Traveling with a group is often challenging, especially with kids. Egos bump, kids get hungry and tired, it can be hard to find a rhythm that matches for everyone all at once. And yet, we did it- thirteen of us found our way together, squeezed into two cars, one ATV, and four beautiful houses.
Ego is something I have been thinking of often, especially as it relates to blind spots. I’ve been going through my own personal upheavals in life, getting tossed around a bit. I think this might be what is called the “midlife crisis”. One must look fully at what has been built by your younger hands to see if the foundation and scaffolding will hold up what is to be built in the second half of life. I’m shoring my foundation up and in some places, tearing it down.
Through it all, I try to see where I am blind.
When life hands us the big questions, we need a big teacher. For me, that is the ocean itself. Yes, I have other teachers, human ones, but there is an immensity inside of me that can only be met by the force of the current and tides. I am a late starter as a surfer; in a world where people say that a late start is 20, I am a midlife beginner. I do not expect to ever be very good, but this does not stop me from getting on my board.
Costa Rica is heaven for surfers. The coastline were we stayed consists of miles of unspoiled beaches, raw and pure. The surf is warm and exceedingly generous with perfect waves. There is a single dirt road, pockmarked and washed out, a tiny town, and lots and lots of surfers.
I never wanted to get out of the water- I would, eventually, because of all those hungry and cranky children- but for me, I could surf those waves all day long. On the third day, our stunningly beautiful French surf instructor told me I should go out and surf the bigger waves in the lineup.
But the break was big.
I was terrified. And so I did what any terrified girl would do- I got my friend Amy to join me. She’s a great sport and said yes. The next day, we met Audrey at sunset and after a short briefing, we paddled out.
Can I just say that we had no idea what we were in for? Amy and I are not in bad shape, but paddling through those bigger waves was the most difficult physical activity I have ever done in my life. Besides giving birth. As each wave approached, I would suss it out to see if I thought I could paddle over it or not. But since we were so close to the shore, they were breaking before they hit us and paddling over the huge whitewash seemed impossible- and so I would dive underneath them, letting my board go behind me. The wave would carry the board towards shore, snapping at my ankle leash and dragging me a few feet before I could pull it back to me. This happened maybe fifteen or twenty times. I was panting for breath each time I got back on my board. Soon, we were far enough out to paddle over waves that were rising but not breaking. But when one suddenly broke, I dove underneath it and let my board go- just in time to see as I went under that another female surfer had caught the wave and was literally about to surf right on top of me. When I came back up, she was yelling at me, “Get out of the middle!”
Excuse me, the middle? The middle of what exactly?
This is when Amy bailed.
I turned around and looked at her going, and thought, “Am I crazy to do this?”
What was bringing me out there to “surf with the big boys”? Was it my humility, my willingness to be a beginner in the middle of life? Or was it my ego, wanting to prove that I am cool and full of adventure?
Or was it a little of both?
In any case, Audrey was yelling at me in French, “Come on, Sylvia, you can do this!”
So I paddled on. There really are not words for what it is to be schooled by the ocean. Drowning comes to mind.
But I did it, I paddled deeper and deeper into the unknown.
When I finally paddled out and was sitting in the lineup, I entered a profound sense of calm. The lineup is really a cool place to be. Surfers eyed me from their boards, obviously aware that a beginner was in their midst. I sat on my board like they did and watched the setting sun. The ocean was calm, rising and falling like an undulating pond.
I made it out to the lineup and it felt really, really good.
Then Audrey told me she was going to surf the next wave and bring Amy back with her.
“Stay right here,” she told me.
“Sure,” I responded. It would be nice to enjoy the peace after that epic paddle.
Perhaps five minutes after she surfed out, the tide shifted and suddenly I was no longer in the lineup. I was in the direct line of monster waves that were breaking right on top of me. Cut forward to another fifteen waves, another fifteen dives under, another fifteen snaps of the ankle leash. Cut forward to me saying, “Really, ocean? This? This is what you are going to give me today?”
Yes, that is what she gave me. On this day, in this moment in my life, this is what I get. Big waves, and the feeling that I might not survive. It is bigger than my ego, bigger than my defenses, bigger than the mechanisms I use to get by.
And that is why I love surfing. Because I love getting beat up, getting tossed, shifted, unmoored- and surrendering to the force of something greater than I am. I am not sure where the tides of life are bringing me, but I pray to surrender. I pray to keep my eyes open and breathe.
I pray to pop back up again once the wave has passed.
When is the last time you let some big waves toss you around?
When Amy met me back in the lineup, I can truly say we were authentically “slap happy”.
We laughed and laughed, lifted up by the utter insanity of the force. Amy was first to surf, brave girl that she is, and I followed after. Of course, we wiped out, but honestly it was nothing compared to the battle of the paddle. Audrey told me to paddle out again and I did, catching a second wave just in time to see Audrey catch one right behind me. I wiped out just in time to see her carve the most elegant, powerful line in a wave just a few feet away. When she told me to paddle out again for the third time, it was the first moment in my life that I truly felt like I wanted to get out of the water. But Audrey has balls. She is a beautiful little French mother who surfs like a dragon. And so I listened.
Thanks to Audrey, I caught my third, final wave of the day.
Look, I am pretty sure Billabong is not calling me anytime soon for a sponsorship, unless they are starting a klutzy grandma marketing campaign. Even so, I love to surf.
I will keep surfing, even if it means chasing storms here in flat Florida.
I will keep surfing the big waves of my life, even if it means opening to my blind spots, my vulnerabilities, my imperfections.
You know the best part of this story?
The surfers all told me later that the “monster” waves I surfed that afternoon were-
Exceptionally small. For Costa Rica.
Calamocha Lodge is the most beautiful place to stay.
Yoga with Cristina Kalyani Paes (exceptional!)
Surf with Audrey and Lolo in Santa Teresa on Playa Hermosa