waves, birds at Jaco beach

Plantain Cakes and Surfing

waves, birds at Jaco beach

I’m in Costa Rica with the Wilson Clan,

all eighteen of us, and things are surfacing. If you’ve been reading along for a while, you’ll know that we travel en masse and we’re a well greased (and often greasy) machine. My husband and three brother in laws have an internal GPS linked to each other. They also have a shared internal grocery list, and can move through a crowded kitchen like (somewhat bulky) dancers. Just last night they made plantain cakes, as William at the Eco Lodge where we stayed in La Fortuna had taught us a few nights before. One chopped, one cooked, one mashed, another fried. They were amazing.

It’s a joy to be along for this smooth ride. But I know that smooth rides don’t come easily. Smooth rides take practise.

Take surfing for example. Part two of this holiday is in Jacó, a busy beach town on the west coast of Costa Rica. A surf school is right outside our door. The waves are consistent and unrelenting, all day every day. The water is warm, and the ocean floor is soft and sandy. It’s the perfect place to learn, so we’ve been taking lessons.

Once we proved we could balance on the baby waves, we headed out past the break. This involves duck diving under the waves, with your board trailing behind on a leash like a reluctant kid, trying to pull you back shore. Each dive feels like being battered in a spin cycle, each pull of the board feels like ten steps back to shore. It’s a battle.

But then you hit the calm water, turn your board to face the beach, breathe hard, and wait.

Cali, our instructor, hangs out with us, teaching us to look back at the waves, shoulder checking like we’re ‘driving a truck.’ He tells us when to paddle hard, then yells GET UP!

So I got up and did what I was told: bend low, steer with your front arm, nice and low. Pump with your hips, feather your board. It’s a hilarious move on sand while practising, but on the water, it works.

When everything comes together, the ride is smooth. Somehow the battle to get there is erased, because before you know it, you’re back in the battle, fighting once again. Smooth rides take practise.

I like surfing. I’m not surprised; I love the water, and something buried inside of me loves exhilaration. But along the way that feeling got tangled up with shame, or something I haven’t quite put my finger on. This came up a few years ago at a writing workshop. One of the exercises was to write down an early memory, and this story flowed out of me:

It was the end of summer and my sister Sally had just received a bicycle for her 6th birthday. We lived on a smooth road in Jackson, Miss, and I wanted more than anything to take the bicycle out for a spin. Sally sensed my desperation, handed over her brand new bicycle and I hopped on. I remember cruising down the driveway, turning left down our road and bicycling away as fast I could. A warm wind hit my face, I felt so free. Eventually I cruised back home, up the driveway and faced my parents. I can’t remember what was said, but I know it had something to do with not listening and going too far. It wasn’t just an ‘early memory’, it was also the first in a long line of ‘getting in trouble’ memories.

I read my memory aloud to the small class, weaving in the sense of shame I often felt when remembering my childhood.

The instructor listened, paused, then said, “I thought it was a story about a brave little girl who could ride a bicycle.” A student followed with, “I thought it was a story about a generous older sister who shared her birthday present with her little sister.” Another said, “to me, it was all about the thrill of freedom.”

Twisting memories can be as easy as applying a filter over an instagram image: a blue sky can turn grey with the swipe of a finger.

Since that workshop I’ve tried to apply a new filter to those memories. Inside of me is a brave gal who wants to go fast. She is willing to work in order to glide. She appreciates the generosity of others, and loves tagging along for the ride.

plantain cakes with guacamole and salsa

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