Learn­ing about life by rid­ing the waves

Surf­ing brings ‘pura vida’ into fo­cus

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Travel - Break­ing news at calgaryher­ald.com PAULA WOR­THING­TON

They say that Costa Ri­cans are the hap­pi­est peo­ple on Earth. Whether it’s the World Data­base of Hap­pi­ness or the Happy Planet In­dex, Costa Rica reg­u­larly comes out on top in terms of self­sat­is­fac­tion about life. No sur­prise, given Costa Rica’s “pura vida” life­style.

Cu­ri­ous about this pure life, I ven­tured to the town of Ta­marindo, to seek some higher learn­ing at surf school.

Af­ter a re­fresher les­son with a gen­tle in­struc­tor on Day 1, I was paired the next day with in­struc­tor Percy Lawrence. He had an in­fec­tious smile and spirit; I knew my surf ed­u­ca­tion was about to change.

As we walked out to the ocean, I was keen to jump on the board, but Percy kept me on the beach, ly­ing on the board and pad­dling into the sand, a sure sign of a novice surfer.

“Pad­dle, pad­dle,” Percy in­structed. “You have to prac­tise, and build your mus­cle mem­ory.”

I fi­nally passed the “pad­dle the sand” test and stood up, but Percy con­tin­ued to keep me from the water, telling me to watch the waves.

He asked, “How long did it take for those waves to get here?” Still in ul­tra-an­a­lytic city mode, I did some quick cal­cu­la­tions in my head, des­per­ately try­ing to re­call late-night news ex­pla­na­tions of how long it takes a tsunami to travel across the Pa­cific.

“Umm, three weeks?” I said, ten­ta­tive in my re­sponse, but con­fi­dent there was a right or wrong an­swer.

“Maybe,” Percy said slowly, “Maybe less, maybe more. But it doesn’t mat­ter any­more. What mat­ters is that the wave has trav­elled all the way here, and now, you have the priv­i­lege of rid­ing it.”

Af­ter briefly rolling my eyes at his philo­soph­i­cal rhetoric, I had a re­al­ity check. Not every­thing had to be right or wrong here. In that mo­ment, I left my city men­tal­ity be­hind in favour of a pura vida at­ti­tude.

Over the next sev­eral days, Percy al­ter­nately en­cour­aged, yelled, praised and crit­i­cized.

I limped out of the water at the end of each day, but ev­ery morn­ing re­turned for more. Be­yond gain­ing con­fi­dence on the board, I couldn’t help but draw some par­al­lels be­tween surf­ing and life.

For a shorter trek to Ta­marindo, try to fly to Liberia, in the north­west­ern prov­ince of Gua­nacaste, about an hour’s drive from Ta­marindo.

I stayed at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, lo­cated on the beach. Pack­ages in­clude lessons, board rental, ac­com­mo­da­tions, daily sem­i­nars and break­fast.

Surf schools are be­com­ing widely avail­able all over the world, rang­ing from one-day lessons to week­long (or longer) surf ex­pe­di­tions. with most Cana­dian win­ter sports, it didn’t seem right to head out the door bare­foot, with just a board tucked awk­wardly un­der my arm.

Keep life sim­ple — look at every­thing around you, and un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween what it is you want and what you re­ally need.

On the third day, I seemed to be do­ing every­thing right, but just as I stood up, the wave would get in front of me, and I would lose mo­men­tum and sink into the water.

“Pad­dle, pad­dle!” I could hear Percy cry. Af­ter a few missed at­tempts, he swam over to me, sens­ing I was frus­trated. “Lis­ten,” he said.

“Why do you stop pad­dling when the wave starts to push you? That’s when you need to give two re­ally hard pad­dles. Why do all that work and then just stop?”

He was right. Never stop at 90 per cent. The last 10 per cent is the hard­est work, but of­ten pro­vides the best re­wards.

Surf­ing is as much about the peo­ple around you as it is about the waves. In ev­ery­day life, we have lead ac­tors in our lives, but we also have a huge set of sup­port­ing ac­tors. Some en­ter our lives for a scene or two; some be­come part of our life­long cast. This is par­tic­u­larly true when trav­el­ling. Let’s face it, ca­ma­raderie is in­evitable when you’re pad­dling side by side, a wave is about to break on top of you and you have a split­sec­ond de­ci­sion to go over, un­der or through. Get­ting to the other side of that wave to­gether of­ten turns a stranger into a friend.

Change up your sup­port­ing cast on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, and you’ll gain a broader per­spec­tive on life.

On my last day surf­ing, I was out prac­tis­ing on my own and caught a great wave. As I gazed to shore, I soon re­al­ized I was go­ing to run down Percy, who was coach­ing his next dis­ci­ple in the white­wash. As I ap­proached, I al­most jumped off my board to avoid him, but when he saw me, his sig­na­ture grin reap­peared. ‘Yeaaah!” he shouted, mov­ing out of the way and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally wav­ing me through. “Pura vida, man.”

Back at my land­locked desk, 41 de­grees lat­i­tude north of Costa Rica, I find that I think about waves at some point ev­ery day. How they sound, and how they curl. How, from the water, I saw the early morn­ing sun peek over the hills and then watched that same golden globe sink into the sea at the end of the af­ter­noon. I think about how next time, I’ll get on my feet faster and pad­dle harder. And dur­ing the ebb and flow of daily life, I hope my own tide takes me back to the surf soon.

Cour­tesy, Paula Wor­thing­ton

The surf scene in Costa Rica might just be the rea­son Costa Ri­cans reg­u­larly come out on top of the World Data­base of Hap­pi­ness and Happy Planet In­dex.

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