One weekend in August of 2019, I was smitten by the love of surfing. One of my best friends, MK, and I had traveled to a remote and beautiful part of Jamaica. For a number of reasons, it remains a favorite journey in my travel portfolio, despite contracting Dengue Fever from a merciless bastard mosquito.
Anyway, one sunny day, we descended from the glorious cliffs of our rustic camp and happened upon a small sandy lagoon, with the most crystal blue water I’d ever seen, and a handful of surfers floating farther out. They would periodically shout out a primal scream to the ocean, with low and quickly ascending howls. Wave calling. We wandered as we do, exploring where our hearts led us: atop the sharp rocks above the sea on the opposite side, into the ocean caves, and to the ancient statues and carvings within the lower cliff walls.
We later found ourselves back at the lagoon and wading into its warm and inviting waters, when we were approached from the nearby bank by a young and shirtless Jamaican boy with skin as dark as charcoal, perhaps the age of 18, wearing humble swim trunks. He was tall and scrawny, but defined, with bloodshot eyes and a slow Jamaican drawl. He spoke slowly, because “Jameya-cans speak too fookin’ fast fa Americans to undastand.” We laughed. We instantly liked this dude.
“Ya surf?” he asked.
We replied, “No.”
“Ya wanna learn?” he said, assessing.
MK had tried surfing a few times. I had tried it zero times at that moment in time. But surfing had been on my life list of things to try since beginning my most recent travel nurse assignment in Myrtle Beach, not to mention MK and I never pass up an opportunity to try something new, especially with third world locals. There’s no better way to experience foreign culture. And furthermore, a few American bucks can feed a whole family for a week in some countries. We were all in.
“I show ya how ta walk on wata like Jesus,” he said with a wide grin, which reflected a mysterious timelessness in his eyes.
As we waded back to the shore, he disappeared for a few minutes, returned with two large and beat up surf boards, and dropped them onto the sand. He placed us each on a board and gave us a quick lesson on paddling and “popping up.” That’s surf slang for getting to your feet. Then we headed into the open water between the lagoon banks and began our attempts at surfing. The young Jamaican told us our only job was to stand up, and he would do everything else. He continuously remained in a position to give us well timed pushes as the waves approached. This kid was tireless. He never complained or showed impatience. He pushed again and again and again. I flashed back to my childhood, briefly remembering my daddy teaching me to ride a bike, pushing me down our front yard hill God only knows how many times.
The lagoon waves were these tiny little undulations, smaller than any waves I’d seen. They were gentle, no more than a foot tall, approaching once every ten to fifteen seconds or so. I wasn’t sure how we could ride such small waves, but our Jamaican guide seemed confident, and we placed our faith in him.
MK popped up after a few tries. I tried over and over, losing count of how many times I tumbled into the blue water. With each fall the Jamaican expertly corrected my hand position when popping up, and my stance once on my feet. I had clumsily fallen off the board a dozen times, so it came as a complete shock when suddenly, I was standing, wind in my face, briefly gliding in front of this gently breaking wave that was now my locomotion, and walking on water, just as the young Jamaican had promised.
I’ve been spiritually drawn to Mother Ocean since my family’s yearly trips to Myrtle Beach when I was a kid. But I felt an almost tangible connection to her the second I stood up on that wave. I was instantly hooked. And thus began my journey into the world of surfing. Oh, how little I knew of the challenges ahead. I would soon find out. But for my newly discovered passion, I eternally owe my deepest gratitude to an old soul of a teenage boy on the tranquil banks of Jamaica. May his heart be full and his spirit happy, wherever he is.
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