I learned to wake surf last summer, which seemed no small feat for someone with ground-only sports success and irrational fear of deep water. But I loved it, and my surf enthusiasm somehow spilled over to my reading list when I purchased Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. Of course, it pertains to surfing in the great uncontrolled environment, and I can absolutely confirm the obvious: the ocean is an entirely different surf to tame.
Or, in my case, to be tamed by. Sayulita and the surrounding Nayarit area is known for its surf, and seasoned surfers found it long before bumbling tourists like myself. And so to feel like a local, or at least like adventurous tourists, we took a beginning surf lesson. We traveled to the polished town of Punta de Mita, and carried our 7 foot-something boards down a half mile of delightfully shaded jungle path until we stumbled onto a gorgeous stretch of Pacific sand crashed upon by azul waves.
It was low tide, and Octavio gave a quick lesson on paddling and standing up on the beach before we plunged into the waves on our boards. I wasted no time in crashing, but carefully clambered to my feet on the second go-round and rode the wave – smiling even, according to photos – back to shallow ground (amateur tip: don’t jump knees first off your board in shallow water).
Already hobbled and sand-burnt, I headed back to sea. Learning to steer the board through the shore-crashers is definitely a challenge in itself. Once there, Octavio helped with my positioning and wisely chose my novice waves. And here is where reading and experience pleasantly collide: I’ve stared in awe at the ocean – and floated in it, boated over it, fished in it – many times. But had I ever appreciated the energy of a wave as I did when it forced my surfboard forward? Or how that energy, from winds and storms so far beyond my sight, had rolled their way to this very spot, and ultimately filled my entire left ear canal with seawater?
That’s how my last ride went. I surfed again, made it to the shallows, and fell off ungracefully. The larger, subsequent wave then crashed directly into my ear before dragging me beneath my board. Dazed, still limping, and with only half of hearing, I called it a day.
The waves don’t care about us, do they? We are another grain of sand, on the almost-powerless receiving end of an earth full of forces. But with another day or two to recover, as cursedly curious humans, we would have surfed again.