26 May 2024

The Best Thing

When I got home, Brad asked me what was the best thing about my trip. It wasn't the surf, unfortunately. I'd hoped for fun-size, user-friendly warm waves to ease me back into surfing after a long hiatus, but instead they were mostly overhead and powerful. Warm though!

The best thing was the people I met (excluding Awful Amanda). Everyone was so nice: Sherri, an accountant from Vancouver Island; Max, a neurology resident from Nova Scotia; Sara, a yoga and kite surfing instructor from France; Myra, a retiree and tandem surfer from Malibu, and her friend Ellie, an actor from LA; and Jordy from Australia's Sunshine Coast and his friend Scott who transplanted from Oz to New York.

Myra, who tandem surfs, teaching Max how to lift her
Sara and Ellie watch Max and Myra
Myra and Ellie at Nan Tal restaurant
The coaches, Academy staff and hotel workers were all nice too, and made the camp well worthwhile and comfortable. And the medical personnel who helped me after my injury were amiable.

Unlike Surf Simply (which now costs a small fortune), Puro Surf Performance Academy does not have an exclusive hotel or communal meals. Instead, the hotel and restaurant are open to anyone, and surf campers get a room and breakfast included. Without the planned togetherness, it took longer to build comraderie, especially for someone like me who's not a social butterfly. The lack of a set schedule also contributed, since I felt like meals were catch as catch can and was oft eating alone (except for the cats) at odd hours. But as the week went on, I increasingly felt like part of the group. We shared laughs, stories, encouragement and experiences, and enjoyed each other's company in the lovely tropical setting.
Hotel restaurant cats
Will I go back? Maybe. Due to my injury, Puro Surf did give me a credit for one day of training on a future visit in 2024. We'll see...

24 May 2024

El Salvador's Plastic Pollution Problem

Plastic trash is everywhere in El Salvador. It lines the roads, blows in the wind, bobs in the sea, and mars the beaches. When a wave knocked me down on the cobblestones and dragged me seaward at La Paz, plastic trash tumbled all around me in the whitewater. If El Salvador is serious about making Surf City a destination, it needs to clean up its act.

22 May 2024

Don't Piss on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining

It's my nature to assume people are good until proven otherwise. Unfortunately, Amanda Portinari has shown otherwise. While I could forgive her mistake in taking off on a wave without looking for anyone in her path and then failing to control her board, I can't forgive her refusing to accept any responsibility for the consequences of her actions. She said:
Given that the infection has nothing to do with me and that the accident wasn’t my fault, I don’t think it’s reasonable for me to cover medical costs in the United States....
While I feel terrible that you got hurt, the reason it happened is because your instructors didn’t have you in a safe position. I consulted with several other instructors and more advanced local surfers in the water that day as well as the videographers on land and everyone confirmed that it was unfortunate (seeing anyone get hurt sucks of course) but that it was not my fault.

I suppose the "safe position" I should've been in was on the beach.

In a later message, she came fully around to blaming me. Assuming for the sake of argument that I violated a rule of surf etiquette, that's like a driver telling a jaywalker they hit with their car that it was the jaywalker's fault because they shouldn't have been there. Classic narcissistic blame-shifting.

Seems like her guilty mind is scraping for salve, and Stanley reminded me that she'll have to live with this on her conscience. Perhaps karma will also come back around for her.

18 May 2024

Be Kind

It's been just over a week since the accident, and I've been thinking about my response to the surfer who hit me. I wasn't angry then, but I am a little angry now. On the beach, when Canadian Amanda Portinari ran up to apologize, my better angel took control and I reacted with kindness and empathy. She'd hurt me, but I didn't hurt her back. I treated her the way I would have wanted to be treated, were our situations reversed. She made a mistake, she was careless, but she didn't intentionally run her surfboard into me. 

Can you imagine what the world would be like if more people responded with empathy instead of anger?

Unfortunately, Amanda has not reciprocated. Had I been in her flip-flops, I would have owned the results of my carelessness in the water and helped her on land. While health care is free in El Salvador, it very much isn't in the U.S. My cut became infected, delaying removal of the stitches and landing me on a course of stronger antibiotics. Amanda hasn't responded to my messages yet, but I hope she will stop listening to her bad angel and step up to cover my expenses, at the very least. It's the right thing to do.

11 May 2024

Relax and Recover

My last full day in El Salvador was relaxing, since I couldn't surf, skate, or train. I sat near the infinity pool and read my book, watched surfers riding the waves that had bumped up further, took another walk on the beach at low tide, and had a tasty lunch with Myra and Ellie at Nan Tal, just up the coast from our hotel. Then I dipped my toes in the warm Pacific Ocean one last time.

10 May 2024

Surfing and Socialized Medicine

I didn't expect my next to last full day to include an ambulance ride to the national hospital.

Foot position needs work
After a much-needed rest, I was ready to get back in the water and happy when coach Stanley said we would be surfing the El Zonte break off the hotel beach. I really didn't want to go back to La Paz, and El Zonte looked manageable and fun. Better yet, there was a rip, and I was able to make it outside with little difficulty.

The break was crowded though, with a couple turtles joining a lot of surfers. I sat near Santos who helped me with wave selection, provided tips like needing to paddle more toward the point to catch the wrapping waves, and gave me a few pushes into soft ones. 

My goals for the session were proper pop up to land with correct foot position, good surf posture, angling takeoff and looking down the line, and holding the bottom turn longer. I can see from the videos that I was thinking about those things, just not always executing them.

After I backed off a wave because I thought I might be dropping in on someone, Santos said he wouldn't tell me to go if it wasn't clear, but I wasn't confident of that.


We hadn't been out long and I was well on my way to my best surf of the trip when the session came to a screeching halt. While I was paddling back out, a blond shortboarder took off on a wave, headed straight at me. What happened next is a bit of a blur, but it ended with the pointy nose of her board, or perhaps a fin, slicing across the back of my left hand and slamming into my commitment ring, smashing my hand against my surfboard. (If you'd like to see the damage, click here.)

I looked at the bloody gash and then at her, already on her board and paddling away. "Are you OK?" I called, and she replied yes, without looking back. "I'm not!" I yelled at her retreating back, and then to my coach, "Santos, I'm hurt." 

Santos and Stanley were quickly by my side. Stanley pulled of his rash guard and told me to wrap it around the wound, then helped me to the beach. As we started for the stairs, the blond woman ran up, apologizing profusely. "I'm so so sorry," she said. "I didn't see you." "It's OK," I said, "stuff happens." Then Santos and the woman got into a shouting match in Spanish, the woman screaming words I didn't understand. Stanley said, "Let's go," and he and I proceeded up the cliffside stairs back to the hotel. 

Later, Sara told me the woman had been looking to the left, at her, and not where she was going. She'd also complained about the surf camp bringing too many people to the break, as if that was somehow causal.

In my room, I changed into dry clothes with difficulty, then met Stanley at the camp truck. We drove about 20 minutes up the road to El Tunco/Surf City, and walked several minutes on closed streets to the medical trailer at the ISA juniors surf contest.
There were no patients in the trailer and medical personnel swirled around me. They looked at my hand, cleaned and wrapped it, and gave me a shot in the butt of who knows what for pain. A female doctor who spoke English explained that since the wound was so ragged, they didn't want to try to stitch it themselves. 

Via Stanley's translation, I learned they'd called an ambulance to take me to the national hospital in San Salvador, about 40 minutes away. I was concerned about the cost and asked if we couldn't just drive there, but he explained that all health care in El Salvador is free to everyone. Wow, what a concept!

It was cool to be able to see a little of the surf contest while we waited.
 I didn't know there was a left in this land of rights
The hospital was old but they were constantly mopping. Sanitation was not up to U.S. standards - a fly zoomed around the room where they did my stitches - but there was no charge for x-rays, evaluations, an IV, local anesthetic, stitches, medication or anything else. I suspect I jumped the line as a foreign tourist though, ahead of residents in dirty gowns hooked up to IVs and waiting in the hallway.
A resident who spoke some English whisked me over the wet in a wheelchair
Long story short, the doctor said via Stanley that nothing was broken in my hand and the ligaments were fine. 'Tis but a flesh wound! (If you'd like to see the stitched wound, click here.) They sent us to the pharmacy for antibiotics and an NSAID for pain, and we eventually found the hospital exit to reach  the waiting surf camp van. On the way back to the hotel, we got stuck in traffic for Mothers' Day, which is a holiday for everyone and celebrated on Friday instead of Sunday.
I hope never to use this card which says "bring this on your next visit"