Surfing: A Mission in Progress

The first few days at the Surf Sanctuary we took time to explore the beach, watch the waves, test the water. I’ll admit, the waves at Playa Santana—though not very big in  February, the middle of dry season—were a bit stronger than I’d have liked for my first attempt at surfing. My swimming was already much improved, but I was a little worried about tiring too quickly and in my head, I hesitated. Just for a second.

I needn’t have worried, though. When we set up our lesson I was happy to see that we would be learning not on Playa Santana proper, but a short way up the shoreline where the Magnific Rock resort (aka Mag Rock) was located, at Popoyo. One of the breaks there is literally referred to as “Beginner’s Bay.” That eased my mind.

The lodging and restaurant at Mag Rock sit on a bluff adjacent to the aptly named rock and after parking and getting our gear we carried our boards down the steep natural staircase to the beach and wound our way around the point, over Mag Rock’s slabby glory, and toward Beginner’s Bay.


When we reached our destination on the beach we set our boards  down, noses toward the water and the lesson began: parts of the board, waxing the board, the pop-up, what it means to be regular-footed or goofy-footed (I’m goofy-footed, by the way), etc.

A short while and a dozen pop-ups later we took our boards and headed into the water. I was excited but still fearful. Waist-deep in the surf and I was on my belly, paddling forward, Brad, our instructor, never too far. The waves were small, perfect for beginners, but they were strong. I was comforted by the fact that it was not very deep.

Brad was great—patient, kind, encouraging. He helped me get into position to attempt to catch waves and counted down for me to help me time my pop-up. I focused and concentrated and tried, over and over, but I would not stand up that first day.

Eventually, my energy was spent. Getting knocked down and tumbling in the sea is tiring and after I don’t know how many falls I got wrapped up in my leash and felt a little panicked. Of course, it was then that I caught my only wave of the day—which I rode to shore on my belly! It wasn’t how I planned to catch a wave, but I felt that sense of being lifted and carried by the wave, and I felt safe.

On the shore I watched the other surfers and student surfers and felt disappointed in my performance. But then I realized that, for all my failures that day I also accomplished something very important for myself. I was repeatedly tossed around in the ocean, and I didn’t breathe in or swallow one drop of water. In fact, I didn’t even think about not breathing in swallowing water, I just didn’t. I just swam. This was enormous for me.

Regarding my surfing potential, I’ll admit I was somewhat discouraged. I was also a bit battered—the surf kicks up some of the small pebbles and rocks and while I didn’t feel them at the time I came out of my first lesson with an array of small bruises. I was pretty proud of those bruises, though—all that tumult and not a drop of seawater swallowed.

It was several days before I took another lesson. I approached it with a little more confidence than the first time and a different fear. What if I still couldn’t do it? What if I wasn’t as connected to the ocean as I believed I was? What if it didn’t click?

I needn’t have worried. I could. I was. And it did.

Don’t get too excited—I didn’t stand up and realize I was a natural, I’ve got a long way to go. But I did stand up. Not right away, Not that many times. And not for very long. But I did it.

I got on my board, and paddled. I felt stronger, more confident, determined. And once I was in the surf, more a part of it. I paddled out, past the waves, over the just-about-to-break crests, the spray coming back to shower over us.

Brad …
and Armando

Brad and Armando taught our group of four that day and one of them was always comfortably nearby—we moved from one to the other like batons between relay runners. But this time I found needed less help, and I was happy the first lesson had seemed to stick. According to Brad, I looked like a different person on my board that second day. And I felt different too.

I felt stronger and more in control of my board. I felt relaxed as I waited in the lineup, and after each tumble I hoisted myself back onto my board as if I’d done it a thousand times. The falling, I was totally getting used to.

And then it all fell into place: the paddle, the turn, the break, and the pop-up. And in a fraction of a second, it all came together.

Behind me I heard the cheers and whoops from my friends and our instructors, I felt the whoosh of being carried by the wave, and I felt, what I imaging is only the beginning of what means to surf.

Moments later I was in the soup again, but I surfaced laughing and saw the smiling, encouraging  faces of friends new and old, I didn’t feel the self-consciousness that would normally come when others watched me fall. In fact, I didn’t even think about having fallen—I was thrilled about having stood up! In that moment, the support and witness of others gave me more confidence and I felt proud of my accomplishment, however short-lived.

When I decided to give surfing a try, the idea was to learn a sport and test my physical abilities. As I expected, the sport was challenging and yes, the experience would test my strength and agility. But what I didn’t realize was how much it would heighten my senses, how much I my sensibilities would expand. The water and the waves both command respect and offer comfort: they can be a source of fear and or inspire beauty and joy. You just need to learn its language, and I’m learning. And that connection to the ocean that I’ve always felt . . . yeah, it’s real.


There is a famous quote about surfing by Phil Edwards that states “the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.” Well, I don’t know how much fun everyone else was having that day, but by that standard, the best surfer that day could very well have been me.

I’m proud I can check my February goal off my #2018ToDo list, but it’s only the beginning. I actually dream about surfing now, about being on the waves (and being in them!). I think about achieving surfing milestones and about all the places I’d like to travel to surf.

I believe this is the beginning of a lifelong pursuit—my goal transformed into a mission. Thanks for sharing this first ride!


    1. Melaina Balbo

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I will absolutely stick with it and look forward to sharing stories. Surfing was the perfect remedy that I didn’t even know I needed!

      Liked by 1 person

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