When I tell people I am from California, I am bombarded with questions:
Do you do yoga? Are you a vegan? Do you say hella and stoked? Is that why you're so tan? Do you really eat plain avocados with a spoon?
So far I have done a good job of fulfilling the stereotype. I answer yes to all the above questions. But there is one way in which I have always fallen short of people's California expectations: I don't surf. Until two days ago, I had never even touched a surf board.
It took 23 years and thousands of miles of travel, but I can finally say I am a proper California girl.
Look at that bitchin' swell... yo?
Okay so maybe I'm not full on surfer. I still can't bring myself to use the hang loose symbol or say "yo" as if it were a replacement for a complete sentence. But I have fulfilled my California destiny and hit the waves.
As a volunteer at DreamSea Surf Camp I have access to extremely affordable surf lessons and I was eager to take advantage of them. But when we got to the shore and they started lecturing me about how to protect my head and neck if I got pulled under a wave, the fear began to kick in.
My emotional side begged me to stay on shore. My intellectual side tried to probe my motivation for wanting to surf. My responsible side listed all of the potential dangers. But as is often the case, my freedom-seeking side gave in to the call of adventure.
Something new was being offered to me and I could either run away, trembling in fear of the unknown, or I could grab it by the horns and say, "Let's do this thing!"
A few minutes later I was pressing my belly into the board. I spit out a mouthful of salt water and gazed at the shore through sweat-filled eyes as my surf instructor yelled, "paddle, paddle, paddle, NOW!!"
I pushed into the board, certain my yogi skills would make this easy, and said to myself, "foot to center, twist, lift, and bend". I had it in my mind I would be up in no time. I was ready. I could do this. I was going to be a surfing pro.
But then it was time to stand and suddenly the waves felt stronger than I remembered them being and the board seemed unnaturally small. Of course I ate it. The board flew out from under me and I did a few somersaults with the waves.
I guess it would be awhile before I was a pro.
Always come up laughing
When I stood up from that first wipe out I was grinning. I wiped the water out off my eyes and started laughing. I felt amazing.
The fear was entirely gone. The fall hadn't hurt at all and the whole process was much less terrifying than I had imagined. Sure, it was still a little off-putting to try to stand on water with nothing but a tiny piece of fiberglass between you and the endless ocean, but after my first attempt at surfing I was immediately elevated to cloud 9.
It didn't take long for me to get up and by the end of the lesson I was even able to stand on the board until the wave brought me back to shore. But the key, I learned, was the attitude.
With fear replaced by fun, the lesson became a joy. I often get tired of the salt and sand after an extended period on the water, but when surfing I felt I could stay out there all day.
I fell a lot, but I didn't feel like I was failing. I felt like I was having a playful wrestling match with the ocean. I felt like a kid throwing themselves into fun without hesitation or consideration of consequences.
And as long as I came up laughing, the falls didn't hurt so bad.
My new obsession with this magical nature activity
I have always loved the water. I spend hours paddle boarding whenever we go to Lake Tahoe and I can't see an ocean without running into it. But I have never felt as free as I did while surfing.
There were three of us learning from two instructors, so there were a few moments when I could just lay on my surf board and feel the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) rock of the ocean beneath me. And in those moments, something in me that I never realized was broken became whole.
I have done a lot of different outdoor adventure activities, but I have never done anything quite like surfing. Snowboarding is probably the closest experience I can think of, but the experience of surfing is on a whole other level. Out there, I felt entirely in the hands of nature.
With no skill and little understanding of the sport, it was just me, my instinct, and the water. I could listen to the instructors and I could practice for hours, but no matter how good I get, it is impossible to surf without being at the whim of the awe-inspiring power of Mother Nature.
I love nature. I am overwhelmed by nature. I have been for years and imagine I always will be. But I have never felt such a pure and complete connection with nature as I did while surfing.
I am excited to get back on the board again tomorrow and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is going to be one aspect of Costa Rica that I will bring home with me.