Working on my relationship with the waves in Puerto Viejo
I saved surfing for my last day in Puerto Viejo for a reason. The ocean and I didn’t have the smoothest start.
I was a little thing with messy bangs and carefree ease on some Rhode Island beach. I trusted the world the way children do so willingly and so naturally. My dad and this then-full head of hair took me out past the breaking. Up on my dad’s shoulders, we joyfully cried, “Weeeeee!!!” every time a wave pulled us up and bounced us back down.
Before I knew it, a wave came from behind and ripped my tiny body off my dad’s shoulders. I was breathing in water, too young to even know how to swim, until the ocean spat me out onto the sand, my dad fighting the undertow to come help me. I coughed up seawater, then immediately scrunched up my face to ball my eyes out as my mother ran to comfort me from the dry safety of her towel.
Stretch of Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo
There were years where I wouldn’t get close to the breaking, afraid of its power. Even still, I don’t like to put my face in the water. So, surfing in Puerto Viejo felt like one part challenge and one part fantasy. Go big or go home, right? Johnny Tsunami style!?
When I saw Kendrick he was already in the sea. My heart was racing before I even set foot in the water. Despite his calm energy and lightness, I felt anxious, only hearing half of the instructions I was being given. I felt urged to rush into the water, almost just so it would be over sooner.
After dodging some huge waves, I rode one in, just on my belly. It felt amazing. Like flying. Fighting the waves to get back out, I again found myself on my board, breathing shallow, my eyes worriedly searching for a wave that might suck me in and spit me out again, leaving me breathless and defeated on the black sands of Playa Negra. And so we danced this dance and I tried to study the waves as Kendrick taught me to.
Balance is an ever present challenge. I learned that the trick is to align your body and your every move with the ‘soul’ of the board. The ‘soul’ is the thin piece of wood that runs through the immediate center that gives structure to the board. I loved the sound of the instructions. I couldn’t help but smile when he’d say “Lay on the soul of the board” or “Always remember that your balance comes from the soul”. How true he was!
I could feel the power, the rush of white, coming from behind me. Struggling to paddle with my flimsy triceps, barely catching the moment perfectly and springing myself up energetically, only to crumble a few seconds later from what was probably my own fear and insecurity. Can you lose your balance from a fear or from an expectation that you will fail? The waves abused me a bit as I struggled internally to conquer a wave.
After rushing back out into the deep, turning the nose toward the open sea, I sat on my board, legs hugging the heavy foam to stabilize myself. I sat up straight, in true yogi form, just breathing and calming myself. Kendrick could see and feel my tension. He outstretched his tanned arm and flopped a few soaked dreadlocks out of his face and said (with that Caribbean accent), “Look all around ya. Da trees, da sky, da waves. Do ya feel it? Ya need to feel it. Listen to da birds…” he smiled. “Ya need peace with da ocean. Breed until ya don’t have da feah. No rush ma. And when ya feel it, da wave will come.” And so I breathed and looked and listened for a while. My shoulders released a bit and I’m not sure if it was seconds or minutes that passed on by.
I guess the right moment came because I started paddling myself around and when we looked back, we spotted the perfect one, not overwhelmingly big, but enough for a great ride. Kendrick shouted, “Paddle! Keep paddlin’, keep paddlin’! Stand up on tree! …One, two, tree!” I quickly jumped up onto the board, feet firm, my knees super bent, holding the delicate balance. A huge smile came to my face as I rode the wave all the way in to the shore. I flopped off the board and laughed partially in disbelief at myself, wiping the seawater from my eyes. I turned around to see Kendrick holding two triumphant thumbs up, his shouted encouragements muted by the loud crashing of the waves.
It’s hard to put into words the bliss I felt in what must have been less than ten seconds. It felt amazing to be in harmony with the waves and all their power, however briefly. So, yeah, I ‘felt it’, and it made me feel a sense of happiness that was pure. That feeling in that moment will never wash away.
Here’s my reflection right after surfing at Playa Negra here in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.