A cloud of isolation had settled on me during the previous evening, and come morning, it remained. I needed a day to recharge. I needed the day to myself.
So after breakfast, while Lori accompanied one of the neighbors to a yoga class, I took the car and went surfing. This is what I’d wanted to do in Costa Rica from the beginning, and I didn’t expect to be an expert at surfing by any means, of course, but I at least wanted to be better at it.
I went to the surf shop, paid the ten dollars, received the board in exchange, and trudged down to the beach. It was morning and there was plenty of room in the water to practice without fear of running into anyone.
The ocean looked different here compared to other beaches. The water was low, although that made sense considering what time of day it was. But more importantly, waves were breaking right at the edge of the water. I sensed that this could be a problem, but I was committed now and didn’t want to lug the board all the way back to the car.
I set the board down in the sand before the waterline, unfurled the safety leash from the end of the board, and strapped it to my right ankle. Then I picked up the board, took a few steps, and dropped into the water. The board bobbed up and down as I guided it in. I made to sure to hold onto the board — one hand in back, one hand in front — as it rushed over a wave. My grip on the board was poor, and the board tilted slightly. Sigh. That meant the lady at the surf shop hadn’t put enough wax on the board. That would definitely be a problem.
I waded further. I wanted some friendlier waves. I spotted another surfer perhaps fifty feet ahead who was busy paddling. Perhaps he knew something I didn’t know.
I leaped onto the board, laying on my stomach, and started paddling myself. A small wave appeared, and I held on the board tightly as it went by. As I was lying in the lull, another wave began to form. This was going to be a large one — I could tell from the way the water moved — and I wouldn’t be able to simply pass over it. I began to think about a strategy. The surfer I had been watching a few minutes ago had managed to evade a large wave by turning upside-down, appearing on the other side as if nothing had ever happened. My instructor from the other day had done the same thing, too. Well, that didn’t seem too hard, I reasoned.
I watched in anticipation as the water ahead rose, crested, and toppled. As the ensuing foam rushed toward me, I made my move, grabbing the board and flipping upside-down just before it hit.
It happened fast.
I had not, in fact, passed underneath the wave, as I expected. The water was like a wall, shoving me backward and yanking the board out of my hands in one ferocious motion. I felt my arms as they started flailing wildly. Water was all around and I was caught up in the flow. I tried to right myself and found I could not do so effectively. This water was strong. This wasn’t good. Images flashed through my mind. Surely I should be in shallow water by now? My mind raced. I needed air, and I needed it fast. Where was it? What if I never found it? What if I was lost underwater forever?
The water had been losing strength slowly all this time, and finally my efforts to propel myself to the surface succeeded. I had just enough time to take a half-breath before another wave knocked me back into the water. I briefly panicked again, but the water subsided, and before long, I found I could move about.
My feet felt sand, and I took hold of it. I stood up. I was stable now. I took a deep breath, then another. Free from the clutches of the sea, I could finally relax. I was in control again. The water was angry, but I had made it out. Everything was fine.
Exhausted, I walked the board to the shore away from the water and sat down on the beach to reflect. Wow. That had been a fun experience, I thought, but it had also been dangerous. I had better stick to the beginner waves.
I peered out at the water. Other surfers had started making their way down and were trying their hand at catching waves. A couple of people had laid their blankets out and were sunbathing. The air was warm, but not hot.
After a sufficient amount of time to rest, I got up and walked the board back into the water for a second try. This time, I kept to shallow water. I guided the board over the smaller waves, and when a bigger wave came, I quickly climbed on, lay down, and waited until the momentum caught up and carried me forward. I tried to scramble onto the board, and instantly crashed into the sea. The board escaped my grasp in the rushing foam, and after the water had subsided, I stood up and used the leash to reel in the board.
Undeterred, I set myself up for another wave, only to fall off again. I adjusted position so I was in even shallower water, and tried again. This time, the board stayed aright and I clumsily managed to climb on and stand up. I was riding the water! I wobbled wildly at first in an effort to maintain balance, but I quickly adjusted and stayed upright until the waves slowed and forced me to jump off.
That gave me the confidence to wade out again. It took a while to get into the proper depth — the waves knocked me backward a couple times — but finally I lay in wait for another ride. Unfortunately, this attempt was not to be, and I wiped out and was swept adrift. This time, I decided to keep a hand on the board so it wouldn’t get away from me. But as the water took me with it, my knees dragged along the seafloor — sand. I let go of the board and stood up. I looked down and my knee was bleeding. Ugh. I’d already scraped it up during my surf lesson, and now I completely understood how.
Annoyed, I came out of the water and rested again. I ended up going out for a third time, but my returns were diminishing and I didn’t feel like injuring my knee any more than I already had.
I wearily carried the board up the beach and started making my way to the street. Before I’d reached sand I had hidden the key to the car (which I had parked back at the surf shop) underneath a tree branch. As I was about to lift up the branch, my big toe rammed head-on into it. I wailed internally. My toe was already not in the best shape. The top of the nail was unhealthy and a new nail had been growing underneath it. The branch had made direct contact with this nail. I cursed under my breath, retrieved the key, and hefted the board back to town.
I spent some time at the French bakery after that, and my toe continued to throb. By the time I came back home, it was hot, and a cold shower only offered a temporary reprieve. Lori told me about her morning: how her yoga session had been very otherworldy and how she had gotten a ride up the Hill from the motorcycle of some strange but alluring Italian man.
Lori suggested I contact our ziplining friends from the day before and go to a new restaurant together: Mary’s, over in Mal Pais. We got ready, drove out, and picked them up on the way.
The restaurant looked friendly. As we walked in, I noticed some people playing pool in an adjoining room. This was odd, I thought, as I was used to seeing pool tables only at bars, and this wasn’t a bar. But I also thought it gave the place a laidback feel. We walked in and found a booth seat.
The waitress came and asked for drinks. While we were busy talking, I looked up to see the guy who had been our guide the day before! He seemed to be a waiter here. He came over and joked with us for a bit, telling us about a party that was starting at Kika’s at ten and then moving onto the discoteque at midnight. We’d heard about this party from someone else, too. It seemed to be a thing here. Well, it was fun, he said, and tried to persuade us to go. He would even give us a ride there. It was very kind of him, but we politely declined.
Although Lori disagreed later, I thought the food at Mary’s was one of the best we’d tasted. It still wasn’t the same quality as that in the U.S. But it was well plated, and the fish, which I had, was decorated in a sauce that had an interesting flavor.
By the time that Lori and I got home we were both pretty wiped out. A full day of getting beat up by the ocean — and being out in the hot air — will do that to you, I suppose.