Old Man and the Sea

The wave, silent and brooding appeared at the edge of the horizon after a long lull. When it reached me, the  force propelled my board beachward with startling speed… like an amphibious Tesla racing a marlin. I stood up in a crouch and caught the break to the left which put the wall of water at my back.  In the next moment, I was racing through a glittering emerald tunnel, the foamy curl of the break guiding me to what? Sunlight? Freedom? Destiny?

This would have been a highlight of my week of surfing in Nicaragua if it happened. But it didn’t. Instead I spent most of my time in the water struggling to paddle past the inner breaks, the board repeatedly pulled from my grasp bobbling  away  and straining at my ankle leash as if by its own will, saying “get me away from this gringo spaz”.

The decision to try my hand (feet?) at surfing was a last minute addition to my sabbatical to-do list.  Growing up along the Northern California Coast, I spent many hours body surfing in the cold and powerful surf of Stinson Beach, Aptos, Capitola and Santa Cruz. But I had never used a board. How hard could it be? Very, it turns out.

The following observations will be tedious to genuine surfers and of little interest to determined non-surfers, but for those of you who might one day  entertain the prospect, I pray you might profit from my hard won education. (Sorry about that sentence. I’m reading Jane Austen.)

You don’t have to be in great shape to surf, but it really helps to be in good shape while learning to surf. Even though I’m a twice weekly lap swimmer, paddling that board was exhausting. Just maintaining balance sitting on the board waiting for a wave takes energy.  Even though I was wearing a shirt, the chafing made me more aware of having nipples than a man should ever be.  The instruction at this surf “camp” was perfunctory at best. Though I was his only student, ‘Pablo’ was distracted and seemed a little burned out on his job. (Boy could I relate.)

The real secret to surfing is the ‘pop-up’- where you go from lying on the board to standing in a single, fluid motion.  I could actually pull it off fairly elegantly on land, but in the water, the instability of the board turned my arms and legs to jelly.  It was really just a psychological barrier. Like baseball, 90 percent of surfing is half mental.

It was on the fifth and final day that I managed to stay on my feet for the duration of a small, mushy wave.  A local family on the beach having witnessed my struggles gave up a hearty cheer.  I walked directly to the bar for a celebratory cerveza, resolved to pick up where I left off in Cocoa Beach this winter when the surf picks up.

Surfing aside, Nicaragua is poor, beautiful and clinging to a Sandanista revolution that has fallen short of its promises.  More on this amazing country next post, but I conclude this one with some pictures of the non-surfing fun to be had on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.

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