When I was invited to learn to surf at the Costa Rican resort Alma del Pacifico, I immediately had flashbacks of my botched water skiing attempt a few years back in Anguilla, where I spent more time smacking the water with my face than I did skiing on it.
But if I learned anything from that episode, it was that failing at a water sport in an exotic, warm weather destination was still way better than succeeding at anything in freezing February temperatures in New York.
So I decided to take the good folks at Diamond Public Relations up on their offer to tour the 20-room resort, relax at a villa on the beach and take another stab at my latest attempt to prove that I could do something else in the ocean other than drink, pee, snorkel and float.
Despite my tales of water sports disasters from the water skiing experience to a lifetime of tossing back pregnant fish on numerous Jersey Shore fishing trips with my old man to a paddle boarding trip in Jamaica where I almost became perhaps the first six-foot man (actually 5′11) to drown in three feet of water, I was told by the resort’s general manager, Fernando Afaro, that I would have no problem riding some waves all the way into the shore.
So why was Fernando so confident that I would actually pull it off?
Well, we had the very talented instructors of Brett’s Board Rentals and Surf Lessons on our side. These seasoned surfing veterans had a calming presence when teaching and executing their expert surfing knowledge.
There was Brett, the always-smiling, God-loving leader of the group; Deborah, the dog-loving surfing nomad whose black, worn down ball cap never seemed to come off despite the crashing waves and Douglas, the soft-spoken, former dump truck driver who had an affinity for Marlboro Reds yet never got winded in the ocean.
Brett’s Board Rentals and Surf Lessons operates at six hotels in Costa Rica. Lessons are $50 for two hours. Book about 24 hours in advance. Agents receive a 20 percent commission. Surfers who don’t need an instructor can use rent the board for $20. The instructors will still bring the board to and from the beach for you.
So, myself, and the five other people on my press trip, got to the beach around 8 a.m. on a Saturday and began getting some pointers on the beach from keeping our toes all the way to the back of board to doing a cobra yoga position to get yourself up. Perhaps some of the best advice I was given, however, was by a fellow writer, Ryan Garguilo, author of the blog, Pause The Moment, who told me to wear a shirt unless I wanted my “nipples to be on fire for the next few days” from the friction of the board.
For every wave you can ride, there are about four or five that you need to take in the face. When that first rideable wave came tumbling toward me, I had a face full of snot and bloodshot eyes from the salt water. Douglas, turned my board toward the shore, told me to begin paddling and then…I had forgotten everything I had learned and fell off the board, almost lost my bathing suit in the process and began thinking this was going to be another failed attempt at being one with the ocean.
But the instructors never panicked, never lost hope in me and kept repeating the steps – toes to the back, cobra, drag the right foot up and lift your body up with the left (depending on your more comfortable foot). And then….it happened.
My mind got completely clear. I felt the wave begin to push me up. I got into the cobra position, dragged my right foot to the center, popped up with the left and then I flapped my arms until I felt cemented to the board.
And I rode that stubborn wave all the way to the shore and smiled to the professional photographer who was able to document this mini-miracle on water. I did this for another hour or so, pumping my fist harder each time I nailed a wave.
It was local beer time. Sure it was 10 a.m. but I wasn’t about to celebrate my first successful surfing attempt with a non-alcoholic beverage. I may not swim like a fish, but I sure drink like one.