Surf’s Up: Part 3

I went to Puerto Rico for New Year’s this year.  I had never been before, and it was burning a hole in my bucket list.  I was dying to get there.

When we decided to go, one of the women I was going with told me about Rincon, the surf town in the northwest of the island.  I immediately signed up for surf lessons.

It has been years since I last surfed, but I was focused on getting back on a board.

PR Surfing

It was a lot harder then I remembered.  The paddling turned my arms into spaghetti.  The rocks under the water make my legs look like purple eggplants.  The surf rash turned my belly into hamburger.  (I must be hungry as I write this!!)

But, it was also so much more rewarding than I remembered.  I earned every wave I caught.  Each ride was a celebration.  Every time I made it back out after seemingly endless paddling was a triumph.  The turtle that swam by my board was a miracle.

It is clear:  I am not a natural surfer.  But without any doubt:  I am a surfer. 


Surf’s Up: Part 2

My next few times surfing after Hawaii I realized what a fluke my first experience had been.  In San Diego, Costa Rica and Mexico the ocean kicked my ass much harder than it had in Hawaii.  The water was colder.  The beaches were rockier.  My body immediately broke out into surf rash whenever I looked at a board.  And the waves were not as easy to catch.

But, I kept at it.  Like a true addict I turned a blind eye to the signs that I was hurting myself.  I laughed off my arms that were so sore I couldn’t lift them to brush my hair.  I slathered on aloe vera and Neosporin to my surf rash, pretending my body didn’t look like I had taken a cheese grater to it.  And I was secretly proud of all the bumps and bruises making me look like a 7-year old girl at the end of summer.

Every wave I actually caught washed away the pain.


And, it wasn’t just the thrill of the ride I craved.  I relished the whole ritual.  Waking up before dawn, and waxing my board.  Carrying it down to the beach, my feet tortured by the pebbled roads.  Paddling out in the dark, silent water.  Watching the sunrise over the horizon.  Straddling the board and gently rocking as I watched the first class surfers cutting across the sea.  Spotting the occasional turtle or dolphin.  And, yes, riding the few waves I managed to catch.

Surfing taught me patience.  And living in the moment.  And that the wave missed is just as beautiful as the wave caught.  And that anything worth doing is worth working hard for.

Surfing taught me that I am strong, and can be graceful, and have great determination.  It reminded me to look around, catch my breath, and just go for it.

SD Surfing

That’s me…standing up…and surfing!

Surf’s Up: Part 1

I learned to surf on a whim.  My friend Ellen had a work trip in Hawaii (Oahu) and I tagged along, staying for free in her room.  During the day she worked her ass off in 12-plus-hours of standards meetings, and at night we drank Mai Tais together with her colleagues.  While she was stuffed in a conference room debating the merits of our company’s way to store map data on a CD versus our competitors, I roamed the island.

Sure, I felt a little guilty.  But, dwelling on the injustice wasn’t going to do either of us any good.  I’d wake up, go to the gym, hit the Japanese style breakfast, walk along the beach, shop, get a fruit shake and sushi for lunch, play in the waves, and shop in the craft markets.  By the time Ellen returned from each day’s meetings, I would be waiting with Mai Tais in hand on our balcony, full of energy to listen about her day’s frustrations under the fluorescent lights.

Mai Tais

That is probably how my week would have progressed—not a bad week!—if I hadn’t met Mike.  Mike with his big smile and muscled torso was standing at my fruit shake stand.  Like the neighborhood crack dealer, he offered me my first surf lesson for free.

And, as he somehow knew I would be, I was hooked.  It was only an hour, and it involved very little paddling and was not long enough for me to develop surf rash.  I had no idea the pain and effort surfing involved.  All I knew was that standing up on a surfboard was an incredible rush—a strange combination of zen and pride, peace and adrenaline.


For our second day’s lesson he drove us to the North Shore, our boards casually slung in the back of his pickup truck.

My eyes widened as I saw the waves. The huge waves. The waves that could wash away the entire pick up truck.

Mike looked at me, smiled his magnetic smile, and rubbed my shoulders in encouragement.  “You’ll love it.  You were a champ yesterday.  You’ll do great!”

Who was I to challenge this maestro of his sport.  If he said I’d be great, surely he knew best.

With forced bravado I carried my board into the water, and started paddling out behind Mike.

Within minutes the illusion cracked.

Surfing is hard.  Ridiculously hard.

As I lay on my belly and paddled my arms as hard as I could, I was barely inching forward.  Worse, every few seconds a giant wave would crash in front of me.  And I kept being slammed in the face with white water, occasionally being knocked from the board completely.

Whenever Mike looked back at me I managed to smile, and pretend that this weird waterboarding paddling treadmill wasn’t pure torture.  I refused to give up.  I kept paddling.

Pretty soon my knees, thighs and belly were covered with something I would learn is called surf rash.  Tiny red raw bumps caused by a reaction to surf wax, that were screeching in pain in the salt water and every time I slid them over the board.

Twenty minutes later, I finally made it “out.”  I was past the breaking waves, into the calm of the open water.  I paddled bravely over Mike, who was straddling is board, keeping an eye on me and the ocean.

“Ready for your first wave?” he asked, skipping the gushing praise I thought I deserved for getting out.  “After you catch the wave, paddle back to me.”

That’s when the illusion shattered into pieces.  Every time I rode a wave into shore I would have to paddle back through the white water.

Swallowing, I assumed the position, and paddled with all my might as the wave Mike indicated started to break right behind me.  “Pop up!” I heard him call out behind me, and my body obeyed.  I stood up, and was surfing.

I turned my head and Mike’s fists were in the air, celebrating my success.  I turned back to shore and rode the wave, my body electric with joy.  After jumping off the board, I began the long painful paddle back to Mike, and back to my next fix.


Guest post by Rebekah Marcano (|| ||)

My good friend Cindy (also known as Cynthia), invited me on a fantasy island, magical, dream, spa vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico at a very luxurious hotel: Maroma. The moment we stepped onto the property, we were greeted with fresh mojitos, music playing in the dining room, the ocean just footsteps from our duplex suite named “Cuarenta”.

Our daily routine was simple. We lounged on beds on the beach as we ate guacamole, contemplated life, read books and soaked up the sun. We got facials, four hand massages, took yoga classes, pilates, and ran on the beach! Occasionally we would leave Maroma on excursions like swimming with dolphins, kayaking, swimming through caves, swinging from trees on ropes and landing in waterfalls!

We even drove one day to see the Mayan ruins in Ixtapa!

mayan ruins

Life was bliss. Looking through the spa menu, we thought we might try a “temazcal”, a health and spiritual ritual to cleanse the mind, body and spirit using a cement dome-like sweat lodge and volcanic rocks.

It was our only “to do” for the day. So when our wonderful waiters asked if we would like to sample tequila after breakfast, explaining some were aged this way and others that way, we thought, “Sure, why not?” Or maybe we asked them about the tequila, and why there were so many and how they were different.  Not sure of the order, but we started sampling tequila after breakfast.

tequila tasting

I could actually taste how they were different. Some were spicier. Smoother. Some burned your throat more. Others went down like water. We sipped soda water in between tastings. And when the room started spinning as I stood on a chair in the very quiet, peaceful, highend boutique-y, exclusive gated resort at 11:00 in the morning, I realized…tequila is NOT wine. And you do not have tequila tastings.

rebekah on the bar

After dropping my phone in the toilet and “falling asleep” on the floor, I woke up debating if I should still attend the Temazcal spa ritual. “Well it is heated, so it should get the toxins out like a sauna,” Cindy and I rationalized.

Stumbling over to the little hot box, we were greeted by many other guests. Somehow we were going to all fit in this tiny triangle hut.


We squished inside as the leader added burning coals to the center, making the tent hotter and hotter. She chanted and sang. Added more coals. This tent was really, really HOT. And it was getting hotter. But it felt good. She passed around a bucket of water to dump over ourselves, drums to play, and fruit to rub over our bodies. We chanted. We sang.

At first I was timid, only whispering the words. Then I could feel them in my throat, then in my belly. Suddenly I wasn’t afraid of what others would think of my voice and the words sort of took over my body and I could shout them – scream them! Even though I didn’t know what the words meant, I felt what they meant. I could feel the words’ feelings and power. I LOVE WORDS! I LOVE THE OCEAN! I LOVE LIFE!

And suddenly I wasn’t drunk anymore! I cried tears of joy and felt a sense of oneness with the universe, and a love for all around me. I was just so happy. Blissful. Euphoric. I was a blank slate ready to paint my life as the portrait I wanted…

Or maybe I was still drunk. Either way, this was pretty cool.

Could tequila plus a Temazcal lead the path to some sort of spiritual enlightenment? I really believe it was a special combination!  Perhaps the waiters were in on the magical ritual, and the tequila was just what we needed to complete the mind-body-spirit! One things for sure: Maroma was a magical place!

Pulling Is The Object of Stretching

I’ve recently taken up Bikram yoga, and the 90-minute class is surprisingly meditative. There are certain phrases that all the instructors say, time and again.

One of these phrases that recently had a strong impact on me was, “pulling is the object of stretching”.


Before I go any further, you have to understand a couple of things…

1)     I am certain that my interpretation of this is nothing along the lines of what the instructor meant to convey.

2)     Even worse, I am not supposed to be thinking at all during class.  I am supposed to be “in the moment”, focused on the posture at hand, using the instructors voice as a guide.

However, it is over 100 degrees in the room, and the class is 90 minutes long — and I am not a yogi.  And hey, at least I was focused on the instructions, and not thinking about what I wanted to eat for dinner, or when I get to see my niece and nephew next…

So, “pulling is the object of stretching” got my mind going.  I always thought the goal of stretching was tranquility, not effort.  And pulling definitely involves effort.  Lots and lots of effort as my muscles shake, and pain courses up and down my legs, in this case, inside and out, front and back.  Tremendous effort and discipline as sweat pours off my body, into my eyes, and up my nose.

I continued to ponder the expression as I tried not to let my sweat drown me.

Tranquility was no where in sight.  Requiring extreme effort is such a stark contrast to how I used to view stretching; the point of stretching was to relax!

But I realized: perhaps the people who are really flexible, who make it look like stretching is relaxing, have, in actuality, spent hours working at the pulling.  And they still are pulling.  They have just come to enjoy the act of pulling as much as they like the result of greater flexibility.

The same can be said of almost everything.  The actions that certain people take that may look easy, are, in fact, not.  Really, they are hobbies or interests that person has done enough times to reach the tipping point, whereby they actually enjoy the act as much as the result.

For me, that act is planning for travel.  Hotel websites are my guilty pleasure; my porn.  I love planning my next trip, working out the logistics, painting the boxes on the canvas that I will color in as the journey progresses.


And, because I love it so much, I do it with relish, and I do it well.  So, my trips tend to be more enjoyable, because I can linger more inside the boxes, choosing exactly what color blue to use and how thick and straight a line.  I have the time and luxury to indulge in the moment, because I have taken care of all the worrisome details in advance.  I have “pulled” for hours, and now I can relax.