I was excited for our surf lesson this morning, waking early in anticipation. The heat of the day was still a few hours off, and yet there was not a cloud in the sky. I had fond memories of my first attempt at surfing several years ago in Hawaii, and now I get to experience one of the best breaks in the world! Winnie was a little hesitant, unsure if she was going to join in as of yet
The surf shop was a bustle of activity, full of excited young people. 4 blonds in the corner were giggling like school girls. The instructors were discussing the wave conditions, sounding a lot more intelligent than in the surfing movies. “Dude, the olas are gnarly man!” Either out of concern for the waves, the instructors, or the school girls, Winnie decided she was going to sit today out. We lost a surfing partner but gained a photographer
Arriving at La Punta on Zicatela Beach, we saw the break was packed with people. Consistent 6+ foot waves were rolling through. A few young kids, children really, were tearing things up. One of the better surfers, either extremely self confident or suicidal, was riding just along the edge of the rocky shoals.
The sand was already uncomfortably hot from the morning sun and the only shade was cast by our boards and bodies. After 10 minutes of basic instruction on the beach, it was clear that I knew nothing. A fresh mind is a beginner’s mind, and we had to get into the water
In my first act as a surfer, I attempted to sit on the board as I saw others doing. In slow motion, the board rolled over taking me with it. I think I heard the nearby pelicans laugh. Despite the wishes of the avian peanut gallery, on my first attempt to ride a wave I did what nobody expected: I did it! Following the shouted directions of the in-water instructor, I paddled like crazy, stood, and rode straight ahead all the way to shore! Perhaps all of those years of wakeboarding and snowboarding had something to do with it, or maybe I just got lucky
While I was out in the surf, Winnie avoided the heat by exploring the nearby shops and juice bars and a little of the local scenery.
Again and again I tackled the waves, succeeding sometimes and not others. The sun and surf began to take their toll, and fatigue started to set in. Unprepared and with waning luck, I was struck by a large wave, throwing me backwards off the board. I’m a strong swimmer, but when you are caught in the surging surf it is not a matter of strength. The wave will release you only when it is ready and not a moment sooner. It is better to relax and bend than to fight it and break
My head broke the surface just soon enough to grab a quick breath before another wave struck. In shallower water now, I was forced to the hard ocean floor. I felt something quickly moving next to me. A fish? A shark! I realized another person was trapped in the same wave and and we were thrown against each other repeatedly before finally coming to a rest.
“¿Estás bien?” “Are you OK?”, I asked. Nodding in acknowledgment, they moved towards the shore. I grabbed my board and began to paddle back out. I felt a slight pain in my ribs where they pressed against the board, and realized that I had blood dripping from the knuckles of my left hand. Battle wounds.
My luck fully depleted, I was hit lightly in the chest and face by the next wave and felt the breath go out of me. No matter how hard I tried to breath, I could not get any air into my lungs. “If another wave comes now, I’m dead”, I thought to myself. Maybe I had the wind knocked out of me, or maybe water got into my airways. I calmed myself and waited, and felt the air start to flow again. Air never tasted so good
I rode a few more waves that day as the rising tide brought smaller waves. All of us back ashore, we compared wounds: a cut on the face, abrasions on the chest and arms, some lobster red skin, my knuckles…
Back at the surf shop, the shop manager asked, “How was it today? You guys want to go again tomorrow?” “Yes! Yes!”, the school girls answered. “Uhhh…. maybe next week”, I said sheepishly.
3 weeks later, the sunburn has turned a golden brown and my hand has healed. Although they still sometimes hurt, I can finally roll over in bed without wincing from the pain in my ribs. It’s an occasional reminder that I’m not 18 anymore. While I may not have been the victor in this battle between Sea and Old Man, I will return.
2 hour surf lesson with home pick-up/drop-off: 350 pesos (~$28)