Tamarindo is full of surf shops. Every business seems to offer surf lessons. We ask Cedric, from the Hotel Gardinia, where we are staying, who we should chose. He tells us he has a good friend, Sabrina , who he will call. She is a serious instructor he says. She owns the Costa Rica Surf Club.
Sabrina picks Linda and I up at the hotel in her nice Chinese built SUV. She is a beautiful 30ish soccer mom type. Very friendly, very bright.
Turns out she and her husband, Diego, both from Argentina, own a shop on the busy street that parallels the beach. They have been at it for 12 years. They have two kids nine and five.
In 2006, their first shop burned down and they lost everything. It was not insured. The same year their friend lost a child in an accident. They feel fortunate to have only lost a business. Now they are thriving again and thinking of building a house.
As I suspected she is not going to teach me. That will be Julio. He is very good she says.
At the shop we pay only $45 not the $80 that most shops charge. She says they control their own prices. Julio says the $80 includes board rental for the day but after a 1.5 to 2 hour lesson I will not want to go out again.
Julio is a good looking, super fit 24 to 28 year old. He has been teaching for ten years, two in Costa Rica. He is actually a displaced oil trade worker from Venezuela, now happy to be only teaching surfing and playing bongos in a band. His girlfriend is pregnant. They are happy.
Julio starts with dry land training. I have seen it all before you tube videos except that the “pop up” technique I have been practicing is more for short boards not the 10 ft foam long I get to learn on.
He is impressed that I am almost 69 and learning to surf. His dad is 65 and fit but will not surf. Surfing to Julio is the ultimate sport. He explained “Everyone should learn surfing. It’s just you, your skills, a board and the unpredictable waves. Like life.”
We walk out into the water away from where all the other beginner surfers are to a less busy area near some body surfers. The waves are good beginner waves. Maybe 4 high. They come in groups of 4 or 5 with lots of flat water between groups. The water is colder than I expected. I am glad I bought my “shorty” wet suit. I am skinny and I know I will be cold. Julio wears one too but we are the only ones who do.
Julio shows me how to walk the board out to where the body surfers are. Lift the nose when the waves come in. There are a few beginner surfers out there too but they do not have instructors and are struggling.
I am glad to notice that there is no paddling out to the waves. We can walk. We start where the water is chest high. Good, I will not have to exhaust myself paddling.
He shows me how to pull myself up on the board from the side and position myself relative to the markers on the board. A line down the middle. A mark that my chin should be positioned above. Hands to the side of my chest. Do not grab the board. Feet touching each other. Toes on the board.
He reads the waves and lines the board up facing the shore so he can push me with the wave. As he pushes, the wave catches the board and I feel a rush and the front of the board starts racing. It is fast. He yells, “Get up”. I arch my back up like I have practiced and bring my feet under me and get up. I am up and almost balanced. For a short ride and then I fall backwards.
Julio is impressed. He says my front foot has to be more forward. We walk back to our start point. The next few rides are the same. Up and fall. Things happen so fast I am not sure if my front foot is coming up further or not.
Finally I get a longer ride going. I fall and he tells me my back arm is behind me like a snowboarder, not elbow bent forward like a surfer. I say I will try but in fact there are too many little things to think about and it all happens so fast. A surfboard is much less stable than a snowboard.
Next time I get up and feel balanced for the first time and think I am actually surfing. He yells “bend your legs”. I drop down deeper and am pleased that my balance improves. I have a moment of being proud and the ride ends with me pitching to the side. Julio is excited for me like a good instructor should be. He praises me for being a fast learner. The body surfers have noticed my long ride too. Smiles all around.
The next three tries are short. I am losing concentration. I suggest we go in for a rest.
We find Linda where she is watching on the beach and she is full of praise.
We have another half hour of lessons left. We go out again.
On the first ride I get up quickly and am doing well when I notice that the board is going parallel to the wave behind me not perpendicular like Julio says a long board has to be. I make a quick adjustment automatically like I would on a snowboard (not sure what) and all of a sudden I am rushing toward the beach. I crouch lower and think, “I am surfing”.
It’s a long run, but of course, I fall. I get up and face the beach toward where I think Linda is and flex my muscles in celebration.
Julio and I celebrate and congratulate each other on the way back out. He is pleased. The next rides are not so successful but still promising.
Finally I have another long ride, like a surfer, and I make it almost all the way to the beach. I fall off noticing that sand is only 6 or 8 inches below the water.
The next few times I get up but have lost my concentration. Julio says it’s the wind that has come up that is causing us problems. We try one more wave and it’s a good enough ride to quit on.
It’s been a successful lesson. Linda is impressed and Julio and I are happy. Agreements are made for more lessons. Julio says I will be exhausted and need a day of rest. He is right.
Sabrina offers to drive Linda and I to the buy groceries and back to the hotel. Service above and beyond.
That night over a nice dinner that Linda prepares I ask her if she had seen my long rides and if l looked like a surfer. She Looks at me kindly and says, “You looked like an old man who is learning how to surf”. Then she smiles. That is as good as I can expect.
Next lesson I learn how to read the waves and paddle to start without Julio’s push.