Within a week of my arrival to Playa Gigante—a small fishing village of 500 people on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, where I moved to teach English—I already have a friend. Jamie, a wiry, energetic Nicaraguan, offers to teach me how to surf if I teach him how to speak English.
A deal is made. We head to the beach.
“Ready!?” yells Jamie as he runs to the water and back-flips into an incoming wave.
I rope the leash around my ankle and strut to the water, long hair blowing in the breeze, bikini firmly in place. God, I already feel like a surfer. I throw the board down, shimmy aboard, and paddle gracefully towards the white water. One two three four: my long arms propel me forward, droplets of water sparkling and splashing about in the morning sun.
Distracted by my surfing prowess, I don’t notice the first wave until it crashes on top of me. I’m pummeled into salt water. I surface, gasping, wet hair slapped across my face, over my eyes. I hug the board: a castaway draped over driftwood. With a great heave-ho, I swing my right leg back aboard, dig my knee in, hoist the left one up, and look up to see another wave, cresting and frothing, looming overhead.
I do the one thing Jamie told me not to do: I abandon ship. I slip off my board and try to duck under the wave, which instead grabs me and takes me with it, depositing me ten feet from the shore—right where I started.
I make it past the crashing waves only when I stop trying to swim and instead walk-wade through the water, bracing against the current with my feet, holding onto the board with an outstretched arm. When I finally arrive to Jamie, floating up and down on the calmer sea, he re-narrates the whole endeavor—how it is, exactly, that one surfs.
So, the idea is this: I lie flat on a board and paddle until a wave comes to swoop me along. I’m then expected in about two seconds to swing my left leg from the very back of the board to the very front; simultaneously I must complete a full-body push-up—bringing my core vertical—while skidding along a bumpy wave on a tiny, slippery board; and then just, you know, be standing.
It’s an incredible proposition.
In sum: I’m a 6’1” female. I have very long legs and skinny, weak, long arms. (I can’t do a full push-up on dry, unmoving land.) Also, I am a mere eleven inches shorter than the learner’s board Jamie borrowed from its rightful owner—who is, incidentally, a seven-year-old boy.
I slide atop the board, center my weight—más atrás, Jamie says, and I scoot forward instead of back. Jamie says, “atrás, Megan, atrás,” then pushes me back and pulls the board around until I’m facing the shore.
We wait. And then, too soon, Jamie yells: “That one, that one’s yours. Wait. Wait. Ok. One, two, three, PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE!”
I windmill my arms, furiously producing a great show of splashing without actually moving, and then the wave is upon me. It picks me up with a great swoosh, covers me in whitewater, and I roar through the water. I forget about moving my arms or legs or anything except staying on the board, which I promptly fail to do and crash into the water. I roll around, roil through the water; I think about protecting my neck and vital organs but can’t arrange my limbs accordingly. The board tugs my ankle, so I go limp and follow the tug until my butt hits sand and my head pops up into the land of air and I gasp and cough. I hear Jamie in the distance, clapping and yelling: “Almost!”
He drags me back out, again and again—always with an enthusiastic “almost!”—and, again and again I get pummeled. After three months, Jamie can hold a basic conversation in English yet all I can manage is to plant my stomach on board—effectively boogie boarding a very long raft—and then scramble to my knees towards the end of the wave, look as if I’m contemplating standing up, and then tumble ungracefully into the water.
—Megan Kimble (pictured, flailing) is a Spanish-speaking, laptop-wielding, six-foot gringa wandering around Latin America and, as of late, Los Angeles, where she’s from. Megan is game to try anything new, mostly so she write about the hilarity of her endeavors on her blog when something inevitability goes wrong (www.squibbling.wordpress.com).