Riding a wave at Pavones, Costa Rica. (Photos courtesy of Alyssa Milstead unless otherwise noted)
Reflections | A lesson from the ocean
In some way, the water has always cast a spell on me — ponds, lakes, rivers, you name it. But none as strong as the ocean. For as long as I can remember, my family has gone to the beach for a week every summer and it was always the best week of my year. As an adult this feeling has only intensified. Never more so than on one special trip — to Costa Rica — to learn surfing.
Our group consisted of 14 young women. Arriving in San Jose, we packed our things into a bus and began the journey to Pavones, where we would have our first surfing experience. After the five-hour drive, we filed out to meet our surf instructor, Andrea, a beautiful, dark olive-skinned woman in her mid-40s. She had long, dark chocolate-colored hair with sun-kissed strands framing her face. She wore a fuchsia body-length surf suit with a black rash guard tied around her waist. Tattoos from the top of her shoulder down to her wrist. She gave us our “Intro to Surfing” lecture, assigned us our boards, and then it was off into the water.
The ocean was calm. This was a world-famous beach known for its waves. The beach was a combination of sand and palm-sized stones we had to navigate around in order to reach the water. My beginner surfboard was rather large for my small physique. I balanced the board on my head as I stepped into the water making sure not to cut my feet on the rocks.
Once I made it far enough into the water, I put both my hands on either side of the board and pushed myself off the sandy floor and onto the board. I managed to flop stomach down on the board and almost immediately slid off. Weird, I thought. I tried again. Both hands on either side of the board, I pushed off again and this time made sure to pay attention to where I landed. I aimed for the middle and somehow made it on. Only then was I met with the battle of balancing myself while paddling out. The board tilted from left to right, my uncoordinated body struggling to maintain stability. This was much more difficult than I thought, and I had not even gotten to the actual surfing part!
I navigated myself through the channel and to the spot where Andrea sat. She positioned each of the girls and gave a push as waves approached. It was my turn. I swam my board over to her and sat stomach down, arms positioned at my rib cage, gripping the board. My heart was racing. I had been waiting for this! The wave approached and I felt Andrea’s push sending me a moment ahead of the wave. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! The ocean water sprayed my face as I propelled myself upwards, planting each of my feet underneath me and doing my best to stand up as quickly as I could. I was up. I was up!
My left foot behind and my right in front, I lifted my arms to balance. What a feeling! It was short-lived, I soon felt the board tilt and I plunged into the water. I bobbed up to the surface, my adrenaline surging. I could feel everything. My blood pumping, the sounds of the ocean and my fellow surfers cheering for me, the sand on my feet, the water running off my face. I looked all around me, I wanted to take every aspect of this moment in. The ocean had taught me my first lesson. I had so many preconceived notions of how this was going to go and was surprised at how wrong I was. I loved it. I was ready to have the best month of my life.