The first morning in Costa Rica, I got up before Mrs. CK and grabbed my board to go catch the good surf. I had been anticipating this day for months and was full of excitement. I headed to the beach making my way down the narrow trail through the forest, watching the small lizards dart out of my path. As I got closer to the beach, I started to hear the roar of the waves. On a quiet morning with nobody in sight, the sound was deafening. It echoed deep in my gut, but I had my board in tow and there was no turning back – I was there to surf.

Picture of trail to beach.

Through the gaps in the trees, I started seeing the waves – they were big. The largest were much taller than me. Last time we were in Costa Rica, I mostly rode the whitewater and smaller waves. After some nasty wipe outs, I avoided paddling out in the big surf. This time, I was on a mission: paddle out in the bigger surf and do some real surfing. But without a soul in sight, I was getting more and more anxious.

“Alright you chicken shit, this is what you’re here for,” I told myself as I marched into the water. I patiently started working my way through the surf and after a few big sets of waves came crashing through, I took advantage of a moment of calm water and paddled out. I got past the impact zone and waited for the right wave. When I saw a decent one coming, I started to paddle.

It was a good wave, but I came up short of catching it, and turned around to see a monster coming my way. It was too late to get out of the way and the wave came crashing down on me. I tried to roll my board and hold on, but like a rag doll in a washing machine I was taken along for a wild ride. I was probably held under for less than 10 seconds, but when you have no control, it feels like an eternity. I came up for air only to see another big one coming right at me. Fear gripped me. I turned my board around and rode the whitewater back in. I’d spent the last few months envisioning breaking this barrier and now I was once again running from the surf with my tail between my legs.

Feeling deflated, I started to make my way back when I saw Mrs. CK pop out of the forest. “Hows the surf?” she asked. “I think it’s just too big for me today,” I said. “Well are you gonna give it another try?” I nodded my head, maybe I’d just mess around inside the impact zone with the smaller waves. At least I wasn’t the only one on the beach anymore. Mrs. CK could drag me in once my surfboard floated in close enough to shore, I thought.

As I was working my way back through the surf, another surfer showed up to take advantage of the big waves. It was Doug, a surfer we met last time we were in Costa Rica and inquired about taking lessons. His South African accent struck me when he told me to “watch out for the sun down here, we’re near the Equataah, you know?” He was an excellent surfer, and was always out on the big surf days. It was reassuring that someone else was way out there past the breaking waves. I paddled out to catch up with him.

“Hey, not sure if you remember me, but we were here back in March.” I said as I floated up. “Yeah I remembah, you were thinking of doing some lessons, yeah?” he asked. “Yeah I could still use some, it doesn’t have to be anything formal but if you could give me some tips…. I’m still a bit nervous paddling out here and trying to catch the bigger waves,” I said. “Yeah, you’re at that tricky stage now where you gotta figure out just how to time it right… Well here comes one now, why don’t you try and catch that one?” I looked back to see what I thought was a really big wave coming. I paused for a second, but I had no choice – I went for it.

I paddled hard, but once again came up short, and turned around to see another big set coming right at me. I couldn’t just run away this time, so I paddled toward it like hell and just made it through as the crest of the wave started crashing over my head. “Nice one, most people would have ditched their board, but you held on,” Doug said. “Well, my usual move would have been to try a turtle roll,” I replied. “The turtle roll is good, but only on certain size waves. You gotta ditch the board for something like that. Just send it parallel to the surf so the wave doesn’t snap it in half. Here comes another one, you should go for it.” Feeling more confident I went for another wave. I missed it again but Doug caught it.

We were both paddling back when another monster set came through. “Ditch your board!” Doug shouted. I pushed the board to the side and dove down. A couple of seconds later I came back up and after some tugging at my leg, my board popped up as well. A monster wave much taller than me had come and gone. And I’d survived. Holy crap, I though to myself, that wasn’t too bad. Then it started to rain – I couldn’t leave Mrs. CK on the beach, so I thanked Doug for the tips and said I was down for lessons whenever he could.

Picture of beach.

I didn’t catch any waves, but I was floating on a cloud walking back from the beach in the rain. Only an hour earlier, I thought I couldn’t hack it. I think it was the fear of not knowing what would happen if those big waves got a hold of me and churned me over. But now I’d been swallowed up and spat out, and the worst that came of it was some water up my nose. Even better, armed with Doug’s tips, I now knew how to evade getting sucked in for a good tumble.

So maybe some water up my nose was an understatement. When I got home, my nose started dripping seawater. I leaned forward and a stream started to flow, must have been half a cup of seawater that came draining out of my sinuses. Didn’t matter – if you asked me how I felt, it was an eleven. We went out for some casados, then I passed out for a nice long nap.

I never did get to have a formal lesson with Doug, and the surf was never as big, but things started to click after that first session. I started to catch a few waves, and I caught a lot more wipe outs. Every day I progressed a bit more, and every night I emptied half a cup of seawater from my head.

Picture of surfing.

Mrs. CK did manage to snap some photos of me catching a few decent sized waves. Even if I looked like an uncoordinated ape on a board, I know I had a big monkey grin on my face.

Picture of surf.

I’ve been scared of a lot of things. Would we be OK if I quit my job? We would. Would I drown if a massive wave got a hold of me? I wouldn’t. These were all fears of the unknown. My mind is geared to feed me excuses to stick with the status quo. “You’ll be safe if you just keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing, Mr. CK. Let’s stick with what we know.” Maybe it takes some coaching, or seeing someone else doing the thing that’s so scary. But if you get out there and try, you might realize you can ride those monsters you’ve been running from.