31 October 2015

Surf Simply: La Llegada (The Arrival)

Volcanic crater, somewhere over the Pacific Coast of Central America
Monkey on a wire
After a long journey with only 2-3 hours of semi-sleep on flight two of three, I arrived at Liberia Airport. Outside of Immigration and Customs, a smiling Tico held a "Surf Simply" sign. He led me to his tired old taxi and, not used to traveling in those, I sat up front. For most of the next two-and-a-half hours, we conversed in Spanglish. He knew a little more English than I knew Spanish, but I was surprised at how many foreign words floated up from the dusty high school section of my mind. The farther we drove from the city, the worse the roads became. He pulled over once to take a phone call, and pointed up. "Monkey!" he said, insisting I take a photo. We continued on, and soon the pavement ended, our path becoming a graded but pot-holed road just like I remembered from my three previous trips to Costa Rica. Signs pointed toward the Burnt Toast Surf School, and I wondered if the founders named it after what they'd had for breakfast. At last we pulled up at the unmarked Surf Simply resort, where manager Erika led me to my bungalow, the first on the left inside the wood gate.

I was running on fumes but so excited to be there. A few of the guests who'd arrived earlier were planning a trip to the beach, and I eagerly joined them. I'd traveled so far already; I could go a little more to see the surf that brought me there. I climbed with difficulty onto a bicycle that was too tall for me even with the seat in the lowest position, and peddled down the dirt road with Lauren, her husband Michael, Ian, and Jessica, my roommate. 
Ian and I waited on the beach while the other three surfed closed-out low-tide waves.
I really hoped the surf would look better in the morning.
Back at the resort, I washed off the grime of traveling and joined the others for dinner at a large round table near the top of the property. The common area overlooks a blue-tiled pool edged by jungle. Comfortable couches form a U-shape under a flatscreen TV that plays surf videos all day, every day. For inspiration, I suppose.
Seated: Ian, Kim and Ted. Standing: Ru and Michael.
As it turned out, Jessica is also vegan, and chef Denis did not disappoint in the special foods he prepared for us. After dinner, Surf Simply's founder, Ru, gave an overview of the week and we introduced ourselves, including our goals for the week. I explained that I felt like my surfing was at a plateau, that I was not progressing. "I want to rip on a shortboard before I'm too old to rip on a shortboard."

30 October 2015

Rising to the Challenge

This morning I surfed wild and woolly Hennemans alone.
Tammy and Kristen opted for the smaller surf of Tourmaline. A dude named Min, who found me online somewhere, met me at Calumet Park and followed me down the muddy cliff path to the cobblestone beach. There were three guys at Sewers but Hens was empty. With a mix of southwest groundswell and bigger northwest windswell, there was no channel, and waves smashed as shorepound onto the cobblestones. I waited several minutes for a good time to paddle out.

"You know," Min said, "I think I'm going to go to Windansea. It's too rocky for me here."

"Okay," I replied, before seeing an opening and plunging into the water. 

I caught a wave from the edge of the whitewater as soon as I got out. The surf was a bit overhead and disorganized, but I had a fun ride to the inside. One more of those and I was done; the tide was rising and the exit would only get more sketchy. My main goal was not to get hurt on the cusp of my trip to Surf Simply in Costa Rica.

Right now I'm closing down a bar in Phoenix, nursing an exceptionally tiny glass of overpriced wine while I wait for a 1 a.m. flight to Miami. It's a long route, SAN > PHX > MIA > LIR (Liberia) with 3-4 hour layovers, but that's the nonmonetary cost of using frequent flyer miles. By afternoon tomorrow, I'll be in Nosara. So stoked!

28 October 2015

She's a Blur

Pre-surf, taken with my new Samsung Galaxy S6
Hennemans was pretty fun again today until the rising high tide killed it. Tammy took photos of me from the cliff, using her old Samsung Galaxy 3. She needs a new phone, but I like the sequence!

18 October 2015

Tres Amigas en Baja

Tammy and Kristen suiting up
Tammy, Kristen and I made a trip south of the border, stopping at Robert's K-38 Motel to surf.

The waist-high+ waves were soft and a little funky but uncrowded – only one guy out under the spread arms of the enormous Jesus statue on the hill. I blew the landing on a right and then had trouble getting into anything else.

Unfortunately it wasn't long before Kristen cut her finger on her leash and went in, followed by Tammy. They stepped carefully across the cobblestones, giving me a little more time to look for one decent wave in. I didn't want to leave skunked again like the only other time I surfed there.
The break in front of Roberts. I think it's called Teresa's.
When they stood waiting for me on the beach, I reluctantly conceded I'd have to do the paddle of shame. But just a few more minutes... and finally I caught a wave. It sectioned quickly but I rode it out. Score!
Kristen procured some electrical tape to wrap her cut finger, and we drove south in search of better waves. Neither La Fonda nor trash-strew La Mision looked enticing.
Kristen, Tammy and me at La Mision
We headed back to Tijuana and stopped at the Food Garden for lunch. I was surprised to find one of the food booths, Veggie Smalls, was mostly vegan! My tofu hotdog with coleslaw was delicious, although I could tell from the fries and ketchup that I wasn't in the U.S.
With SENTRI, there was almost no wait to cross the border at Otay Mesa. Looking forward to more Baja adventures with my all-girl crew!

13 October 2015

Traditional British Bellyboarding

The portion of the Global Wave Conference I was invited to attend was scheduled to end at 5:15pm, leaving enough time for one last surf in Cornwall before my early-morning drive back to London. With swell conditions suboptimal, I planned to take Rebecca up on her offer to surf on a traditional British bellyboard.

I ducked out early from lunch to walk to the beach at Magwan Porth. The tide was low, exposing a vast area of sand beneath the bluffs. A woman carrying a bellyboard stopped at the top of the beach steps to check the surf.
When the conference ended, many of the participants dashed to put on wetsuits and grab boards so they could surf before darkness fell. As I got into my diesel Renault Captur, big wave surfer Greg Long ran across the parking lot like a stoked grom, incongruously carrying a foam longboard. I had my still-wet wetsuit in the car along with the borrowed 5'8" so I could've surfed with Greg and other boldface names in the surfing world, but I had other plans.

After a slight panic when Google Maps lost signal and briefly stopped giving me directions, I made it back to the farm. We all piled into the van again and reached Penhale just before a glorious sunset.
Chris and Rebecca checking the surf 
The waves were decidedly meh so a bellyboard was a more fun choice than a surfboard, and I was keen to try it anyway. 

A bellyboard is a wood plank, narrower and longer than a modern bodyboard, with a nose that curves gently upward. Chris had made one of theirs from leftover plywood. In Hawaii, it's called a paipo. The bellyboard somewhat reminded me of a sled, and I had a brief thought of using it to ride down the dune to the beach.

Chris watched the dogs, who were off chasing rabbits, while Rebecca and I walked into the cool surf.
My first bellyboard! (Photo by Rebecca)
Rebecca gave me tips on how to ride: Hold the board toward the back end, (since I was standing and finless) push off the bottom and jump into the wave as it arrives, then pull your body forward onto it. After a couple of tries, I caught whitewater and rode to the shallows. A bit later, I made it onto the face of a wave. Woo hoo!

11 October 2015


A few years ago, I stumbled across the tweets of @kfornia. Her photos of a lovely beach in Cornwall prompted me to reply that I'd had no idea England was so beautiful. Now I stood beside her taking in that view with my own eyes.
I'd driven five taxing hours on the wrong side of the road from London, past modern windmills, rolling green hills dotted with sheep, and signs for castles. As soon as I pulled up in front of their faux old stone farmhouse, Rebecca and Chris hurried me into their van with two large well-mannered dogs. Trying to beat the sunset, we rushed down narrow and windy lanes to park on a coastal clifftop.

The air was cool as I pulled on my 4/3 wetsuit, hood and booties. With a borrowed 5'8" surfboard under my arm, I followed my friends down a steep trail that finished with a skidding walk down the side of a dune to Penhale (Perran Sands) beach.

There were about a dozen surfers in the water along a beach that stretched for a few miles beneath high cliffs and dunes. English surfers make do mostly with windswell, and have to deal with extreme tide swings of 8 meters or more. (Rebecca told me she's surfed a tidal bore not far north.) This evening, the waves were up to shoulder high and a bit of fun. My first ride was the best, surprisingly on a new board.
The light faded and most of the other surfers left. It was hard to see the waves by the time I caught one in, last out of the water. Going back up the cliff was a real thigh burner but got me a little warmed up from the cool water and colder air. That didn't last long as we changed in near darkness beside the van. The stars came out and were bright and beautiful in the sky over Cornwall.

08 October 2015

The Magical Loggers of Hairmos

Venus and the moon
My friend Tammy, quite unfortunately, has a job that requires her to get out of the water by 7 am. With the sun rising later and later, that doesn't leave much time for dawn patrol. It was too dark to see anything when I arrived at Hennemans at 6 am. By the time Tammy checked PB Toilets (closed out), found me at Hennemans, changed into her wetsuit and picked her way bare-footed down the bluff, she had only 15 left minutes to surf. At least she got to see a sea lion near the lineup.

The tide was high and the swell was too small to do more than break fairly near the cliff, jacking up as the waves reflected back. I got one short ride but Tammy had no joy before doing the paddle of shame.

After she left, I sprinted over to Hairmos (this being my exercise for the day), where two longboarders were getting some fun long rides. The guy was still clinging to summer in boardshorts, but the woman was in a thin fullsuit like me. I watched them catch a bunch of waves before finally being in position for my own. Yeah!

I rode a couple more waves before the couple left, paddling toward PB Point. Then the ocean shut down. For a long, long time. I started to wonder if they had magical powers and summoned the waves to that spot, only to let them die when they were done surfing. More likely it was just the swamping of the tide, which was peaking high. Finally a set came and I rode a wave toward shore, then paddled parallel back to Calumet Park.
Next surf: the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Cornwall, UK! My friend Rebecca says "Forecast is looking ok at the moment, shouldn't be too windy, less than 20mph and offshore-ish." That's a lot more wind than I'm used to calling okay, and the ocean is only about 60ยบ. It will be an adventure!

03 October 2015

Bubbles and Beginnings

This morning I surfed again with my new dawn patrol crew, Tammy and Kristen, at a spot north of the pier they call PB Toilets.
It was more of the same windswell we've had for a while, with a few fun waves to be found. At the top of the bluff, a dude was making enormous bubbles during our entire session.
Afterwards, the surfistas introduced me to easily-overlooked Isabel's Cantina, where we ate second breakfast and drank a pitcher of yummy tangerine-pomegranite mimosas.