Surfed the back side! Whoot-whoot!
Hola, this is my third week at Shaka surf camp and today I caught my first “big” wave! It was one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had! I have been taking daily lessons with Mo’e the owner, and the guests here at Shaka for the past week. Daisy was the first guest to arrive after the Ocean Healing group departed, and we took our first lessons together.
5 rules of the water and the 5 universal principles of alignment
As a practiced yoga instructor and skilled snowboarder, this surfing thing is gonna be a breeze…no problema! Our first lesson with Mo’e was in the Rancho, where we discussed ocean safety and the 5 rules of the water. Distance, staggering, cover your head, never turn your back on the ocean and….hmmm…I forget the 5th? I immediately resonated with this philosophy, since I teach yoga with the 5 universal principles of alignment…gotta be similar right?
Loosen up! Slouch a little!
Next we practice positioning, alignment, paddling and popping up. Like a good yogi, I have the principles of alignment imbedded in my body, active feet, steady shins, thighs back and wide, tailbone scooping. Right away Mo’e corrects my rigidity and informs me that I need to loosen up….to slouch a little…huh? I always harp on my students about holding the integrity of the alignment….always…siempre! Now I am being asked to do just the opposite of what I have worked so hard on engraining….ok Mo’e you are the surf boss… I will do my best!
We then head down to the water, where Mo’e helps us catch our first waves by pushing us along and getting us started. Again, no bueno para me….I seem to be doing everything wrong….too stiff, wrong stance, not paddling enough, too far back on the board. The waves are pounding me, one after another and the entire time I am extremely irritated by this humbling experience. The good news is, that I am thinking about my beginner yoga students and how they feel coming to a yoga class for the first time….I’m guessing just as frustrated as I was in that moment.
Each morning Daisy and I would go down with Mo’e and practice in the whitewater. Daisy was great at popping up…I was a good paddler…if we could just combine our skills we could make one good surfer! We both gave it our all and day by day we got better. With skillful instruction and determination finally it was starting to sink in! I was able to stand and ride, but still needed to refine some technical difficulties. By about day 5, things were going pretty well!
Preparing for departure
Daisy was at the “tail end” of her journey and would soon be leaving Costa Rica having surfed some good waves. As she was heading out our new guest Frank arrived and the lessons continued. At this time, I was feeling pretty comfortable on the board and progressing nicely. Frank and I continued to follow Mo’e's lead and instruction…continually refining. Each day Mo’e would tell me to go further out and teach me a new skill to assist in my departure to the back side.
Today was the big day! I learned to turtle roll, how to appropriately time my decent into the deep water gracefully and how to ditch my board and swim under the swells if needed. We paddled out and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless. I have the utmost respect for the power of the ocean…but also mad respect for great teachers…which are plentiful here at Shaka!
Back of the bus!
I made it! I was out there with the cool kids…back of the bus style! Everyone is hanging out on their boards, chit chatting and waiting for the right wave to come along. The view is spectacular, and quite a different experience from being in the white water….quiet..until the sets start rolling in! Another skill….picking the right wave…patience. As we wait, I try to remain calm, but know I have the ” deer in the headlights look in my eyes”. Finally, I get the heads up that this is my wave, with butterflies in my stomach and a send off from Mo’e, I successfully ride the first big wave of my life!
Mas para mi, por favor?!?
So freaking awesome! I couldn’t believe that a week before I could barely stand up and here I was riding this big wave, one with the ocean….totally in the moment! I decided today that I need more of that! I have fallen for Costa Rica in so many ways, the people, the land, the sunset….and now the surf. This day will be remembered and celebrated as the beginning of a new, exciting journey into the world of surfing….muchas gracias Shaka Costa Rica!
Ocean Healing Group JAW’s (Just Add Water)
Hola, I have to say, things are amazing here at Shaka! I have been having quite the adventure getting to know this beautiful place and trying my best to learn the language! I have been meeting so many great people and thoroughly enjoying every exchange! My first week at Shaka, the Ocean Healing Group arrived. This is a non profit foundation for disabled children and their families. The gang here at Shaka host these folks and provide them with adaptive surf lessons, zip line tours, yoga, and a variety of other sweet offerings. I was grateful to be a part of such a heart warming experience!
The group comes together, owners, volunteers, kids and their families. All with the intention of allowing the kids to experience physical activities, like surfing and yoga. Also, an opportunity for the families to have a break from being the primary caregivers. There were many activities during the week, including a zip line tour through the waterfalls in Montezuma. This was an amazing adventure for the kids and also a kind act on the part of the volunteers who carried them up and down steep slippery stairs in between rides.
The group had also rented some quads to cruise around on which were a big help to bring the kids to and from the beach. A few evenings we were lucky enough to experience marine phosphorescence, which is apparently a type of algae that actually glows In the dark! Seriously, the waves were lit up like yellow glow sticks! I was drawing in the sand and everywhere you walked your feet lit up below you! It was truly a sight to see!
Mama Sea Turtle Sighting
Just when I thought I had met the quota of a pretty freaking rad night….there was more! We also witnessed a big sea turtle mama laying her eggs right there in the glowing sand! I hope that her attempt was a success and that the eggs will be safe until the time is right for them to hatch and make their way back to the ocean. Such amazing creatures, prehistoric…also endangered…it seems that they are making a comeback right here in Playa Hermosa!
A Vast Ever Changing Moving Target
Of course, the highlight of the week was seeing the kids out in the ocean surfing the waves! I have been here for two weeks now, and been surfing quite a few times. It’s not easy…actually one of the more difficult things I’ve attempted…even with great instruction! More difficult than snow boarding down some of Colorado’s finest and makes my yoga practice seem like a walk in the park! My point being….the ocean is a vast, ever changing moving target…imagine attempting it without total use of your legs! Thats what Mercy and Christian did, with the help of Larry, Frank, and the volunteers.
You Guys Rock!!
They have have a system, where they have what you would call the “pitchers”. A few of the guys handle the back of the board and one rides along with them and helps them catch the wave. They are also surrounded by volunteers in a V-line formation prepared to assist if needed. Then you have the “catchers” a team awaiting for their arrival. My hats off to the kids for their bravery and eagerness to step out of their comfort zone, also to the volunteers who assist them in this process. And of course the kindness and generosity of the Shaka crew who make this all happen…Larry, Frank, Mo’e and Krista..keep up the good work…you guys rock!! Until next time….
Sent from my iPad
Wow, I am actually here! I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself, my name is Megan Panchinin. I am a yoga instructor and wellness coach, from Denver, Co. This last month was filled with excitement and anticipation as I prepared to leave the country. My original plan was to come to Costa Rica for a month to volunteer at Shaka Beach Retreat, that one month turned into seven. The family here at Shaka have been kind enough to host me as a volunteer for the month of November. Lucky for me, teaching opportunities have presented themselves that will keep me in this amazing location until May 2013!
From Denver to Costa Rica
A bittersweet transition, as I was saying ”hello to a Costa Rican adventure ” I was also saying many “see you laters”, as I would like to call them, to friends, family and students, that I have grown to love along the way. That was the bitter part….the sweet part was arriving here, welcomed by new friends, new family and new students! I knew there was a chance I may fall in love with Costa Rica….what’s not to love??
This place is unbelievable, the locals are helpful, the beaches untouched and the land an explosive celebration of life! When my taxi arrived at Shaka, after a “smooth”, but lengthy journey (you have to travel a ways to find paradise), I was greeted by the most recent volunteer Matt and one of Shaka’s guests Steve.Matt a recent graduate and surfer extraordinaire, Steve a Canadian Life Saver….seriously…EMT and fire rescue professional. The guys were hanging out in the Rancho, Shaka’s common place where meals are served and good conversations a plenty.
Shortly after settling in, I immediately headed to Playa Hermosa to enjoy a late afternoon swim. After a lovely stroll through the jungle canopy, the vibrantly colored path continued to stimulate my senses. I was immediately welcomed by the warmth of the sun and the peaceful sounds of the ocean…a tropical paradise. I found the perfect spot…on this beach, every spot is perfect. I took in the scenery and then went for a swim. The water is warm and the view of the landscape is like the green section of a jumbo sized crayon box. All of this seems to melt the month of preparation to leave Denver away. Finally…I had reached my destination….now what?
Getting into the Costa Groove
After a rejuvenating swim, I arrived back at the camp, where I met Haydee and Jerry, longtime friends of Shaka and staples here in the Rancho. Haydee, who has been an part of Skaka for a few years, is here from LA. She is surf photographer and a charismatic entrepreneur, here launching her new company “Pollo Pass“. Right away I realize she is quite the entertainer, with her great sense of humor that is perfect for guest relations.
Then of course we have Jerry, a Captain and surf instructor from West Plam Beach, Fl. Jerry, a veteran of Shaka and childhood friend of Frank Bauer (co-owner), has spent several seasons here providing top notch surf lessons while also proving to be quite the comedian! I then have the pleasure of meeting the Mo’e family co-owners, Chris and Krista. They are also an absolute delight.
Their children are a direct reflection of that! Ki’ili, age seven, their daughter, helped me prepare the rooms for the Ocean Healing Group that arrives with Frank today. Atua, age ten, their son, was my translater as I negotiated with the neighbor regarding a place to live next door to Shaka…smart kid…he said he’d do it for an ice cream! He did a good job, because I got the place and that is a huge relief for me! I’m stoked to live in Playa Hermosa, which is apparently prime real estate!
Great New Possibilities
The best part about this trip, thus far, is the recent discussion to build a yoga shala right here at Shaka! Allowing me to assist in this potential creation is beyond fabulous! This land is sacred and would be the perfect place to have a yoga center! We walked the land yesterday and found the ideal spot, nestled under a green canopy and surrounded by old growth….absolutely gorgeous! A yoga girl’s dream come true!! Toto, I don’t think we’re in Denver anymore….Oh My!!
So I went down to check the waves this morning and found much more than I was looking for. As I came through the tall sloping coconut trees at the edge of the beach I noticed an unfamiliar creature waddling out of the water in my direction. As we approached each other I could see more clearly that the creature was black and white and had something red around its neck. Getting even closer I determined that what I was looking at was none other than a penguin! But how impossible? There are no penguins in Costa Rica. It is way too hot for a penguin around here.
I scratched my head and figured I’d wait a few seconds to wake up from this silly dream, but I could smell the sea breeze and feel my fingernails on my scalp. Was this really a penguin I was seeing? And what was with the red thing on its neck? It kept waddling closer and closer in my direction (I assumed it was in search of some cool shade) and I did not wake up. I I ran back to Shaka to get my camera and tell the others. Everyone was still asleep so I ran back to the beach to take advantage of this totally Nat Geo opportunity.
Luckily, the penguin was still there and hadn’t moved much. As I got closer I saw that it was very large, like the size of a grown man, and it had a surfboard under one of its ‘wings.’ Also, the red thing on its neck was a big floppy bowtie. WTF?
Turns out it was not a REAL penguin. It was Steve (!), our cheeky Canadian guest, sporting his penguin costume he brought down for Halloween. How could I forget?
Although Steve is not a real penguin, he did say he felt like one, sweating his feathers off in that suit. And he still made a great subject for a photo shoot, regardless of the fact that I will not be sending my pics in to National Geographic now.
In more serious news, we have a new volunteer here that is not me, which means I shall be moving on soon. I have been invited to stay and help with the upcoming OHG (Ocean Healing Group) camp but I will probably have to sleep in a hammock (something I do rather often anyways). It sounds like a cool opportunity but I also wouldn’t mind getting out to see a bit more of the country in my remaining two weeks here in Costa Rica. Hmm, what to do….Any suggestions for a surfer dude on a $300 budget?
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go see the waterfalls in Montezuma with our new guest Steve and Shaka family member, Jerry. Steve is a firefighter from Canada and Jerry is a yacht captain from Florida. Both pretty cool dudes. Jerry has been coming down to this area for years now so he has been more of a host than a guest since being here. He bought a clean ’91 Isuzu Trooper with 4wd so we have been able to mob around a bit like yesterday, to the waterfalls!
The sun was up and shining bright and early, perfect for a little field trip. We mobbed through fresh green landscape, up and down steep hills covered with fast-drying mud. Perfect conditions for a full on test drive of Jerry’s new Trooper.
This allowed me to put my 2 dollar “tico squeek” shoes to the test. (I have some nice 80 dollar Teva sandals my mom bought for me but I feel too touristy when I where them, sorry Mom). When I first visited the waterfalls in July there was much less water and it was much more brown. Now, after all the recent rain, the agua is falling at full force and looks clean enough to drink (not tested). There was a misWe dropped into Montezuma, a cute little fisher gone tourist town just on the other side of the peninsula from here, and went straight for the falls. The waterfalls are just a stones throw up a fresh little river that drains into the ocean at the entrance of town. The trail is pretty much just the river, which you follow up from the road about half a mile.ty gust that blew off the pool at the bottom of this 100 and something foot gusher.
Above this big ‘fall is a big pool and another 40 something foot waterfall. Both upper and lower pools have ledges and ropeswings to fulfill whatever thrill seeking needs you might bring with you. Yesterday, after the warm, rock hopping hike up the river, we just chilled at the foot of the falls, absorbing the cool mist sprinkling off the pool.
On our way back we stopped in Cobano so Jerry could get his new cell phone dialed in. We had lunch at a little ‘soda’ for lunch, picked up some cheap supplies at the big grocery store (beer was like twice as cheap there than here) and mobbed back to home base.
SLOtown USA vs Costa De Oro vs Playa Hermosa.
The Definitive Comparison
It is hard to say I live a life of routine, so a ‘day in the life’ type post won’t suffice. Instead, I offer a flurry of things that are/were dear to me from my three most recent locations, San Luis Obisbro, CA, Costa De Oro, and Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica.
The main thing I miss from SLOtown right now is sandwiches. There are heaps of them everywhere and they are delicious. Although they are expensive, there is one place called High St. Deli that offers all its sandwiches for just 4 dollars and 20 cents between 420 and 5 pm. Yep, miss that. I also miss smooth roads for biking on, and bike lanes. Any type of lanes for that matter. For about far as a crow flies in an hours time ain’t nothin but dirt roads ’round here.
What I miss from Costa De Oro, the little beach pueblo north of here that is nothing but fisherman and vacation homes, is sipping agua de pipas, young coconut water, all day err’y day. We had a plethora of stubby little cocunut trees in the backyard where you could just reach up and pluck ‘em off. Could even crack ‘em open on the trunk right there if really thirsty. But a word of caution, cocunuts kill 8 times more people per year than sharks do. This is on account of the high frequency of earthquakes. The quakes (terremotos) shake off the cocos onto some poor little Tico just passin by or chillin in a most dangerously situated hammock. These skull cracking fruits, which some call ‘nature’s cannonballs,’ are not always as sweet as they seem….
What I will miss frome here, Shaka, Playa Hermosa, Nicoya, Costa Rica, Mother Earth, is the proximity to good surf in warm water, duhh, and a full kitchen and fridge pretty much all to myself. I’ve been cooking all sorts of stuff. When the surf is not “up,” the temperature of the stove and/or oven most likely is. Another thing I will miss from here is the rain. Although it makes everything wet and muddy, the sound and smell of the rain is relaxing, revitalizing, reassuring thirsts will be quenched. It also keeps the crowds away. While there is plenty of room for more people here, I am kinda selfish and like having it all to myself.
In summary, Shaka is probably the best out of the last three places I have dwelled. And I don’t like using surperlatives (words like best) but everyone knows this is a subjective blog post so I am sayin it. Shaka is the best! (No, but seriously, its pretty chill.)
Surfing a Bucket List idea
A bucket list is simply a list of dreams and wishes that as yet remain unachieved in your life. If there are things you wanted to learn or an adventure you want to have, then perhaps learning to surf is one of the items on your list. As the old adage goes, “don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” Each one of us has a choice. We can have a life filled with “what ifs” or one in which we grab each moment with gusto. Surfing is but one quest of many that could fulfill some of your wishes, and it’s certainly one filled with energy, natural beauty and the opportunity to challenge yourself in a different way.
Surfing has much in common with other sports. It requires a certain level of dedication, athleticism and practice not only for success but also for true enjoyment. There are certain sets of guidelines that experienced surfers are expected to follow, and different philosophies that create an entire surfing culture throughout the world.
Surfing vs Snowflakes
One thing you should know at the outset is that no two surfers are any more alike than two snowflakes. The way each takes to the water, a wave – they’re style and stance and how they express the art of surfing comes from something deep within. That means no matter how much you might admire a specific surfer or surfing instructor, the way that your experience plays out is going to be unique and very personal. That’s also what makes putting surfing on your bucket list so special. It’s an experience like none other that often defies written or spoken explanations.
From region to region you’ll find that certain slangs and terms change as do fashions – each of which reflects something of the local culture and the surfer himself. Ladies, don’t get hung up on the word “himself” many women have expanded their horizons to embrace water, sand and waves – seeking that great wave with ferocity and passion. For some, this becomes an on-going lifestyle choice while others use surfing as a hobby that alleviates stress, improves energy and affords a moment interacting with nature in a way that some people will never experience.
Mind you, as a bucket list item you’re probably not looking to spend 24-7 beach hopping. Beyond having a real life, full-time surfing can get expensive between travel packages, flashy boards and various accessories necessary to serious surfers. So the question then becomes, why did you choose surfing as a special activity? Are you looking for a thrill? Hoping to get some good exercise? Do you celebrate the artistic nature of the sport? None of these goals is right or wrong – they’re simply different and approached differently.
Surfing and the Ahaa! Moment
The very first time you stand on a board and actually catch a wave changes everything. There’s something spiritually exhilarating about it. It is a moment you will never forget, but just one of many other memories waiting for you on the water.
So where exactly might you go for this supreme, life-changing moment? Really almost anywhere. From the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica to other waterfront destinations around the world, there’s a wave waiting for you. Just be sure to choose a trip that suits your skill level. Costa Rica, for example, is favored by surfers of all different talents because of its consistent, medium sized waves along miles and miles of stunning coastline.
In terms of precautions, make sure you protect yourself diligently from the sun using waterproof sunscreen. Achieving one part of your bucket list does little good if you develop skin cancer. Pay attention to any surf warnings and announcements with similar care. These will tell you where the breaks are, and where things may be dangerous.
Plan your surfing vacation well in advance and prepare yourself physically. Surfing takes a lot out of your shoulders and lower back, so work on flexibility and strength in those areas so your lessons don’t land you in bed with stiff joints. Remember that it will take more than one lesson to learn to surf, most professional lessons lasting between 1 1/2 and 2 hours, so schedule the length of your stay accordingly.
So, October is supposed to be the peak of rainy season but in this first week it has only really poured down once, while light showers have sprinkled down here and there every so often. The locals are a bit worried because their wells might run a bit dry this year, but I have no complaints because I was able to surf two solid sessions today. There was a light offshore during the morning that made available some speedy low/tide barrels. The sun got hot early and my back was feeling burnt approaching my second hour in the water. The afternoon session didn’t have such a fortunate offshore but it was still clean and the swell filled in a bit more, offering overhead peaks up and down the beach.
My psuedo- routine is slowly taking form here, surf, eat, chill in the hammock reading, random activity (see what Carlos the maintenance dude is tooling around with and if I can help, maybe bike around, go to the store in search of produce or little Tico snacks, maybe flip through some Spanish note cards, draft blog posts, etc) surf again, eat again, and so on. You might think it would get lonely here by myself at night but the family dog, Vida, has taken a liking to me and has been chillin with me here just about every night. She pretty much does my job for me, yapping away at anything and everything that comes near. There are also plenty of jungle noises like cicadas, howler monkeys and off/road vehicles to keep me company at night.
Everyone says the same thing about this place, but I am part of that everyone and I will repeat it, ‘the people here are really nice.’ This place is teeming with smiles, even if you cannot hold a meaningful conversation in the native tongue (I am working on it). I know how to communicate to get what I really need, and I look forward to maybe someday having more philosophical conversations with the Ticos (regardless of the fact that the philosophy here doesn’t need to go much deeper than two words, Pura Vida). That being said, did you know that many nonverbal communication scholars believe that smiles were originally a sign of either submissiveness or threat? Such has been observed in several studies of the ‘higher level’ primates and is assumed to be true for our early human ancestors. This thought popped into my head today after about my 36th smile of the day and was kinda trippin me out because I am sure some of my smiles have at least a little bit of that original submissiveness in them. I am still the new kid in the village, you know. (Note, I got my bachelor degree in Communication and one of my last classes I took was Nonverbal Communication, not just completely pulling facts out of thin air. Matter of fact, the air here isn’t thin at all. It is rich with damp, beachy, rainforesty oxygen). Pure Life, Pure Life. Pura Vida.