It’s not always easy to explain to people how going to surf camp is an integral part of working through complicated emotions.  Remember the scene in Almost Famous where Zooey Deschannel plays the Simon and Garfunkel single “America” for her mom and says “This song explains why I’m leaving home to become a stewardess”?  Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

Luckily the people you meet at surf camp get it without the musical aids (although who doesn’t love one’s life story told over the soothing dulcet sounds of a wandering mariachi band?).  One good wave can change your day.  So can getting hit in the face with a surfboard, although the latter is much more unpleasant.  

I spent two weeks at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica to start off a one year, round the world, soul-searching odyssey centered around learning a different skill everywhere I went.  The general idea: 12 skills, 12 countries, 12 months.  I wanted to have a better focus to my year abroad than just randomly travelling and, in all likelihood, squandering my time and money.  A beach vacation where I’d wake up, work out, and then work on my tan seemed like a good way to ease myself into the whole thing.  

Things started off well.  I met a beautiful, fun, dynamic group of girls right off the bat who I hung out with all week, including my roommate and classmate Christa who so simply and wisely put into words an explanation for why I had decided to come to camp: “You need this.”  

After a few days of perpetually falling off my board while she sailed above the waves and mastered her arm placement (Whaddaya mean that one hour lesson in Australia three years ago means nothing?!) I was less certain that I “needed” this.

“You think too much,” my instructor Josimar would tell me, “stop rushing all the time, just feel the wave and go for it.  You can’t catch a wave if you don’t even try for it.”  Story of my frickin’ LIFE, Josimar.  By the end of the week I was catching waves, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be.  Luckily, I had decided to stay on for one more round of beating up my body through surf.

The next week, I had a different instructor with different methods.  That is, paddle out farther than you’ve ever paddled before, past the breaks to the green water and then sit and wait and watch these terrifying wave form while you wait for them to crush you over and over again with no chance of recovery.  Oh, great idea, J Luis!  

Well, it turns out, it wasn’t quite as terrifying out there.  And while I sat waiting for an agreeable wave, something within me just clicked, I stopped psyching myself out and allowed myself to give in and feel the next wave.

And just like that, I was on top of the world feeling humbled, happy, peaceful and accomplished, I thought, “Oh, this is why people like to surf.”  

Yeah, girlfriend was right.  You need this.