I took up surfing around 4-years ago, which means I’m a novice to the sport. At the time I was living in NYC and day-trading full-time, I was stressed and not really happy with my situation. Since then I’ve taken 5 surf trips to Costa Rica and 2 to Nicaragua. Yes, I’m addicted and can’t imagine my life without surfing. Similar to learning how to code, learning how to surf is tremendously challenging and discouraging at first. You’re perpetually losing the war but manage to sneak in a winning battle every now and then. And every little battle you win is oh so sweet.
One experience from my trip really strikes a nerve. I was surfing this rock-bottom left point break. Epic day! Water temp had to be close to 90F. The surface resembled glass, kinda like a Van Gogh painting. I could see tropical fish swimming around my legs, swore I saw Nemo chilling chewing on some kelp. The color of the water was dark-teal but every time a wave would crash it would change to a light baby-blue. It seemed more like the Caribbean than Nicaragua. I was surfing in Gatorade and it was so fucking gnarly.
The swell was coming in hard and even though the waves were mooshy, they were still overhead and pretty powerful. Did I mention the whole sea bed is covered with rocks and poisonous urchins? As a surfer you have no choice but to accept certain risks: sharks, urchins, drowning, and worst of all ear-sunburn(horrible!). I made a classic rookie mistake that day. I didn’t paddle hard enough for the first wave of the set, so the wave dragged me right to the breaking zone without me actually getting on it. This meant that by the time I turned around to paddle back to the lineup there were another 5+ overhead monsters ready to punish me. Remember that rock bottom I mentioned, well it gets pretty shallow as the waves push you closer to shore and you really don’t want to make friends with the spiky urchins.
That day I was riding a board that I could barely duck-dive, so getting myself and the board underneath each wave just physically wore me out. After the first few tries I decided to ditch my board and duck-dive underneath the sets without it. I was relying on the leash to keep my board tethered, poor decision. I dived underneath the following wave but it was so powerful it ripped my leash and dragged my board to the rocky shore. So now I’m a floating duck in the impact zone. I can’t paddle to shore because of the rocks and I can’t paddle out to the boat that brought us there because the push-pull of the crashing waves is too strong. The boat can’t just come get me, the waves would toss it like a rag doll. My fellow surfers can’t just paddle up and help, nor would I want them taking such a risk. It took me a few seconds to evaluate all of this and realize how alone and accountable I was.
I’m exhausted and gasping for air after every duck-dive. I don’t have the energy to swim out of the impact zone so all I can really do is sit there, take it, and wait for a lull. I remind myself how important it is to stay calm and patient. I have enough experience in the water to not panic, even though my body is sensing very imminent danger. I take a long super deep inhalation, slow deep-exhalation, and inhale before my next duck-dive. Even though my mind starts having unpleasant thoughts, I trust my myself, I believe that as long as I stay calm and act in a way I know to be safe I’ll be ok. Yes it feels as though I can’t hold my breath for the next duck-dive. My body might give-in to the thirst for oxygen, open-up, and start inhaling buckets of saltwater. But that’s bull-shit, my adrenaline is so high there has to be plenty survival reserve in the tank.
The ocean calmed down and I was able to slowly tread to a safe place for the boat to come scoop me up. I borrowed that board I just lost, so I felt compelled to go find it. After we spotted the board, the boat dude dropped me off near shore in a safe sandy area. Surprisingly the board was in ok shape, just one missing fin (out of 3). To be honest I wasn’t sure if I should paddle back. My flight was scheduled for the next morning and this was my last day to surf the best waves of my life. I also didn’t want to leave on such a bad note. Of course I was tremendously grateful to be alive but at no point did I ever even for a sec question whether I was going to surf again. Surfing is my love, my joy, my passion! If anything, my control of the situation proved how much of a surfer I am. So you’re damn right I paddled back out. I thanked the ocean for taking it easy on me, put the situation behind me, and had the time of my life.