two years teaching. At that point, she never would have imagined that one day she would be raising her own children in the jungle and doing community service in a distant country.
Sarah met Erik Antonson at the University of Florida and they married a year after graduation. Many notice their tattooed wedding rings and assume it was a convenient move for beach living. But they got them in suburban Florida.
“Erik always thought it’d be cool. We were nervous what a tattooed ring meant so we started with toe rings,” she laughs and shows off her tattooed toe. Sarah didn’t want a traditional wedding ring, explaining she has never cared about luxury or what people call “valuables.” “What’s valuable and matters is what’s in here,” she says with palm to her heart. “How you treat people. Are you proud of the life you’re living?”
Sarah explains that they ended up in Nosara via a unique route. Erik was working in a tech company but was miserable at a desk job. In 2004, he left the office, she left the teaching job and they moved to St. Augustine and worked in real estate. They loved the beach and friends close by but found limited opportunities. When Erik’s friend Andrew Sexton was offered a real estate job in Nosara, he invited them to come along. They first visited in April, 2006 and managed to get job offers immediately.
Sarah smiles broadly, laughs, her hands dancing, when she remembers, “We came into Nosara and when I saw naked babies on the beach, it was magic. I felt like I had come home.”
They moved to Nosara in July of that year. Sarah was four months pregnant. Over the next few years, Erik learned Costa Rican real estate, they started Surfing Nosara and she mothered Kemper and Damien. But as is her habit, she also immediately sought involvement in community giving. She decided to focus her energies on Costa Rican public schools because she saw the immense need.
“By 2009 we set up Surfing Nosara Foundation (SNF) with a mission to effect change in our public schools and community ‘one project at a time’,” she explains.
Since its inception, Surfing Nosara Foundation has provided school supplies, art and traditional dance classe, constructed lunchrooms and handicapped accessible rooms, funded enrichment programs and supported Blue Flag designation in 11 area public schools from Las Delicias to Ostional. For the past four years, SNF has supported Escuelita, a summer enrichment program which recently served 300 students. Sarah estimates that SNF projects have reached more then 1000 children in its six-year history. Donors and volunteers are primarily expat residents, frequent visitors and tourists who fall in love with Nosara.
Over the years, Sarah has managed to gain the respect of the many parties involved in successful school development work and donor recruitment. But she cautions about the difficulties and sensitivity required to take on projects in someone else’s country. “You can’t just have your own agenda,” she said. “That doesn’t work. You have to support what the school or community wants.”
After arriving, Sarah perfected her Spanish with a two week intensive course and interaction with her housekeeper, Mirian Matamoros of Delicias. “Mimi is like a part of our family. She has been with us eight years, since Kemper was three months old. We celebrate holidays together,” she says enthusiastically showing pages devoted to Mirian in family photo albums in a sit down in Sarah’s Garza living room.
Mirian agrees, “She is not like my boss. We talk about everything. I talk to her when bad things happen. There’s a lot of trust between us. A lot of love.”
In addition to managing SNF, Sarah is a busy mother with two school age children. She drives her children to gymnastics, karate, swimming practice, piano lessons and chess club, much like a suburban mom back in Florida. She loves raising her children here even though they are far from grandparents and many conveniences. The kids are bilingual and not into the latest commercial toys. “My kids are fine playing with bugs and sticks. They don’t watch TV. They are as comfortable in my house as in one with a dirt floor. They value people for who they are.”
Outside of work and parenting, Sarah has her own interests. She walks her dog on Garza Beach, reads life philosophy books, practices piano and does yoga. She takes stained glass classes. She and her family have found a true home in Nosara.
“We are incredibly blessed to be in a community with such a helping spirit. That is part of what makes it such a unique, special place,” she says. “I would advise young families coming to Nosara to reach out and get involved in the community.”
Sarah Antonson and the mother’s group from Serapio Lopez School during a donation of school supplies in 2014.