I’m sitting in the shade of a palm tree, a soft breeze carrying the cool, salty scent of the Caribbean sea up to me. She’s relentless, endlessly crashing down on the sand. If you stand within her reach you can feel her tugging on you, sucking the sand out from under your feet. I watch the waves roll in, each one is unique. I doubt I’ll ever forget that. My entire body aches from my efforts the last few days, alternately fighting and seeking communion with the waves, learning to surf. Every wave is earned.
I stand up and brush the sand off my shorts. I’ll spend the next 30 minutes wandering around the little eco camp, looking under palm trees and in hammocks. Recruiting amused construction workers to help me hunt down Marcos, our surf instructor. We find him in a red hammock facing the sea. He stretches and in a practiced movement rolls onto his feet, grinning broadly in a way that is both mischievous and innocent. He flashes dimples and tosses chocolate curls that are a perfect match to his skin. I’m not annoyed anymore. I have a feeling that these moves are also practiced.
Marcos seems slightly surprised and amused by my determination to learn to surf while we’re in Costeno. Marcos always feels amused though, like he might break into hearty, contented laughter with no provocation. I get the distinct feeling he would much rather I eat some of the special brownies on offer instead of bothering him though.
I gather Matt and we grab our boards. We finally reach the best waves, 20 minutes of carrying the enormous board up the beach. My arms ache and it isn’t long before my eyes and ears and throat are burning with salt water.
I run into the sea with my board again, trying to get past where the waves are throwing themselves hard enough at the beach that you can feel it under your feet. A wave slams up around my hips and pushes aggressively against my chest, I take three steps back. Keep going. I jump on my board and begin paddling, stretching my arms out as far as I can manage, my board rises up sharply and I slide back a little, oh no my strokes become more frantic, please don’t roll me again! For a long moment I hold my breath, finally I shoot down the other side of the wave.
Marcos motions me forward, “Do not use your legs!” He demonstrates paddling with his arms only, toes just barely in the water. I’m splayed out across my board, legs and arms fully in the water on either side, swimming like a little turtle. Apparently this is not cute, it’s bad form. I inch forward and put my legs on the board.
“Turn around!!!” Marcos sounds urgent, my turn is perfect, I am facing the shore in under a second. I recognize that note in his voice, if I don’t listen RIGHT NOW I’m going to regret it. A lot.
“Paddle, paddle paddle!!!” Marcos’ voice rises above the crash of the ocean. My arms are dead, I see the peak of the wave beginning to crest to my right, it’s towering above me and it’s sucking me into it. 2 meters he said, not too big, he said. It looks pretty damn big from here. I can hear Marcos chanting “paddle, paddle, paddle!”. I can feel it push me forward suddenly, drop me, I shoot down the front of the wave and it takes me. Water’s crashing down around me as I pushup, scuttling into a wide legged crouch. I’m riding the foaming crush forward. I adjust my stance, standing up a little bit, arms extended in front and to the back. I wait for my board to skate out from under me… it stays in place. I’m on my feet! I’m on top of the wave! I’m doing it! I can SEE my board cutting into the water and I savor that feeling. I’m riding the wave! I can see it holding me, pushing me, carrying me. I ride it the 40 meters, I can steer! I veer a little left and it takes me almost in to the shore, I hop off as Marcos instructed. I jump up in victory, pounding my fist into the air! I did it! I really did it! I’m GOOD at this, I reach out and put a hand on my board and a wave crashes into me. My knees slam into the sand and my board lurches forward. F*ck… I drag my left leg up to try and stand, I’m not quick enough. The next wave knocks me to hands and knees again, pushing my top up under my rashguard and around my neck, filling my bikini bottoms with sand and ripping away my surfboard. I stumble to my feet, so grateful for my intact rashguard as some locals down the beach wave and cheer me on. I can’t tell if they’re delighted I stood up or that I’m acting like a drunken pirate right now. I smile a big smile at them but feel another wave coming, I give the sea a dirty look. Really? Not even 5 seconds of triumph? I stagger-run up on the beach, clumsily banging my surfboard into my head. I’m free! I walk with wide, cowboy steps back down the beach, my butt crack is chafing.
I fix my bikini top under my rash guard and look around, still feeling high with my triumph. They’re definitely cheering because I just stood up. Marcos elegantly rides the next wave and runs out of the ocean easily, tossing his dark curly hair Baywatch style to give me a high five.
“Great job! You caught it all by yourself!” he says with a huge smile.
“Really?!” I feel sand in my smile, and I get my hand tangled in my hair as I attempt to smooth it back off of my face.
Marcos’ Caribbean eyes are sparkling as he pretends not to notice me trying to yank my fingers out of my hair.
“Come on! Let’s go catch another one! You’re a surfer!” Marcos grin breaks into a happy laugh, he’s nothing if not encouraging.
“I’m a surfer!” I say goofily. This time we both pretend not to notice me being an idiot. I forget about the sand in my pants, my crazy tangle of hair and my exhaustion as I run back up the beach and into the ocean. My arms feel rejuvenated and I cheerfully paddle forward into the ocean’s attempts to beat me to death. I turn my board around and I can see the wave, I paddle forward. I feel it! I stand up… before the drop. I realize this as I tumble backwards. I relax into the fall, the water tosses me like a ragdoll. There’s one hopeless, powerless moment and then the wave crashes past me. I urgently look for my board, clambering on, half torn off bikini bottoms be damned, to catch the wave crashing behind me, on me, all around me. I ride the crush on my belly, skating into shore crookedly, I’m doing my panicked turtle move again but at least the sand has been washed out of my britches. I make it out of the ocean less clumsily this time and walk slowly down the beach, watching Matt ride a wave halfway to the shore before tumbling into the foam. I head back into the fray, trying to beat the next set.
I wonder for the thousandth time why I dragged Marcos out of his hammock.