photo courtesy of www.1costaricalink.com
Today is our first full day of school. Julia (aka “Hoolia”) has photography while I have Spanish class, so we both wake up at 8am. Class starts at 10am, so we decide to have some breakfast in town. The main road into town is about a ten minute walk from the school and we quickly realize there is no such thing as “morning sun” – ya know the kind that’s not so strong until it hits about noon? Nope. Even at 8:30, it is roasting hot!
Breakfast is good, though more expensive than we anticipated - $10 per person. We’re both surprised at how expensive things are here since we heard prior to our departure, that Costa Rica is relatively cheap.
Back at school, I arrive to class armed with my Spanish/English dictionary, a notebook and a pen. I’m still very much prepared to be “outed” as the Spanish moron I believe myself to really be. However, I’m determined not to have to switch to the earlier class. In this class, there are four of us – 1 guy and 3 girls. Laura, our teacher (pronounced “LAOra”) is a small woman in her thirties with a muscular build, a raspy voice that squeaks from time to time, and a serious demeanor.
She begins class speaking in Spanish and I’m grateful for that month in Mexico in September because I’m able to follow along. She spends the first few minutes of the class explaining that, Kim, our fellow student, will catch us up on what we missed from the week before. The School of the World offers packages anywhere from a week-long stay to six months. I guess it’s hard to run a Spanish class if there’s a constant influx of new students, though Kim doesn’t look too thrilled to be appointed our tutor. As LAOra leaves the room, she makes a face, “I don’t know what I can teach you guys.” Her Australian accent seems to emphasize her confusion at being chosen to lead when clearly she’s not that far ahead of us. In the end, we just copy down her notes and chat amongst ourselves – in English.
LAOra comes back and we begin to go over the basics, mostly conversational stuff, like, “What’s your name? How old are you? Where are you from?” It’s stuff I’ve already learned, but the specifics of verb usage is certainly helpful. At one point, LAOra says to me, “Oh. I remember your test. You did everything in Italiano.” Surprised, I reply, “Uh..no. I don’t think that was me. I don’t even know Italian that well.” LAOra waves her finger at me. “NO! It was you.” I decide right then that I’m not too fond of LAOra – but she teaches all the Spanish classes, so I’m stuck with her. She goes on to mention that if I don’t know a certain amount of stuff, I should be in Spanish 1. I can’t resist adding with a tinge of defense in my voice, “Y’all placed me here, so....." I trail off deciding it's best not to piss off the teacher.
Ole! School has begun!!
At the end of class, we’re given homework which consists of a skit that the four of us have to make up incorporating all of the conversational stuff we learned today. The theme of the skit is a party and all LAOra keeps saying to us is, “SOOprize me. SOOprize me!” I join my fellow classmates who are just as unenthused as I am, in the next room to brainstorm ideas for the skit. In the end, we create a silly little scene where two of us announce that we are lesbians, one of us claims to be bisexual, and Mike, the only guy in the bunch, gets to exclaim in a pervy voice, “Me gusto Las Lesbianas!” It all reads like an X-rated Dick, Jane and Spot book, but class is over and I’m anxious to relax a little before surfing at 4pm.
The problem I have already is that the classes are stretched out over the entire course of the day giving us no time to do other things like explore places close to Jaco. This is a major drawback for me as I like to see other places beyond my immediate surroundings. Julia shares my irritation and we’re already planning to blow some classes off later in the week to take a day trip somewhere.
After making egg salad and a medley of fruit for lunch, it’s time to surf. Juila has yoga at 7pm so she decides to catch a ride to the beach with me and my fellow surfing students. We gather in the front area near the pool and everyone is given a surfboard. Mine is the largest, which is best for learning, but it’s huge – like seven or eight feet huge! We all have to carry our boards to the van and hand them up to one of the instructors so he can fasten them to the roof. Since mine is biggest, I’m first. Trying to maneuver my board through the front gate without hitting anyone is like getting on the 4 or 5 train at rush hour with bags of groceries, a suitcase and a stroller. I almost hit the instructor when I hoist my board up to him and suddenly, I’m extremely grateful that Juila’s coming with because I’m starting to feel really out of place and awkward.
We pile into the van – literally pile in. I’m so nervous there won’t be enough room for Juila because at this point, I want to cling to her like a child does to her mom on the first day of kindergarten, for security. Thankfully, we manage to fit into the van and with our three instructors in front, we’re off to the beach!
The van is old, with sagging seats and a sliding door that can only be opened from the outside. The muffler sounds like it’s seen better days, but I suppose it’s perfect for transport to and from the beach. Inside, there are about ten of us, plus the three instructors. The conversation is lively as most of these people have been at the school for a few weeks and they are clearly comfortable with one another. The problem is that the majority of them seem really young to me – in fact, most of the people I’ve met are in their twenties, so it’s no surprise when the conversation turns to text messaging and places to go where they offer all-you-can-drink specials.
Juila’s sitting across from me and she almost loses it when someone mentions Beer Pong. Mike, who’s 41, practically leaps out of his seat and raises his arms with excitement. “BEER PONG!! YES! Woohoo!” The look on Julia’s face is enough to make me pee in my pants as we’re both not big fans of the game best suited for college people. Frankly, I’m surprised at Mike whom I thought would be riding at more of mine and Julia’s speed, but I guess you never know.
photo courtesy of www.1costaricalink.com
At the beach, we pile out of the van, retrieve our boards and split into groups. I’m with Mike and Ben, a young, fair-skinned Canadian guy with a terrible sunburn on his legs. Our instructor, Rodriguo is originally from Argentina, but has lived in Costa Rica for the past seven years. His body is muscular and compact which I would imagine makes for good surfing.
We begin with our boards on the sand, practicing our positions. Each of us gets to lie facedown on the board, doing a simulated paddle with our hands in the sand and eventually popping up to our feet into full-on surf position. I’m worried about the “pop-up” as I’m not sure I have the upper body strength required to get up so quickly. The upright position is kind of like a lunge, with your hips square and your arms out. The main difference is that your knees fold inward, shifting the majority of your weight to your hips and abdominals. It’s awkward, for sure, but Rodriguo thinks we’re ready to get in the water.
To say that I’m freaking out would be an understatement. My surfboard is huge; I’m the only girl in my group; and I’m not so sure that popping up on my board three times ashore has left me fully equipped to surf. I remind myself to put my trust in Rodriguo even though he’s not the warmest guy – he’s still the expert here.
The waves are not very large, which is a relief to me. Apparently, it’s not to the others, but I don’t care. I’d surf in the mini-pool back at the school if I could right now. We all take our boards into the water and follow Rodriguo, who doesn’t have a board, out to sea. Fighting the waves with my humungous board, I’m sure, is giving Julia quite a show as I try to avoid getting hit in the face as the breaking waves smash the nose of the board back towards me as I do my best to keep up with the rest of the guys.
Once past the point where the waves break, it’s a bit easier to maneuver and it feels more like working a giant kickboard. We line up next to one another as per Rodriguo’s instruction. I’m first in line and it looks like I’ll be the first to surf. (Gasp!) He tells me to get up on my board – facedown, like we practiced. While I’m lying there, he gets behind me and the board, adjusting my “leash” – the cord attached to the back of the surfboard that fastens to your ankle with a Velcro collar. It’s important for the leash to be on the outside of your ankle and more importantly, it should be attached to the leg that shifts to the back when you’re up on the board. Otherwise, you're likely to get all tangled up each time you get off the board in the water. The point of the leash is obvious. It gets pretty rough out there and I’m certainly not interested in losing my board.
With Rodriguo and the oncoming waves behind me, I feel completely out of control. I’m pretty sure this adds to my nerves which by now, are off the charts. My heart is beating and the anticipation feels similar to being on a rollercoaster, in the back row, inching upwards, unsure of when you’ll finally reach the top and that awful and exhilarating moment when you’re zooming downward, cheeks flapping, neck pressing into your shoulders and your stomach in your throat.
As I wait for his cue, I’m trying to remember all the things he told us which is futile because my heart and mind are racing so fast that I almost don’t hear him tell me to “Start paddling” in his thick Argentinean accent. I do as I’m told, and wait for his next command. “Get UP!” he yells from behind me. And that’s exactly what I do – for about 3 seconds. After that, I go down – hard. My first thought as my body crashes into the water and my neck turns in a way that’s definitely not natural is, “Shit. A person can really break their neck doing this.” My second thought is, “But, I didn’t break my neck! I was doing it! I was surfing!”
It’s all happening so fast – the thoughts, the pain, the realization that I have to pull my board back to me with the leash and finally, the harsh reality that I have to get back out there and do it all over again. And again and again – for about an hour and a half. At one point, I completely lose my steam. My hair is everywhere, my nose running like a five year-old and my eyes are burning so badly from the saltwater. As I reach the shore after yet another attempt at staying up on the board, I think about calling it quits. But, I’m the youngest of three – we never give up first.
In the end, I got up several times which is way more than I ever expected of myself. Towards the end of the lesson, I found myself more determined than ever to actually stay up, but the waves were dying out and I was exhausted. So much so, that when we finish, I can barely walk or talk. The experience, the adrenaline and exertion is overwhelming. Plus, the beach is super rocky, so walking with a 7+ foot board on my head, barefoot makes it even more difficult to drag my already, tired body back to the van.
On shore, Julia is waiting – all smiles – and excited for my triumph. “Girl, you did great!” she breathes. I could barely speak, so I just nod and give her a look that says, “HOLY SHIT that was hard!”
We get back in the van and head back to school. I am done – literally and figuratively – for the day. Julia still has yoga, which before surfing, I said I’d probably join. But, now, sitting in the old, sticky van, all I want to do is have an ice cold beer!