I could not believe my eyes. Clean, six-foot faces feathered by offshore winds. The sun yawning behind me, I stood on the warm sand in utter awe of the ocean before me on a perfect winter morning. My first visit to Costa Rica, a three-month sojourn, already felt like a success and I hadn’t even paddled out yet. As I dipped my toes into the water I was struck by the temperature. Could this really be the same Pacific as the chilly one I knew so well? Every map and globe I’d ever seen had suggested yes. Wading through the shallows brought on a giddiness as I watched the waves peel both right and left. There were few surfers in the water just past dawn and I had a seemingly endless number of peaks to choose from. I feared I might wake from this dream.
Luck, more than anything else, helped me out into the lineup with ease. Just a few mild duck dives between sets and the benefits of good timing. I propped up to a seated position from just past the break and looked east. Three miles of pristine sand hugged by jungle sat before me, several shadowy figures moving about the beach. The sun had begun to peek out from behind the mountains in the distance, me squinting with a hand over my eyes. Two huge tuna swam past me lazily without a care in the world, wholly uninterested in my presence.
Turning back out to sea I saw some bumps on the horizon; it was finally time to ride a genuine Costa Rican wave. The takeoff was forgiving and smooth, the drop easy. Everything slowed down as I drew out a bottom turn that seemed to last forever, providing plenty of speed to attack the lip. But as I ascended the face I felt no need to throw a big hack, instead opting for a long and velvety carve back into the vein. After four such turns, I kicked out, senses firing on all cylinders. It was almost too much to take in and all I could do was clench every muscle in ecstasy, utter a soft hoot and paddle back out to do it again.
More than three hours later I reluctantly returned to land, my arms feeling like pieces of overdone spaghetti. The air smelled sweet and the wind blew so forcefully that it nearly took the board right out of my hand. I turned back to the sea once more, thanking it for what it had just given me. Could this really be the next three months of my life?
A short hike back through the jungle revealed the morning heat to be surprisingly strong, but nothing could shake me from the wave I was still riding. Iguanas scattered, bird squawked and monkeys growled all around me as I ascended to my dwelling atop the hill. I was asleep within ten minutes of setting down my board.
That evening, hungry and sunburned, Pedro and I traveled the jungle trail to town in search of food. We’d picked up a few essentials on our way in from the airport the night before; rice, eggs, hot sauce, beer. But our stomachs yearned for a heartier meal. The Beach Dog Café was the first eatery we came upon and it seemed a good a place as any to fill our bellies.
A couple Imperials and some top-notch fajitas had us feeling loose and happy. It happened to be Open Mic Night at the joint and the local talent was impressive. A beautiful blonde girl with an even more beautiful voice serenaded the crowd with love songs. A young bearded guy with unique pipes sang softly. The Imperials kept flowing. There eventually came a gap in performers and more were requested. I’d had enough beer to oblige. Eric Clapton I am not, but I’d played in beach bars before. After a few tunes and a reception as warm as the weather, I happily bowed out so others could play. A free beer was my reward from the owner. Tattooed and muscular, he struck an imposing presence but I sensed a softness within. We talked for a bit, and I told him that I’d be back.
And back I was, regularly. Pedro and I quickly befriended other musicians and surfers, the Beach Dog acting as a kind of community hub. Surf by day, jam sessions by night. It was a life worth living, and after three months I was sad to see it go. I knew, however, that I would return. I just didn’t know when or why, or how different that trip would turn out to be.