The swell builds, the wave forms, lifting my board under me as it passes through and breaks towards the shore. Nope, not the one, wait for the next, the one behind. I look over, and give a little smile to my friends in the water. Yes, this is it. I begin paddling and feel the rush of being moved by the power of the water, and within seconds I am up, gliding across the glassy surface as it tumbles into white water.
There are few natural highs that compare to the adrenaline rush of surfing. Though once a skeptic, I can now vouch first hand, it is addicting. But of course, as the saying goes, "anything in life worth having is worth working for" (Andrew Carnegie), and surfing is no exception. The learning curve for this awesome sport is often as long as some of the waves at the best breaks on Isla Colon and surrounding islands. When I first started seriously wanting to learn to surf, I knew I would have to be patient, with myself, my body and my progress.
Some photos and video footage of surf lessons in Bocas del Toro with Mono Loco Surf School
I began with a few surf lessons at Black Rock (by Carenero Island), but my skills really started to improve when I began going out in the early mornings with the instructors from Mono Loco Surf School (or as I like to call them, my surfing buddies). It was in these wee hours of the morning, while the island was still fast asleep, that I learned how to read the waves. To watch and know which waves to paddle for and where to wait at the breaks for the best waves. To fine tune my pop-up and understand the importance of positioning on the board (rear down, shoulders square, knees bent), where to put my weight (slightly back for the drop, forward for speed), and most importantly the "essentialness" of strong paddling (REMA DURO!!!!).
I have also learned to not see any of my experiences with surfing as failures, even on days where I spend 2 hours on the water and catch nothing, coming out exhausted with what appears to be nothing to show for it. This too, is a victory in surfing. This is because in order to really read and understand the waves, you have to commit to them without fear. And sometimes this means a glorious ride, but others it means taking a beating by the wave.
Nowadays, when there are waves in Bocas, I'll be right there in the lineup every morning
In my beginning months of surfing, I could have (and still could be) the featured person in what Mono Loco calls their "Wipe Out Wednesdays". Each Wednesday they post an article explaining common mistakes made in surfing and how to improve your surfing to avoid these mistakes. Everything from nose diving (catching the wave too late and going face first into the water), to slipping off your board, to getting distracted, I have done it all (countless times). But like it says on every Wipe-out Wednesday posting on Mono Loco's website, "every wipe out brings you closer to perfection and makes you a better surfer". Such true words.
I remember one day, after a particularly "bad" session, I said to my surfing buddies, "I really don’t think I can do it". And they said to me, "Emily, this is exactly the point where all the girls quit, and we won't let you. You have to keep going, and just take the frustrating days, because we will come and drag you out to the water if you stop coming".
My surf buddies: Joan and Juan David, surf instructors and owners of Mono Loco Surf School
And soon, I realized how right they were.
Time on the board and in the water is the key. And it doesn't matter if you catch the wave, but that you paddle for it, commit to it, and try. Because the more tries you make in the beginning, the more waves you will be catching later on. And once you start catching waves, your body automatically learns how to stay balanced so that you can stay on the board. There is no other way to learn than by doing: it's the only way your body will learn!
I am proud to say that I now catch and stay up on more, or just as many waves, as I get eaten by. And I have gone from surfing on long starter boards, to owning and using my own 6'8'' board. I have also graduated from just getting comments from my buddies about catching the wave, to pointers about turning, trying to catch the wave at an angle so as not to end up in the white water, and to use my arms as a guide to the ride.
In the end, the learning may take time, but the beauty is in the process, as my buddies with Mono Loco have taught me. Letting go of control and letting the waves, your body and the ocean teach you. This is what surfing is all about.
Me and my girlfriends getting ready to go for a surf session in Bocas del Toro
So, what are you waiting for, grab a board and join the curve....