You Take Your Car to Work, I’ll Take my Board


The first time I tried to learn to surf was with a friend. Mike and our friend Chris had successfully taught all four of our children to get up on their board. My four-year-old was surfing. Maya and Gigi were already good at it. It’s exactly the same as when I see first graders boarding the roller coaster. If they can do it, surely I can do it.

They make it look easy

Except I couldn’t.

Think of how you would normally get up from lying on your belly, then throw all that out the window. You can’t get up on your knees first- basically you push your upper body up then hop your legs forward to the correct position on the board. I don’t have great upper body strength, no matter how many f@#$ing planks I do. And it felt like I was doing burpees, except while riding a wave, and sideways. So, I didn’t get up. I gave up. The next day my shoulders and chest felt like I had done a thousand push-ups.

After nursing my wounds (pride- that was actually my only wound), I decided to take a lesson. Because there must be something I was missing. Mike has been surfing since the nineties, and I’m sure he could have taught me, but, well, I really don’t like it when he tells me what to do. A local friend hooked me up with a lesson at Costa Rica Surf Club, and I rode my bike there with excitement and trepidation.

When I arrived, they introduced me to Jesus. Not the Jesus, I’ve known him all my life, but HeyZeus Jesus.

If anyone could teach me to walk on water…

If anyone could perform the miracle of teaching me to surf…

If anyone could raise me up onto the board…

Okay I’ll stop now.

Jesus got me a rash guard, then we grabbed a (very) longboard and walked across the street to Tamarindo Beach. I felt cool during this part. Never in my life growing up in Saginaw, Michigan did I imagine myself being a part of the cool surfer culture that I saw on T.V.. We started with the board in the sand. Here, he showed me a different sort of push-up where my elbows were down along my sides rather than out like I was doing before. My  hands went under my chest and I had much more power that way. Then, I spiderman my leg to step up (think of the way spiderman sidles up buildings, knee to the outside of his body) instead of hopping, which was way more doable. I was ready to go to the ocean.

 We went out about chest deep. Jesus had me lay on my board, then gave directions. Jesus is from Venezuela, and has a bit of an accent. I’ve found that Rachel is not the easiest name to say in Spanish. Jesus rolled that first R and called out what I was supposed to do.

“Rrrrrrrach! Paddle!”

“Rrrrrrrach! Up!”

 I didn’t feel cool during this part. I asked Jesus a couple times whether I was the worst he’d ever taught. He didn’t really answer. He smiled. I think he didn’t understand.  I choose to believe he didn’t understand.

And in that way, burning Rrrrrach, paddle! And Rrrrrrrach UP! into my memory, finally, after failing and falling numerous times, at 42 years of age, I  rode my first wave into shore.

I waded back out to Jesus to surf some more, and the waves were getting bigger. As I laid on my tummy he yelled, “Rrrrrrrrach! Wah-lay!”

“What?” I panicked. “Que?” I looked around. That wasn’t the word I had learned for crocodile, but Tico Spanish is sometimes different.

Jesus had a big smile, pointed out at the horizon, where a huge water spout shot into the air.

“Whale!” I didn’t think my smile could get bigger, but it did.

This whole adventure to Costa Rica is such a departure from my “regular” life. I’m used to reading novels, fixing my kids a warm dinner in Northern Michigan, playing trivia at the bar on Tuesday nights.

I never imagined that I’d learn to surf, but I did.