Just don’t fall then.
That is actually what he told me as we were getting ready to paddling out at Little Hawaii, one of the breaks at Playa Avellanas, in the pre-dawn light at low tide. You could see rocks sticking up here and there in the impact zone and water boiling above those unseen ones waiting menacingly just below the surface.
Not falling wasn’t something I considered myself to be completely in control of at this point. Surfing was still an unpredictable mix of being in the wrong spot, too far in or too far out, sometimes a hand slipping off the rail when popping up. Other times my feet just being in the wrong spot or a knee might drag. Any number of things might go wrong.
Just don’t fall?
Admittedly, I had come a long way, and was having entire sessions where I didn’t miss a take off or only fell if I was really throwing myself into a maneuver. But still, this idea of not falling because I can’t fall, because it is too consequential to fall, was foreign to me. At this point I didn’t fall because I didn’t fall, it just happened. It wasn’t something I told myself not to do.
But as we paddled out I knew it was a special time, a special session, where clean, glassy waves broke in the windless morning and the swell was big enough to be pushing my limits but absolutely do-able, not reckless.
But the tide, the shallowness of it was hard to ignore. Not only was the danger visible in the form of rock and reef, but it also gave the wave a more consequential shape, steeper, hollower, faster.
Falling into the trough of the wave would be a problem, taking the rest of the waves of the set would be another.
Just don’t fall then.
These words ran through my head one last time before the bliss of oblivion erased them and any other thought from my head. Not the oblivion of the body, but of the mind. The wave, the ride, the consequence obliterating anything other than instinct.
We caught a few waves, I was being as cautious and conservative as possible considering the conditions. I guess my confidence had grown as I saw a bump grow on the horizon and decided to go for it – feeling the steepness of the wave building behind me, Scrappy looking hesitant, urging me on with his thoughts and a quizzical grin that said, ‘Really, you’re going for that one?’ – not quite the same as the whoops and yewwwws of a more confident partner.
Wave selection, this critical decision that gets more critical with size instead of just being an inconvenience, like everything else in the physical, still a part of surfing yet to be anything close to mastered.
Surfing Avellanas – Burned Into My Memory
Still today, years later, I can see the wave at Avellanas in my mind. The 7’6 Basic Element surfboard board, white with green trim, contrasting against the impossible blue of the water. I can see the untouched shoreline and the rocks that are between the break and the beach. I can even see myself, this person who is me but so much younger.
Springing to my feet as the back of the board begins to lift, smoothly landing and staying low in a crouch, not flailing, not wasting any bit of movement that might disturb the delicate balance.
I am goofy footed and heading right. You can’t just go straight. It isn’t an option.
So once I make the drop I lean into my heals, staying low, grabbing the rail. The wave is crashing behind me and walling up in front. Safety is further down the line.
Grabbing the rail to make the turn, I am cautious not to dig too deep, not to loose my speed and get sucked up the wall to the other oblivion, the physical one that would happen if I took a top to bottom fall here, riding the lip like a waterfall. This is the other balance, the balance of movement, not of falling but of doing things in just the right amount, not enough and you don’t make the turn, too much and well, it’s over.
Making the turn, I’m back up on the face of the wave but I’m still hidden from view by its height and my position. Everything is moving fast, nothing of that world slowing down sort. I have let go of the rail and am standing, not in the cocky relaxed stance of the pro making this look easy, but in the way you do when you’re ready for anything, cautious but prowling.
My eyes are open. My consciousness soaking in every drop of water, every movement, every sound and color all at once. An explosion of life, streaming through the senses.
The final part of the experience, the part that I still get wrong sometimes, is still ahead of me. There’s still the part that you can get so wrong that it destroys everything that you have earned to this point. This part where you’re brain doesn’t want this to end. Ever. To keep riding, to keep going. A bliss so strong, yet must be torn away from.
To not end the ride in time is another opportunity for oblivion, crashing in a closeout of destruction, being pitched forward onto nearly-dry reef. The world will close around you. Right now you are the tiny wrasse cleaning the shark’s mouth. You are feasting, but you can’t stay.
In this moment I make that decision. The right one.
As the wave begins to steepen yet again, beginning its final oblivion where it closes on itself, I dig in toward the lip, my speed launching me into the air. My body flying up until the eight-foot leash goes taught to the board I have left behind, and pulls me back to earth, falling into the safety of the deeper, calmer water following behind the wave’s crest.
On a watch, merely seconds have passed. In those seconds I have traveled so far down the reef my paddle out will be long and slow. I’ll also paddle slow to let the enormity of this event sink into my subconscious, deep into memories, the file of highlights of a lifetime.
There’s no rush just as there’s no guarantee I’ll get another ride like this.
My face is wearing the true bliss of living. Grinning so widely I feel silly, then I realize Scrappy is grinning just as widely for me. He’s holding his head in near disbelief not only that I chose that wave, but that I survived the ride. He saw me paddle in, then come flying out at the end and that was enough for him to know it was serious.
The entire part in the middle was just for me.
Planning a surf trip to Costa Rica?
If you are planning a surf trip to Costa Rica, you’ve come to the right place. Little Hawaii is a break at Playa Avellanas, an amazing beach to check out if you are in the Tamarindo area. You can read about other tales of surfing Avellanas or our Guide to Avellanas Costa Rica.
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