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Archive for the ‘Surfing' Category

The Learning Curve | Learning how to Surf in Panama’s Caribbean

Posted by | October 1st, 2012

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
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
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
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....

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Posted in Bocas del Toro, Experience, Habla Ya, Surfing

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My First ever Surf Lesson in Bocas del Toro, Panama

Posted by | February 27th, 2012

My name is Evelyne, and I am a Language Travel Consultant at Habla Ya Spanish Schools. I am responsible for helping future students plan their trip to Panama, and set up their Spanish Program. This also means that I have to be in a position to give my opinion and recommendations, when it comes to suggesting activities and eco-adventure tours in Boquete & Bocas del Toro. This is one of the coolest parts of my job - I get to try out every single activity before offering it. You ask why? Well, would you take advice from someone who hasn’t done any of the tours you are asking about? Mmmhh I didn’t think so.

With my surf board ready to get into the water. My surf instructor calls it the magic carpet because everyone gets up on it!
With my surf board ready to get into the water. My surf instructor calls it the magic carpet because everyone gets up on it!

I am 32 and spend most of my working day in front of a computer. I attend the occasional Yoga class, love to go to the beach (Bocas del Toro has loads of them) and run maybe twice per week just to say "I did it", so it is fair to say that I am not exactly physically fit. Even worse... I find every excuse to NOT work out on certain days. So imagine my expression when my boss (and excellent surfer) told me "Evelyne, on Sunday morning at 9AM, you are going to take a surf lesson and give us feedback". The simple thought of getting up early on a Sunday morning (yes, 9AM is early!) already gave me nightmares. Add to that, that I had to be physically active (did I mention it was on a Sunday morning?!)... oh boy... but since my boss doesn’t take NO for an answer, I had no choice but just go with the flow and do it.

On that Sunday morning I woke up tired, dreading the surfing experience, dragging my feet to the water taxi, where I met with my two other colleagues Melissa and Emily, and my friend Rachel. We took a small boat, and only 2 minutes later we arrived on Isla Carenero where the surf school is located. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by our very friendly instructor, Luis Bertone from La Escuela del Mar Surf School, who has been surfing for over 25 years. He also owns a great restaurant called Bibi's, right over the water. But let's not get side tracked and get back to the surfing part. He took a quick look at us, and decided that we qualified for the baby waves (also called the "kitty pool" by the cool people who make fun of amateurs like me). Basically where the uncool people surf. But hey, that's cool, kitty pool it is! Nobody is judging here, right?

Emily and I getting all our surfing gear on
Emily and I getting all our surfing gear on

Before I continue telling you more about my surf lesson, I wanted to make a quick parenthesis about my previous experience with surfers – I was convinced for many, many years that surfers were dumb, sometimes good looking, but mainly brainless and uninteresting "dudes" with long blond hair. One time a surfer told me that every wave has it's personality, while staring at a surf video, a beer in his hand... what a turn off... I don’t have to tell you that I stopped listening right there.

Back to the theory part of our lesson – actually, believe it or not, this is the most important part! From my own experience I can tell you, that if you don't follow the advice of the (very smart) surf instructor, you will fall off and swallow a significant amount of salt water! Not fun!

The theoretical part of surfing is very important so pay attention!
The theoretical part of surfing is very important so pay attention!

Luis showed us how to lay down on the board, and how to get up (the looser version in 3 steps, and the cool one for those who get it right away!), and more importantly the security instructions to follow strictly. He also explained the code that surfers have amongst them, in order to avoid accidents. Once the theory was finished, he gave us rash guards and water shoes, so that we would not get hurt or sunburned. Oh and of course... the surf board selection: Luis took another quick look at us, and decided that since I was the tallest, I should get what he calls "the magic carpet" – I asked why he calls it that way, and his answer was: "because everyone gets up on that one...". Oops - no pressure here!

Rachel, Melissa and I preparing to get into the water before catching our first waves
Rachel, Melissa and I preparing to get into the water before catching our first waves

So let's recap – we get to ride the girly looser waves, and on top of that I get the looser board.. oh well... whatever you say, surfer dude! Bring it on!

LEARN MORE ABOUT SURF LESSONS IN BOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA... »

And finally we're ready for the funnest part: we get into the water, and off we paddle! Did I mention that paddling is really hard, especially on a Sunday morning?

I felt like my 10 footer was heavy as hell, but that could have just been a distorted impression of someone who is really (not) fit. Luis never left our side, and checked every one of our moves from his sea kayak – this was great! He was paddling next to us, while shouting things that we only partly understood (under water you don't hear that well)... but the motivational factor was there, and I felt really safe which is important in order to enjoy this activity completely. Surfing can be very scary for a controlling person like me. Having a huge (baby) wave arriving at full (baby) speed behind you, and then getting ready to take it (Luis pushes you) is a very pleasant experience full of adrenalin! You don’t have much time to react! Luis yelled "get up" and of course I fell off of my looser board, in the looser wave, proving the magic carpet theory wrong.

But don’t worry, I wasn't going to give up...

My friend Emily catching her first wave
My friend Emily catching her first wave

I went back! And I rode the next wave, believe it or not, like a baby pro! That's when I started to really enjoy myself! Surfing is great, I must confess! Now I understand how this activity can monopolize people's entire evening conversations, talking just about that one wave! OK, the conversation part is still boring, but I definitely want to keep trying this incredibly exhausting, fun and challenging sport. I now admit not all surfers are dumb (I do have to say that my boss is a very intelligent person, and so is Luis!) and I respect them a whole lot more. I would recommend a surfing class to anyone visiting Bocas del Toro, no matter how old or young you are! Surfing is so much fun! It is also safe if you follow the instructions, and if you do it with friends, you also get a good laugh out of watching them.


Me and my friend Rachel catching our first waves!

I am very happy that I was forced to try this out, because otherwise I would have missed the chance to experience something that I didn't know I would be capable of and that I actually like, and I cannot wait until the girls and I can go for a second round. Maybe this weekend as the swell is picking up again: I might even try the cool waves!

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Posted in Beaches, Bocas del Toro, Experience, Habla Ya, Panama Destinations, Surfing

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