Beach Break Playa Cocles

 

By now you probably know my thoughts on fear.

How every day I try to challenge myself to do something that truly scares me.

That boarding an airplane, which I do with regularity, is one of the most terrifying experiences I can imagine.

 

Surfing in Playa Guiones

 

Yesterday I faced another fear.

The ocean.

 

Surfing in Playa Cocles

 

You heard it right. This beach bumming world wanderer is terrified of the sea.

 

Surfing in Playa Pavones

 

As a child I was fearless in the ocean. Growing up near the Eastern shore in the United States I spent summer holidays body surfing in waves that towered over my tiny body, sucked me under, tumbled me into a vigorous rinse cycle, then spit me onto the shore. I had no fear. I trusted that the tide would always bring me back.

 

Surfing in Playa Guiones

 

I carried that fearlessness with me around the world. In Bocas del Toro, Panama I swam in a wave coined “the backbreaker,” stood boardless with surfers in Oahu between sets locals wouldn’t consider, and ignored the red flags at the Costa Rican Caribbean shore.

 

Surfing in Playa Pavones

 

Until the day I almost drowned.

 

Surfing in Playa Guiones

 

It happened in Puerto Viejo, at Beach Break in Playa Cocles last June. One of the most notorious breaks in all of Central America. I ignored the rip tide warnings and went swimming, by myself. When it stopped being fun and started feeling scary, I began to paddle towards the shore, hoping the waves would bring me in. Instead they dragged me further out, exhausting me with each crash. I was stuck in a riptide, and as much as I knew to swim parallel to safety, I continued to fight the insurmountable strength of the ocean. I reached a point where I felt so utterly exhausted I simply couldn’t fight anymore. I began to accept the idea that I might never reach the shore. That I might drown. That I might die.

 

Surfing in Playa Pavones

 

Since then I have developed a new respect for the ocean. I heed its warnings. I back down in fear.

 

Surfing in Playa Pavones

 

Living once again in Puerto Viejo, where surfing is practiced as often and intentionally as meditation in a Buddhist monastery, I felt compelled to face this fear. To face the ocean. The same ocean that almost took my life.

 

Surfing in Playa Pavones

 

And I will be honest, it was terrifying.

 

Surfing in Playa Pavones

 

I paddled through waves closing out over my head, occasionally sucked into their swirling vacuum and spewed back to the surface, with nothing supporting me but the encouraging words of my friend Nena and my 7′ pintail. Rocking in the green water, floating over the soft peaks of waves that dropped beyond me in a frothy white cliff, I felt sick with fear. But I sat, and I stayed. I reintroduced myself to the ocean, this time with humility.

 

Isle of Cocles

 

Big sets came in. Sets I knew I couldn’t float. Sets I knew I couldn’t ride. I threw my board behind me and ducked below each wave. Trusting that eventually they would push me up for air. My heart pounded rapidly, my breath was shallow. So I sat, and I stayed. I let the panic pass. And when I time was right, I rode in.

 

Surfing in Playa Pavones

 

Did I conquer this fear? Can I now dive headfirst without trepidation?

 

Surfing in Playa guiones

 

Absolutely not. In fact it makes me feel sick to even think about my experience yesterday.

 

Surfing in Playa guiones

 

 

But somehow I am itching, I am yearning, to get right back out.

So I will.

 

 

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