Elizabeth is sitting up straight on a dry log, sheltered in the shade of a skinny bush. She is holding a midrange DSLR mounted on a monopod and aimed at the legendary peak of Pavones in the OSA Peninsula of Costa Rica. Several hundred meters into the ocean, her boyfriend is waiting for a wave to take him for a ride right into the center of the Bay that keeps receiving surfers from all over the world: USA, Tasmania, Israel, Australia and of course, the locals. From the shore, witnesses, photographers, resting surfers and girlfriends enjoy the show. I, as them, stand in awe.
Dancing in the Sea
Elizabeth’s boyfriend is one among dozens and dozens of surfers who are lined up waiting for their wave. The swell is in and Pavones is taken over by sheer steaming surf fever. Before getting there, I had heard that Pavones was one of the longest left hand waves on Earth. It doesn’t quite work all the time, however. I would have never guessed that I would get the chance to see it working and crowded with feverish surfers. The spectacle is dazzling. The train of waves comes in tidily and repeats itself beautifully. From outside, the variations in the waves look soft. Waves are consistent in size , shape and frequency. It is beautiful to follow the surfers that pass before my eyes enjoying the ride, like they are dancing almost.
Elizabeth’s boyfriend is a longboard surfer. As we chat, we keep looking for him in the water: she has a photographic mission. It is quite difficult to tell surfers from one another from as far as the shore. You really need to know their board and outfit well or have binoculars or tele lenses. One of the things helping us is that his longboard is quite large and wooden. The identities of the excited little buoys awainting the ocean’s gifts get especially blurry while they wait. I’m telling Elizabeth that I’m only just beginning to learn how to surf and I find it to be more of a mental than a physical challenge. I talk about the bond with the sea that every surfer has and I am finding I need to develop. She nods and, although she is worried that she might miss one of Joshua’s waves; she replies with what really strikes her about this sport: “Each wave is unique and constitutes a singular experience that is absolutely unrepeatable“ Unlike the ski or snowboard track which are there and you just go down them, every ride is quite uncertain and irretrievable.” The Ocean is alive and a surfer has to feel it under the board to understand when the wave is giving room, accelerating, deaccelerating or suddenly closing out.
Waves Inside Out
My interest in learning this sport is rather new, although I have always liked it. I was certain it was impossible to learn it unless one was living by the sea for a while, and that was not the case for me. That intuition that made me delay my incursion into surf is now more specific: you need to develop a relationship with the ocean and this means you need to spend long hours not only out surfing but also in, observing. When surfers wake up, the first thing they do is look out the balcony or walk to the shore to check out the waves everyday. They are always looking for waves. Furthermore, they are surfers all the time, even if they are miles away from a break. It’s quite common to listen to them philosophise out loud-and you can tell they are not bragging. Their bond with the ocean seems to awaken some sort of mystic wisdom in them. The sea becomes the Great Other that gifts, takes or hits. I am under the impression that surfing can have a very singular effect on people: it defines a lifestyle and forges character. I can also say that waves look different from the shore than they do when you’re out there actually trying to catch (or get caught by) them. I can tell you this out of my few hours of wave-watching and clumsy paddling and rolling. When I get discouraged, I try to discover why I am so fascinated by this activity and want to learn it so badly. I imagine that the intuitive attention that waves force me into constitute and addictive movement-based meditation. The addictive part I’m not imagining but seeing it in the bodies that come back every evening delightfully exhausted, only to paddle back out in excitement the next morning. I am familiar with the type of exhaustion that equals bliss and I can see surfing offers tons of it.
After 4 days of swell in Pavones, surrounded by passionate, professional, international, young and elderly surfers traveling in all sorts of ways, budgets and arrangements; I am even more motivated to learn how to surf than I was ever before. I’ve learnt so much by only listening to their heart-felt, deep and technical conversations about surf, only surf, all-day-long… surf!