Four weeks ago, I knew nothing about surfing. My view of the sport was probably typical: that it is for the very young, dominated by shiftless, blonde, bronzed beach boys showing off their stunts to pick up chicks. The stereotypical California scene personified.
Our guide-book says that Costa Rica is known as the “Hawaii of Latin America” because of its world-class surfing and its warm waters all year round. Tamarindo is the surfing centre of the Costa Rican northwest Pacific coast. I understand why.
Watching the surfers at Tamarindo has made me a fan. Were I 40 years younger, 40 pounds lighter, and had I any athletic prowess at all, I might even have tried it. I now see the attraction. Surfing requires incredible stamina, a patient eye for just the right wave, great balance, the agility of a cat (if you can picture a cat on a surf board), spunky resilience, and a passionate love of the water and sun. Both water and sun are killers. Surfers have to deal with the one and protect themselves from the other.
First, the surfer must push his or her board out from shore, through or over crashing waves, to reach the distant waters where the big swells rise. Riding the waves outbound is the lull before the storm. Once the surfer reaches the heavy waters, he (or she, and there are many women surfers, apparently), must line up beside others waiting for the real waves, the ones they all desire to surf. The wait may take awhile. When a big wave comes, the surfers compete with each other to see who among them will actually run that wave. From a field of a dozen surfers, only two or three at the most may run a single big wave.
Observers on the beach, like me, see a line of surfers bobbing way out in the water, waiting for the big one. When we see the big wave rise up to the verge of crashing, the surfers taking this wave seem to jump above it and, like the most expert of skateboarders or downhill skiers, they run, and turn, and turn again, and ride the one wave all the way to shore. The best of them stand up all the way. The novices, the less agile, or the unlucky find their boards upended, and themselves scrambling. All have to be wary both of being hit by their own boards or of hitting other surfers in the shallower waters.
Our hosts, Lucio and Lucy Ramos, have retired from their real estate business in the west end of Toronto. They now spend several months each year living in Tamarindo. I am guessing that they are in their late 40s or early 50s, but I don’t know for certain. In Tamarindo, Lucio has taken up surfing. Fit and tanned, he goes out in the morning or late afternoon to catch the surf. During our visit, the waves were among the highest of the year, a predictable occurrence which good surfers anticipate with relish. Lucio, among them.
Meanwhile, I sit all morning by the beach, in my favourite bar-restaurant “The Ocean,” in the shade of the trees, watching the surfers skim by before me. It was like having a front row seat at an Olympic event, an amazing spectacle of athleticism which I tried to photograph with a new camera. Next time, I will use my burst function. Now I know what it is for.