Overcoming a brush with the briny deep

Dec 10, 2008 at 12:24 PM
I nearly died on Monday. Surfing. (I know monday is a workday, but there was a power outage, and so I used the time for other things.)

OK. So on Saturday I get a surf lesson. It's at Playa Grande, a great surf beach, but it was a calm day with easy waves. And I was on a styrofoam learners board big enough to float ANYONE.

I did great. I stood up three times. I totally LOVED the experience.

Then I rented a board on Sunday, and it was different. It was huge, and heavy, and seemed like a boat to me. But it was the size recommended by my instructor. He said get one 9.5 and use that. So I did. The one I got was huge and unweildy. Plus it was missing the markings that guide me to know where my feet and body go.

I know you dont' go surfing alone, so I went out the very next day to the place at Playa Grande where my instructor had taken me, with a very good surfer. My friend from the restaurant, Fernando. Here's a picture of Fernando.

This is a bad picture, he's way cuter than this.

So anyway, cute young men aside, there I am at Playa Grande, watching surfable waves, maybe four or five feet tall, and I have paddled out onto the water when the rip tide sucks me out too far. I'm paddling back on my completely uncontrollable board (boat) when a HUGE 16 foot wave comes from NOWHERE, grabs me and the board conks me on the back, pushing all the air out of my lungs. I pearl (forced dive) and my board heads up and out of the surf. The wave rolls and rolls me and then sucks me under, and I'm pushed into the bottom and I am under water for probably 20 seconds - with ZERO air in my lungs. They are so empty they are trying to force me to breathe in against my judgement. I push up after the pressure stops and eventually break the surface and grab a single lungful of air when another wave immediately breaks directly onto me and I'm thrown to the bottom again. Aftetr five seconds, my lungs are on fire, and I repeat the process a few more times, as I start swimming to shore like a mad woman between waves after I break surface. I then find the calmest shallows I can, and do the Robinson Crusoe drag to get out of the water. I'm almost out of the water, and I don't care to move for a few minutes. I decide to simply practice lying on my board without tipping, but this monster board is totally impossible to manuever. I don't have the body strength for it.

So my board does what it wants, which is to get sucked out to sea from the very shallow water I was in, at TERRIFICLY high speed, by a terrifyingly strong rip tide. I can't stop myself even by planting my feet. The water's going like rapids here all of the sudden with no warning. Great. I'm already totally exhausted, and I'm trying to paddle out of the rip (to the side, never against it) when another wave grabs me and flips me off my board yet again, holds me against the bottom for another five seconds during which my board has successfully surfed to shore without me.

Great. The BOARD is better at surfing than I am.

I climb out, literally pass out on the sand, and revel in being alive while my body does absolutely nothing.

An indeterminate measure of time later, Fernando comes over all fresh, happy and fucking GORGEOUS, shining in the sun with his dreads dripping (damn his flirtaceous eyes) to tell me he caught two great waves and is ready to go. He easily picks up my whale of a board, and I get to carry his tiny little itsy bitsy board back.

We eat some food (Salchipapas - fried strips of mystery meat and french fries with mayonaisse and salsa tomato - It's GREAT), drink Aloe Vera juice. Then he flirts with me more by drenching us both with water from a tap (He's a total flirt but I'm getting used to that and he belongs to Mindy and I must try to be good) and then we head back, after which I discover that you literally CAN make yourself too tired to stand up.

The upside is that I figured out that Playa Grande is a terribly dangerous beach - the waves are relatively huge and unpredictable and as a beginner I need a placid, rolling, easy wave. Plus I need an incoming tide. And a board I can handle.

So yesterday, I traded for a smaller board, one I could maneuver without needing a rudder. It's 7.something. I asked over and over for the most obviously stupidly easy beginner's board they had. "Please pretend I know NOTHING and rent me that."

Yes, I've had lessons, but pretend I know NOTHING, please.

And yesterday, there was a perfect surf for a beginner at Brasilito beach. Outgoing breeze, incoming waves, really small but big enough to coast to shore on, simple, easy, easy easy.

Even though. I couldn't set foot in the water with my board. I was planted like a tree on the beach, with my stomache all curled up. I found myself terrified, all wrapped up in what happened at Playa Grande.

I took a few deep breaths. I walked around outside the water, put my feet in the surf. I found my personal next step, which was playing with waves again.

I made myself put the board down and simply body surf for a few minutes. I made myself float in the water and wait for good waves and body surf into shore on them.

So, today, the next gradient was to make myself confront my fear of my board. I lay down on it and breathed for a minute.

I like this board, it's way easier to control. I have a much harder time balancing, but a much easier time controling it. I'll learn the balance. I need the control first.

I successfully paddled out twice and caught tiny little nothings and rode them to shore as though I were body surfing, but with my board under me.

Even that was exhausting. Even with that little nothing, in perfectly calm seas, I was nervous. And I was tired. My body decided surfing was a godawfully bad idea and I had to tell it who was boss.

Refusing to tackle something you're afraid of, and deciding that you are not good enough or skilled enough for something, well I'm not willing to start doing that about ANYTHING.

I'm simply not going to skip any gradients again - even though it was an accident that I ended up way over my head.

I'm making sure I learn what I need to - like the tidal conditions and wind conditions that are right. Proper study and practice are needed.

I'm told after the fact that even very skilled surfers die at Playa Grande a few times a year.

I am VERY lucky.


  1. That's terrifying! Thank goodness you lived to tell the tale.

    Good on you for going back and facing your fears. You're a brave woman.

    Also, that unavailable friend of yours is dangerously cute!

  2. Shelley Says:

    You're just lucky you had a lesson you can talk about and come back from. And yes I may just say I told you so. Tomorrow I'll go surf with you at Brasilito. Hopefully by then my shoulder will be working again and I can lift it enough to paddle.

  3. desi Says:

    @SparklingRed You wouldn't believe me if I told you the number of actually gorgeous men who will flirt with me here. Flirting is the national sport. I'm getting flirted with by men who would be WAAAAAY out of my league in the States. It's effing CRAZY. They are not ALL crunk and short, like I mentioned before. Some are, shall we say, TEMPTING.

    @Shelley Looking forward to it. You can use my board, too, obviously. Split the cost? Just kidding.

  4. Grahame Says:

    Phew! Glad you survived. I would have nothing to read if you croaked and didn't blog any more.

  5. Glad you survived. I believe my sport of choice would be staring at the ladies while safely on the beach drinking something with ice and an umbrella.

  6. Kat Says:

    Shit, Desi. That's scary. Glad you made it off that beach. Shit!

  7. desi Says:

    @Kat Yes. Axiom 74 aplies.

  8. desi Says:

    I was tattered and torn when I returned the board. They asked me if I had fun, and I was gonna say NO but I said YES because it's true. Even with the hell that surfing turned out to be, I loved trying. Go figure.