I firmly believe in the importance of starting each year off right. Maybe it’s the tiny bit of writer in me and the infinite allure of the blank white page (now screen?). But I refuse to become disillusioned by the overblown hoopla of New Years because I reeeeally want new beginnings to mean something.
This past New Year’s 2012, I determined there should be no better way to christen one of life’s blank white pages than with something terrifying. Forging ahead through fear is usually a most satisfying experience (after the fact, of course- the actual forging sucks), and lucky for me, I won’t run out of these satisfying experiences because I find a lot of ridiculous things terrifying.
Day #10, 852: New Years Day 2012: Mr. M & I & my sister S (you remember her!) spent New Years in Puerto Rico, in the little surfing town of Rincon.
The ocean seems distinctly suited for New Years. Something about the ebbing of times past and the washing in of new adventures, right? I love the sea… from a distance, that is. I’m horrified by actually having to get in it. The waves scare me (Will they swallow me up? Crash me headfirst onto rocks?)… fish scare me (Are they pissed that I’m in their territory? Will they bite? Is that a friggin’ shark??)… seaweed scares me (What the hell just touched my foot?! Ohmygaaawwww!!). I’m just an embarrassing, blubbering wreck. I’ve been out into deep, not-able-to-touch-the-ocean-floor waters preposterously few times. I shame my beachy Southern California roots.
Which is why I decided that 2012 should begin in the Caribbean Sea. On a surfboard.
That afternoon we drove to the little beach house where we’d been told to meet our instructor, Collin. A tan kid nursing a New Years hangover directed us downstairs, where we waited. A couple minutes later, in a flurry of F-bombs, shirtless and with a can of beer in hand, Collin burst into the room and immediately broke into a smile. He announced that he liked our look and was happy we weren’t lame. I was surprised how secretly pleased this made me. It’s always nice to hear you’re not lame.
Collin told us he had bad news (more F-bombs). He had some business to tend to and needed us to hold off for an hour. After apologizing profusely- even though we were happy to postpone our fate for another 60 minutes- Collin suggested we get lunch down the hill at Rock Bottom, which he assured us was “cool.” Presumably it had also passed the Lame or Not test. He also told us to get some booze in us to loosen up. You gotta be loose to surf.
So we headed down to Rock Bottom and found ourselves in Jeff Spicoli’s own personal Garden of Eden. The music was up. Loud. Half the people inside looked as though they’d never made it home from the night before.
An older surfer who was either super drunk or a little crazy- or bonus, both!- was yelling at the top of his lungs about free love and how you gotta FEEL the OCEAN, bro. FEEL IT. Tequila shots were being slammed at the bar. It was noon. I was scared.
One hour, two sandwiches, no booze, and a whole lotta Crazy Surfer later, we were ‘loosened up’ and back at the surf school.
We signed away our lives via waiver, and Collin had us practice hopping up on the board. He emphasized that we shouldn’t think about the mechanics too much… when he yelled ‘pop up,’ we were to spring up- no thinking or second guessing, or we’d miss the wave. Despite the day’s windy conditions, Collin announced us fit and determined fear would be our biggest handicap. Ugh, isn’t that always the case?
“Right,” he proclaimed, “Let’s hit the beach.”
Deep breaths. Deeeep breaths.
And the rest was a salty, exhausting, wind-blown, terrifying blur.
I know I made it out past the breaker, and I know that my fear of being half-eaten by a shark was rapidly forgotten in the wake of the rising waves, which kept slapping me in the face and flinging salt water into my burning eyes. I know that despite paddling ashardasIpossiblycould, the wind kept forcing me back, towards the rocky shallows that Collin told us to avoid. At some point Collin grabbed the back of my board, pushed me towards the shore, and screamed at me to POP UP, POP UP! I also know that I did- clearly without thinking because I was way past that. For no more than a second, I was actually riding a wave!
Despite all my oratorical bravado, I only stayed in the ocean for an hour or so. Everything hurt. I was completely and utterly exhausted, physically and mentally. But I did it. And had a big old smile on my face as I spit up salt water and collapsed on the sand.
Despite riding her own wave like a pro, sister S was a little more demoralized. Collin pulled out his board and came and sat with us under a palm tree on the beach.
Collin told us that he was only 28, and that he’d been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease a few years earlier. It would eventually take his life, and he wasn’t sure he had another decade left in him. Collin went on to tell us how much he loved being out on the ocean, how he always had since he was a boy growing up in Jersey, how he planned to grow the school and surf the Pacific and… His eyes lit up, and you could just tell he was back out in the water.
S and I were speechless, humbled by the idea of throwing yourself into life so aggressively.
Crusted with sand and all three now exceedingly smug at having “conquered” the ocean (Who knew Mr. M was actually an amazing surfer? Wha?), we hugged Collin and thanked him for quite possibly the best New Year’s gift ever.
It’s always wonderful when you’re reminded to live, fully and passionately and wildly, until you can’t. To ride the waves, if you will.
And maybe even enjoy them smacking you in the face.
Details of the Day:
Rincon Surf School is the absolute best. Seriously. I was determined to go surfing on New Years Day and couldn’t find a school that was willing to give us a lesson due to the holiday. Collin told me it’d be no problem and took us out himself so his guys could still have the day off. It was just our group, so we essentially had a private lesson. For all my dramatics, I never felt genuinely unsafe- those boys know their stuff when it comes to surfing and are unbelievably patient. Even with water-phobes like me.
**Big thanks to my partner in surf, Sister S, whose photos are sprinkled throughout the post**