Costa RicaCosta Rica

Day 16: The Good Life

Destination: Pavones

wipeoutFor peak wave conditions, the best time to surf in Pavones is the few hours before and during high tide. Today this would fall in the afternoon, meaning that I could enjoy a leisurely morning. After a big breakfast panini with fresh fruit, I caught the tail end of Free Willy on Satellite TV -- and then watched a much more entertaining family of squirrel monkeys play in the trees from my window.

Around noon, Vincent, Aaron and I walked downtown to meet Tommy Neuner, an instructor for Venus Surf Camp, an organization whose curriculum -- while they do feature some co-ed programs -- is generally tailored for women. After 23 years of surfing Hawaii, Mexico, and all along the eastern coast of the USA, Tommy says that Costa Rica's unbelievably long point break at Pavones is his favorite spot.

guinness book of world record contestant for largest board in the worldAfternoons are typically windy with choppy tides, as the smoother ones normally roll in during the morning hours. Today was no exception. On our way to the beach, a local said hello and noted that the waves were small --small is a relative concept, because in comparison to Guanacaste's beach breaks, they were enormous.

I watched the talented surfers ride this tremendous rock break, picking up massive amounts of speed and launching into jumps and tricks. Most fun to watch were the children effortlessly playing in the waves, reverse tail spinning into the air like human tops.

At first, I was a little intimidated by the size of the break. While the waves were only at about five feet, they looked big to me. At my request, Tommy selected the smaller ones in the beginning, pushing my board forward at just the right moment.

I ate salt my first three tries before finally conquering a long wave. It began to rain, and sitting on that board in the middle of the ocean and watching the drops bounce off of the water was a beautiful sight. Within five minutes it had stopped, and I became more focused.

trying to surf tandemBesides the fact that I wasn't terribly coordinated on this particular day, the instructor noticed two big mistakes with my technique.

First of all, I was rushing the process, forgetting to break it down into steps: line up, push up, jump up, and ride.

Secondly, I was trying to catch my breath in the "crash zone," or the area where the waves fall. It is safer and more efficient to push through the crash zone until the water is calmer for a rest.

pavones surferWe tried riding tandem -- meaning two people on one board at the same time -- because I was having such a hard time getting up by myself. The teacher rode in the back, and I in the front. While this sounds harder and much more complicated than riding solo, it was actually easier because Tom could hold the board steady for me, essentially doing half the work. This gave me one less thing to worry about, and allowed me to practice standing up on the large waves.

I was proud of myself for lasting as long as I did. Five months ago I was not doing yoga regularly, and could only spend about 45 minutes to an hour surfing; summoning enough strength to paddle effectively was a struggle at best. With stronger arms, the sport was not nearly as challenging -- and I found myself out in the water for over two hours.

girl surfing an amazing waveWhen it was time to get out of the ocean, there was no need to struggle with the current. I body surfed the deep water close to the shore, until a wave picked me up and placed me gently on soft sand. I had an adrenaline buzz for the next hour or so, and can now understand how people become addicted to this pastime.

The surf camp's running water was temporarily out when we returned, so we improvised and rinsed the saltwater off our bodies in the river. Aaron then introduced me to his friends at the nearby school and learning facility, Camino Claro.

Haley Whitley and Raphel Weber are only 24 and 25 years old, but already owners and teachers of a successful community education center in Pavones -- I could not believe how young they were for all that they had accomplished.

pavones coastlineThe school is a non-profit, non-religiously affiliated tutoring center that was formed because neighborhood kids demanded a place to learn. For some children, classes at Camino Claro are the only formal education they have. Haley and Raphel never turn anyone away due to monetary restrictions, offering scholarships to anyone who demonstrates a genuine will to learn. The organization also teaches English to many local hotel workers, creating a positive impact in the Pavones community.

a "sweeper" sweeping, a cross between surfing and kayakingBy now we were getting hungry, and Aaron and Jamie had invited us out to the best Italian place in town: Bruschettas at La Pina Restaurant. The four of us ordered an absurd amount of food, and shared the platters as if they were tapas. Pizza, gnocchi, bruschetta, tiramisu, and other delicacies were carefully prepared and carried out of the kitchen by Rosella, the beautiful Italian owner. Two hours and two bottles of wine later, we returned to Castillo de Pavones. It was hard not to be sad that I would be dragged kicking and screaming from the hotel the following morning in time to catch the 12:00 p.m. bus.

Day 16: The Good Life in Pictures