Continued from My Surfing Journey, Part 2: Topsail Meltdown.
I prolonged the release of this final entry, awaiting some shots of my surfing in action. But early one September morning when I was chasing waves before work, by chance I happened upon Mr. Devin Vayda, who struck up a conversation and reported he used to surf these very Myrtle Beach waves as a kid. He pointed to his buzzing drone, hovering in the distance, and asked if he could take some air shots of me. I told him I was just a beginner, but I had been looking for the shots he proposed. Later that day, he sent me the shot I immediately decided to use as the cover for this post. Although not an action shot, the picture that you see above illustrates an unblemished representation of what I feel within my soul when I’m surfing, and I wish to offer a special and heartfelt appreciation to Mr. Vayda, both for his impeccable timing, and for his instinctive eye.
In the third year of my surfing journey, COVID struck and botched several travel plans. But by April of 2021, MK and I were finally able to scratch our international travel itch with a trip to beautiful Costa Rica. On the last leg of that journey, we found ourselves in the wonderful beach town of Samara. Our AirBnb host informed us when we arrived that her best friend ran a surfing school right off of the beach access trail that ran beside our house, about a hundred yards away. Although my ears perked up at this news, my ego remained wary of subsequent surfing attempts.
The next day, MK and I wandered down the trail to the beach, and I met Kate, team member at Pato’s Surf School. I struck up a convo and inquired vaguely about surf lessons. I still wasn’t sure about picking it back up, despite my desire to learn. Kate was a wonderful human, who intently and compassionately listened to the story of my surfing journey. She asked me several questions about my knowledge of paddling, wave types and popping up. I explained to her that I could paddle for hours and I knew how to position myself. I just couldn’t stand up. She inquired further, and I gave her a brief demonstration of my pop-up technique.
“Look, I’ll give you lessons if you want,” she said, sizing me up. “But I don’t think you need lessons. I think you need to take this board and go practice your pop-ups in the whitewater over there.” She pointed down the beach. “The surf is really good today.”
Another thing I had learned in the prior year was the difference between whitewater and green water waves. Whitewater waves are smaller waves that have broken, leaving residual foam that flows gracefully (and forgivingly) to the shore. They’re perfect for beginners. Green water refers to the open face of larger waves before they break, such as the wave that had my asshole kissing the back of my head on Topsail Island. These are the waves that experienced surfers catch for speed and board tricks.
Kate gave me a large, buoyant long board with a single fin. I gave it a light rewax and with some uncertainty, I trekked through the soft sand and down to the flowing waves. Maybe it was Kate, maybe it was MK, maybe it was Costa Rica, maybe it was Mother Ocean, but I felt a little of my natural determination, my fearlessness, returning, ever so slightly. I felt my true self reemerging. I reminded myself to trust the process and let go of expectations. Despite my best efforts to stay bitter about surfing, whether I liked it or not, surfing had gripped my soul for life, and would not let it go. For about an hour, I got a feel for the wave momentum and for the board, attempting pop-ups and getting close to standing several times.
Several more attempts. Several more failures. Another wave approached. I positioned myself again and paddled to match the wave’s momentum. When I felt the wave moving me forward, in one fluid motion, I dropped my hands to my ribs, swung my feet under my torso, and popped up. And once again, I was surfing, just like that. Instantly I felt the same shock and awe that I’d felt in Jamaica, completely surprised that I was standing. I was lost in that glorious and spiritual moment, gliding on the whitewater, relaxed, and riding beloved Mother Ocean. I rode that beautiful wave until the very last second, until it dissipated in the shallows close to shore. I hopped off the board and took a moment to face the sun in my glowing elation to soak up the reality of what had just happened.
I was so completely lost in that perfect moment that I almost didn’t notice the motion in my periphery. I turned and looked to shore, where MK appeared from nowhere, sprinting full speed toward me. She plunged into the water, her feet spraying droplets in every direction, and threw her arms around me.
“You did it! You surfed! YOU SURFED!” she was yelling with the utmost joy.
I have no shame in admitting I choked up. This thing that had lit a fire within my soul, to which I had committed so many hours, for which I had suffered countless wipeouts and beatings; I had almost given it up completely. She knew better. She was there when I bitterly threw in the towel. And she was there when I humbly retracted it. The truest of friends will stand beside you at your worst, and stand beside you at your best.
For our remaining Costa Rican days, we would go out in the afternoons and I would surf until I could no longer lift my arms or my body, not from a hundred wipeouts or from multiple ocean colonoscopies (although I still have my fair share of them), but from paddling and popping up to sheer exhaustion. For our remaining Costa Rican nights, we would wander around town tipsy, happy, listening to live music and vibing with the locals.
My mentality shifted permanently. The first time I took my board out upon returning to Myrtle Beach, I caught the majority of waves I went after. Over the last three years, during my surfing journey, when anyone would ask if I surfed, I would say, “Sort of,” or “I try.” But I couldn’t with conviction call myself a surfer until I could pop up with confidence. As with any new skill or hobby, you never stop learning. I’m only a few steps above beginner, and I have a world of knowledge yet to obtain. But today, if you happen to ask me, you will hear my indubitable reply:
Yes. I’m a surfer.