Overcoming Clumsiness: Learning to Surf in Costa Rica

by  Mandy Berman | Feb 7, 2013
Surfing / DarrenTierney/iStock

The word “graceful” is not the first I’d use to describe myself. Though I strive to keep in shape, I stick to activities like cycling and running that allow minimal falling and bruising. Still, ever the adventurer, I jumped at a chance to surf in Costa Rica, a country I’ve wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. It didn’t cross my mind until I got on the plane, bikini and flip-flops in tow, that I may end up making a total fool of myself.

I took a surfing class through Brett’s Board Rentals and Surf Lessons, a company owned by Houston native Brett Schroeder. It was easy to sign up through the Alma del Pacifico hotel, where I was staying, and through a number of neighboring hotels; there are also many companies with similar services, which you can inquire about through your concierge.

I was relieved to learn that half of the members of my group had never surfed before, either. Our first morning, Brett taught us the basics. He showed us how to position ourselves on the boards and stand when the waves came. After a few practice moves on land, we grabbed our boards and walked into the water.

The first wave slammed me in the face, getting in my eyes and down my throat. I coughed. “You’ll get used to it,” said Deborah, one of the other instructors. Wave after wave hit me, and often my gigantic board first, which sometimes smacked me in the chin or flew out of my hands entirely. I was a snotty, gurgling mess trying to stay afloat. I saw a fellow traveler, Ryan, riding the same wave like a pro. I was not having fun.

“Take this next one,” Deborah said as she pointed to an approaching wave. I lay down on the board, and she turned me around to face the beach.

“Paddle, paddle, paddle!” I moved my arms alternately in the water like Brett had showed us, but I hardly moved.

“Harder, harder!” she yelled.

“I’m trying!” I shrieked.

I felt the wave rush under my board, and I lifted my body in a push-up position. I planted my left foot on the board and brought the right forward, but before I could stand, I lost momentum and tipped backwards, rather ungracefully, holding my arms above my head to shield the board from falling on top of me and screaming like a little girl.

Surf Lesson / Desiree Cassar

Another twenty minutes passed with only failed attempts. Sometimes I was too far forward on the board, or too far back, or just chickened out and let the wave pass. At this point, we’d all hooted and hollered for everyone else as they rode the waves to shore. I was ready to retreat to the beach and lay in the sun – not a bad compromise, really– when Brett came over and said, “We’re gonna do a little yoga breathing.”

A bit of a yogi myself, I happily obliged, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. The simple action had a calming effect; plus, I knew that Brett wouldn’t let me go anywhere until I got up.

My heart rate down, my head clear and determined, I paddled with all my might towards the shore and stood up at the exact instant that the wave rushed underneath. I didn’t use the exact method Brett had taught, but let myself move with the board and the water, and I knew as soon as I rode this one wave that there would be many more in my future. I gave a hang ten to the photographer as I cruised towards the shoreline, then hopped in the sand and swam out to do it again.

Brett’s lessons are $50 for a 2-hour lesson, and they’re geared towards beginners, so don’t be shy if you’re also in the clumsy camp. For an extra $50 per family, a photographer shoots your lesson and produces a CD with hundreds of pictures to take home.

I traveled to Costa Rica as a guest of Alma del Pacifio, but all opinions and bruises are my own.

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