I’m not quite sure why I didn’t really look forward to surfing. I put it on my list not because I thought it would be fun, but because I thought it would be different. Sure, I’ve body surfed and boogy boarded in different places around the world, but surfing just never captured my interest.
So yesterday I paid my $40.00 and signed up for a lesson today at 9:00 AM. Here’s one thing you can always count on: if I’ve paid any money at all and it’s non-refundable, I’ll show up.
The shop is on the way to Tammy’s school, so we walked together, dodging mud puddles, enjoying the crisp sunshine after a night of pounding rain. My teacher looked like a surfer dude and I didn’t. He’s brown, has long hair somewhat bleached on the ends, is skinny like he’s built out of bamboo, and wears whatever surfers wear. I’m pretty much the opposite of all that. I think I might have looked a little like an old man trying to relive his youth.
Still, here’s something we’ve come to count on in Costa Rica: once you’ve paid your money, they give you their all. Every guide, driver and teacher we’ve hired has been very good at making us feel like we’re special and trainable, whatever their private misgivings. My surfing teacher even had the social graces to tell me I didn’t look that old, but of course when you’re a young surfer dude, EVERYone looks old so he couldn’t be telling the truth.
So he fetched this board about the size of a barn door and had me carry it to the beach, which was a 10 minute walk down main street. Main street is the only street, and I’m pretty sure that every single person we passed immediately thought “Beginner!” as I walked past with my huge board. I didn’t care—my teacher and I were having a lively conversation in Spanish about all sorts of things including the fact that he grew up pretty close to here and has been surfing since he was seven. If his parents were anything like mine, his dad thought that was a better idea than his mother did, but here he is, still undrowned.
This area is renowned for its surfing. In high season the town is overgrown with dudes and their boards, and many of the local businesses are owned by outsiders. We found that out from the Dutch owner of a lovely hotel called Con=Fusione. He, Michael, has been here seven years and when we talked to him in Spanish he was so intrigued that he grabbed a glass of wine and sat with us at our table to chat for an hour in English. Okay, so that sounds like a disconnect, but the point is that he says only about 5% of the foreigners, mostly American, who live and work here ever learn Spanish, which he finds offensive in the extreme. Then he talked to us in English. Go figure.
The food was fabulous and his observations about all things Costa Rican, Dutch and American were perceptive, so we had a most invigorating evening while rain poured in torrents around us. His restaurant is elegant and the temperature is just right for no doors or windows. He told us that although it’s impossible for him to ever close, because there are no doors or windows, he has never, in seven years, had a robbery.
Okay, so lots of people come here from all over the world to surf, but not in November. Since it’s low season, edging toward the end of the rainy season that they euphemistically refer to as “Green Season” around here, there’s hardly anyone around, which means that I was in a class of one. Yup, I got a personal coach for the price of a class.
So we started in the sand with instructions on how to paddle, how to manage the board in the waves so it doesn’t knock your teeth out or knock you out, how to stand up and how to get off. I frankly didn’t think I’d need to learn how to get off as that part would come pretty naturally if I ever managed to actually stand up. Still, I listened attentively when he told me to NEVER jump off in front of the board and to NEVER dive off. Assuming, of course, that I had a choice.
Then I fastened on my leash, not knowing if that was to keep track of me or his expensive board, and we waded out into the breakers. The sky was deep blue, the sun bright, the jungle backdrop deep green, the ocean a perfect temperature and the waves, well, breaking in long rows, one after the other, like you see in the pictures. At first when you’re out in them, they look rather intimidating, building up all strong like that and then crashing and churning and full of sand. But Esekias didn’t seem concerned, so I decided to look like I wasn’t either.
Here’s what I think. I think that when you’re learning something new, you have to sort of pretend like it isn’t new. Instead of being tentative, you have to just do it like this isn’t your first time. Otherwise you spend the whole time acting like a beginner, which you are, but which you don’t want to be.
So I envisioned everything he’d told me, waited until just the right moment, placed my hands in a totally wrong position, pulled my back leg forward into the wrong position and with one deliberate motion pulled the forward leg also in the wrong position, tried to stand with knees bent and back straight and feet sideways, eyes on the horizon, and toppled off the board completely unable to control where I fell or what went into the water first. Which is what I’d envisioned before I envisioned success. And that’s how I learned to say in polite Spanish, “You didn’t do anything I told you.” He needn’t have said it at all because I was already well aware that it hadn’t been as pretty as I’d done it on the beach.
My second time, I stood up. My third time, I got a ride. Within fifteen minutes I was riding some of the small waves clear in until I jumped off. Within an hour, I wondered why I hadn’t started doing this when I was 7. It’s incredible!
I like pure sports. I like impure sports too, but the ones where you don’t use gas or electricity have something special about them. And I like acceleration in my sports. So surfing is all of that. You hear this roar behind you, and when you get better at it you start paddling at just the right time, and then you feel this powerful push that comes out of nowhere and if you’re lucky (like me) or good at it (like real surfers) you play off of that acceleration to get up and feel the wind in your hair while you race toward shore.
By the end of my lesson, Esequias was urging me further and further out and I was sort of on my own, as long as I didn’t get overconfident. Of course there’s some pretty good immediate feedback if you get overconfident. It’s called getting off the board looking like an old man having a seizure.
I get the board for two more hours on my own as part of the price. Then I’ll buy some baggy shorts, learn to say Dude in Spanish, get some cooler sunglasses and become part of the vibe. I can’t wait!
Tue, November 8, 2011
by Ron Snell filed under