Surfing is big in Costa Rica. Everywhere you look tanned and toned locals, travellers and ex-pats are ripping it up and making it look easy. And though it’s never been an activity on my bucket list, when the opportunity to participate in a family surf lesson with Frijoles Locos surf shop in Playa Grande came up, I couldn’t spoil the fun for the rest of the clan.
Which is how I found myself standing on the beach at 7 a.m., giant longboard at my feet, with tanned and freckled Rob-the-surf-instructor telling us about the number one danger out there: All. The. Sharks!
“Really?” Avery asked, without a trace of fear. “No I’m teasing,” said Rob. “What you have to be careful about is your board.” He went on to explain board safety, and the many ways the surf board could turn into a violent head bonking, nose cracking smack-down device that was unfortunately chained to my ankle (he failed to mention its knee-twisting capabilities).
Then Rob showed us how to “pop up.” This is where you draw on your past life of high school varsity sports training — where the coach made you do push-ups and burpees until you threw up — and channel those adolescent skills into a graceful pop up movement that lands you in surfing stance from your stomach in under one second. They key, said Rob, is confidence. You have to look at the shore and act like it’s no big deal. “Got it?”
We headed out into the rising tide, white frothy waves crashing all around us, with Avery leading the way. Before I’d even waded past the little breakers Avery was standing on her board like a natural (Rob steadied the board for her and pushed it ahead of the swell to help her out). I was next, and promptly lost my nerve, looked at my feet (a big no-no) and did a header into the surf. Blake has surfed a couple times before and fared much better, standing up on his first try.
And so it went for the next hour. Blake caught his own waves, Avery stood up every time and even jumped back and forth into switch, while I careened off my board and was churned through the water like dirty clothes in a washing machine filled with sand.
“You’re too far back,” coached Rob. “Arch your back and paddle,” he suggested. “Don’t look at your feet!” So I looked up — just in time to see my daughter riding her surfboard while doing a handstand — and was then unceremoniously claimed by the sea yet again. The next time I looked up Blake and Avery were riding a wave side by side, the surfing equivalent of carving powder-eights. I longed for solid water under my feet, to feel graceful atop snow instead of clumsy under water.
And then, finally, I surfed. It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t last long, but at least I can say I rode one wave in Costa Rica.