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October 23, 2016
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Surf lessons

I’m on the beach in Costa Rica right now. The waves crash big and beautiful. A dreadlocked, tan, fit American guy is explaining that falling is a big part of surfing. That I should embrace it. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the ocean, but I’ve never surfed before. I’m a little nervous.

There is a small group taking the lesson. The instructor teaches us how to stand up on the board. He draws a line in the sand, to represent a surfboard, and we practice popping up from lying to standing.

“Surfing is mental, right?” he says. “It’s all about going for it.”

Later, as we float in the water waiting to catch a wave, he tells me that he grew up in New Jersey. When I ask him how long he’s lived down here he says, “Not long enough,” then adds, “since 2006.”

I’m in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, which is a big surf town. Most everyone you see is carrying boards and wearing wetsuits. Many of the people we run into have the same story. They came here for a weekend and never left.

“I figure if I can surf 15 minutes every day I’m happy,” the ex-pat who runs the local organic grocery store explains. It took him 10 years to try to open, which he did, just last week. I congratulate him. He says when he vacations he comes to New York. We discuss the irony.

Many people speak English, probably because it’s very touristy, especially this time of year. I am disappointed that I remember surprisingly little Spanish from the four years of classes I took in middle/high school. Though in a pinch at the supermarket, I am pleasantly surprised that I come up with “bolsa de hielo,” for bag of ice out of thin air. I’m especially pleased when a bag of ice actually shows up. In my mind, I worried for a moment that I may have asked for ice cream.

Santa Teresa is not an easy place to get to, and it took Emily and me 12 hours before we landed on the tiny dirt runway in Tambor, Costa Rica. The plane was a four-seater and the landing was very impressive. It was quite windy and the runway is quite short. Another 45 minutes on a windy road and we arrived in Santa Teresa. It was well worth it.

I’m here among some of my closest friends for our annual trip between Christmas and New Year’s. Emily organizes the whole thing and so it’s lovingly referred to as “Camp Emily.”

We are incredibly blessed that we have been able to take this trip four years running. There’s a lot of gaming, cards, ping pong, a lot of cooking, drinking and, of course, surfing.

During our lesson we stay between the breakpoint and the beach. The instructor keeps it pretty beginner, which I’m happy about. He pushes me into many of the waves and I’m able to stand up a few times.

It’s an incredible feeling. Standing up there, riding the wave, I almost can’t believe it. And then I lean down a bit too much on my front foot and the board shoots out from underneath me throwing me into the water.

It happens in an instant and reminds me how powerful the ocean is.

“Good one, dude,” the surf instructor says as I pop up spitting and disoriented. “Fun, right?”

Waiting for the next wave, I ask foolishly, “How do you know which wave to take?”

He pauses for a moment, trying to figure out an easy answer.

“I guess that’s the whole thing, right?” I add.

“Yeah,” he says with a grin, “That’s the whole thing.”