HE SAYSThe background:
Jenny has never surfed. As to my knowledge the closest she's come to surfing is body boarding in small waves. She's athletic and in shape with a strong core. In other words, she's a runner, and you've probably read about her in some of my running stories. She's a strong swimmer and loves the ocean. In my mind this is a perfect combination for teaching someone the "stoke" of surfing. About a month ago we booked a trip to Puerto Rico (super cheap $59 each way flights from Jet Blue). This is my fourth trip to Rincon in the past year so I feel like I've got a great layout of the land. I talk about surfing so much that Jenny has generated a strong interest in the sport and fascination for it. Since she doesn't own a wetsuit and the water in Central Florida is too cold to skin it in the winter, we decided the 80-degree winter time water of Puerto Rico would be an excellent opportunity for a surf lesson.
Puerto Rico is tricky for beginning surfers when compared to Florida beaches, which for the most part have a forgiving sand bottom. In Puerto Rico you have a little bit of everything; rocky slab, coral reefs, grass and sand bottoms. Obviously, I was not going to put Jenny in the water over shallow coral reef or in any area with spots of large rocks and sea urchins (ouch!). Getting in and out of the water in Puerto Rico is also sometimes the hardest and most technical thing about a session. Often times the shoreline is clustered with rocks and with powerful waves at your back you can easily get bashed into them if you're too tired or don't have a plan and location to exit the water.
My friend John, his wife Julie and I devised a plan for Jenny's surf lesson. Jobos Beach (see satellite picture) is an area near Isabela, about a hour drive from Rincon depending on traffic. It is one of my favorite beaches because the water is usually beautiful and the beach curves around almost 180 degrees into a giant rock bluff. Inside this rock bluff is an area of sand and grass bottom that is very forgiving. There are no sea urchins and you can see everywhere you step. The rocks create a natural barrier to the open ocean and a shelter from wind if it's an onshore day. At the point of the rocks there is a distinctive right point break that forms and sometime a short peaky left. The curve of the landscape creates a natural rip current that will take you directly to the beginning of the point break if you get caught on the inside too far to the west or upon initially paddling out. For someone that doesn't want to paddle it's a dream come true. Between the inside circular rip current and the outside break there's a shallow sand bar where the white wash of the waves rolls across quite consistently providing the perfect spot for a beginning surf lesson. I chose a 9'1" performance epoxy longboard for Jenny to learn on with the idea that it's light weight and has lots of flotation to give her extra time while learning to stand up.
First Jenny got on top of the board in shallow water. Laying down on the board she balanced easily with no problems. I swam out to the sandbar while she paddled. No balance issues with the paddling; we were off to a great start. Before getting into the water we had several long discussions about "how to" surf and even practiced hopping up on imaginary surfboards on the ground. The last instruction I left Jenny with right before beginning the paddle out was something like this: "One thing I want you to be aware of is how powerful these waves can be although they look small. It's still hundreds of pounds of sea water moving toward you. If at any time you fall off the board and find the board between you and a broken wave without enough time to get control of the surfboard then you have to dive down because the one place the surfboard is not going to be is on the bottom. Get away from the board at all cost because believe me, you don't want that board being pushed into you with all the weight of the ocean behind it!"
Jenny was nodding at this advise like it made perfect sense. We paddled out, made it to the sandbar and I positioned her for her first wave. We passed up a few waves and then a medium size wall of white wash quickly approached.
"This wave has your name all over it Jenny, are you ready," I asked!
She said "yes," and I placed my hand on the squashtail and shoved with all my mite right as the wave hit us.
The first wave took her and she rode it out just like a body boarder getting a feeling for the ride, just as I said she might want to do on the first few.
Eventually Jenny decided it was time to stand up and surf a wave. This she did with very little trouble. As I watched her glide away from me on the wave I could imagine the smile on her face. About 30 yards or so away from me she fell off the board. Not a big deal. I trudged backwards up onto the sandbar and began waiting for her to paddle back (which, by the way, she is an amazingly strong paddler for a beginner) just as I had been doing the previous few times. I didn't seen anything out of the ordinary. She was back on the board, paddling back my way and I could make out her white teeth as she was smiling ear to ear! Being super stoked for her, I put both my hands high in the air and screamed "woohooo!"
As she neared I could tell something was different about her. Her smile was huge and I think she even screamed something back, but her face looked different. It took me a second to realize the crimson hue covering the right side of her face almost like a window-lit shadow at dusk. She was still smiling as my smile faded into a look of horror. John and Julie were only a few yards away from me and their faces turned to similar expressions. Jenny's face was covered in blood. Jenny reaches the sandbar and I grab the nose of the surfboard to hold her in place.
"I want to do it again," she yells with playful excitement!
"Did you hit your face," I ask with curiosity?
"Yes," she says.
"Does it hurt," I ask as I get closer to her for a better look?
"Yes, a little, but I want to do it again," Jenny says.
"Because your eyebrow is swollen up something horrible and you're bleeding all over the place," I tell her.
Jenny wipes her hand across the small, but largely swollen, gash on the outer edge of her eyebrow and sees her hand covered in blood. She then tells me she did exactly what I told her not to do; she fell in front of the board placing the board between her and the wave and instead of diving down only one thing came to mind: AIR!
When she came up for air the board was pushed into her face! Despite several objections on her part and "wanting to do it again," we all decided that we should go in and tend to the wound and then come back out later for round two of surfing.
Jobos is a beautiful beach, but there are not any drug stores nearby. It's all run down beach bars and a few condos and apartments. Neither John nor I thought to bring a first aid kit (not one of our more brilliant decisions).
The Hardcore Aftermath:
John and Julie stayed with the surfboards at the car (Jobos is somewhat localized and you can't leave anything unattended) and Jenny and I walked over to a bar that was just opening (it was late morning).
"Hola. Taza de hielo por favor," I ask with my crappy Spanish?
The bar tender gives us both a quizzical look and hands over a paper cup of ice and a few paper napkins. She sees Jenny's face and says some Spanish really fast at which Jenny and I look at each other in confusion. All I heard is "ron blanco," which means "white rum."
She hands over a shot of un-spiced Bacardi rum and as so many Puerto Ricans will do when you try and speak Spanish to them, abruptly changes to English and says something like, "white rum for the eye." At first I'll have to admit I thought the rum was to drink as some kind of pain killer, but then Jenny and I both realized it was to sterilize the wound.
I said "sterilize" and the bartender smiled and nodded her head realizing the word she could not think of in English. So what does Jenny do?
Hell yeah, she does!
She takes the napkin, dips it in the shot of rum and applies it directly to her eyebrow. How hardcore is that?!?! All I could do is think about what a killer first time surfing story this is turning out to be. Never once did Jenny complain. I didn't even hear a sarcastic "ouch." She is truly stoked about her first surfing experience and if we weren't there she probably would have continued surfing.
Upon looking at the injury in the side mirror of a parked car I think she starts to realize how much it is swelling up so it's a good thing we got the ice. So in a nutshell; Jenny goes to Puerto Rico with her boyfriend, whom gives her her first surfing lesson at which time she takes the surfboard directly in the face like a blow from Mike Tyson and is so stoked about the ride she fails to notice the Niagara Falls of blood gushing down her face to the horror of Boyfriend, whom then forces her to paddle in, go to a bar for ice, and sterilize the wound with rum!
Now while this might sound like I'm getting the capital FAIL on this adventure there is a happy ending. Simply put - Jenny surfed and she loved it! She accomplished the main goal of surfing. The only thing that matters at the end of the day. . . to have fun!
It will be interesting to see what she writes from her perspective and we might even have to tell you the rest of the story (i.e. the second session lesson a few days later that went mucho gusto better) in the same format in a later post.
I'll end my story with another funny note. The swelling stopped thanks to the ice. There was no infection thanks to the rum. There was, however, a very "black eye," "shiner," "periorbital hematoma," or whatever you want to call it for the week following. After Puerto Rico Jenny went home and I went home. Jenny went back to work (in a hospital of all places) amongst her friends with a black eye after being gone for a week with her boyfriend. Talk about sending a good impression toward your girlfriend's friends? Man, was I concerned. One of Jenny's good friends actually boxes competitively and while she is female I still wouldn't want her taking a swing at me. I told Jenny she "had" to convince this friend the truth. In perspective, I think I was more worried about what friends and co-workers may think than Jenny, but it's all good now and we're both looking forward for the water to warm up and to go surfing again as soon as possible!
SHE SAYSHi. This is my first experience writing on a blog. TallGuy, my wonderful boyfriend, and surf-instructor extraordinaire, invited me to recount my first experience surfing with him in writing. Let me start by saying, it was awesome! Sylvan, John, Julie and I went to Jobos Beach on our first day in Puerto Rico. Sylvan and John felt this beach would be the best place to learn, as the bottom is sand and the waves would be more beginner friendly than those found on other nearby beaches.
Sylvan and I were visiting with John and Julie, who currently live in Rincon. Julie, John’s wife, is a kindred spirit, and also relatively new to surfing. She is by far more experienced in surfing, and was very helpful and encouraging about getting myself set up to surf. It was nice to know that she would be in the water, learning, too. Sylvan, of course, had been, and continues to be very supportive in getting me on the board. Just listening to him talk about surfing is motivation!
Jobos Beach, Wednesday, day 1 in Puerto Rico, Sylvan, John, Julie and I head out to the beach, first thing in the morning. Along the way, we stop at a gas station for snack, energy drink and restroom break before proceeding to the beach. It’s a beautiful morning, warm, blue, sunny, much better than the unusually cool/cold winter that has invaded Florida these past couple months. I freely admit that I am putting shame to my home state of Virginia, in how wimpy I am when it comes to the cold. We parked along the road, and I put on the rash guard that Sylvan had surprised me with a couple nights before this day : )
I was kind of nervous, didn’t want to disappoint anybody, or embarrass myself, but mostly excited and happy to be sharing this time with Sylvan and new friends. Sylvan and John let Julie and me carry the boards to the beach.
We pass by two beach bars, a dead bloated puffer fish, and alas are on the beautiful, sandy beach that is Jobos. I looked out and to the right there was a somewhat long expanse of rocks that kind of looked like a natural pier. Waves were crashing behind it and it looked like a fun place to stand and cool off with water jetting on you from the blow hole.
What looked terrifying were the enormous waves that grew toward the end of the rocky “pier.” Sylvan reassured me we would not be going near those waves. We were to stay closer to shore, and more to the left, far away from anything even near the size of a one-story building. Someday though that would be really cool!
Julie and I got on the boards and started paddling out, while John and Sylvan swam out along side us. It felt fairly easy. I liked gliding along using my arms and being able to look out onto the water. I swim and have had a love of all-things marine since I was a little girl. I truly wanted to be a mermaid when I was little, but soon learned I’d sooner become a prune than a fish if I stayed in the water for any prolong period of time. So, I’ll take snorkeling, swimming and surfing as an alternative any day.
When we got out to a spot shallow enough for John and Sylvan to stand and good for Julie and I to surf, Sylvan reviewed what we were about to do. I was to stay flat on the board for the first few waves and he was going to push me into them. This would be my first introduction into what it feels like to catch and ride along a wave. We did this a few times and then it was time for me to try to get up. I was a little wary of the idea not being sure if I was ready, but then again, was sure I was ready. It was time to just try, try and remember all Sylvan, John, and Julie told me and stand up!
One thing Sylvan told me about potentially falling off the board, well more like, when you fall off the board, was “whatever you do, if you fall in front of the board, dive DOWN, do not swim up until you are sure the board is away from you.” I will forever remember these scholarly words of advice.
My goal initially, was to get on my knees. Done! Super fun. Next time - on knee with one knee up. Done! Again, super fun. And then, up, up! Up, up, I went! A millisecond of pure joy and splash (in front of the board)! Excitement, adrenaline, happiness poured through me as I immediately swam up, not down, searching for the sky so that I may get on the board and paddle out to Sylvan and share my joy with him as fast as possible.
Blunt force to right eyebrow. . . moment of shock. . . passing thought, “this must be what it feels like to be punched in the face.”
I was so excited I just got on the board, ignored the pain and paddled back to Sylvan. When I first got on the board I saw him smiling, arm raised up and as I got closer his smile became a half-smile and his eyes looked more concerning.
“Are you OK,” he asks?
Of course I was OK. Did he not see my millisecond of glory?
“You’re bleeding,” he says.
So there went my idea of skirting around the fact that I had done exactly what he told me not to do and swam up instead of diving down when the board is behind you. John and Julie had similar looks of support combined with horror. They told me it was swelling up and I could tell it probably wasn’t pretty. Still, I really didn’t think it was a big deal. It did not feel like I had a concussion or anything and it’d be a shame to stop playing now when I had such potential for standing up for maybe 2 milliseconds, or even 5! Sylvan said it didn’t look like I’d need a stitch or anything and so we agreed to keep at it for a few more waves before going back to the beach. Sylvan pushed me into a few more waves and I was able to get to my knees or one knee up and one knee down a couple times. It wouldn’t be until my second surfing lesson that I’d get to my feet and achieve my goal of standing for a few seconds.
Sylvan looked pretty concerned and I didn’t want him or John or Julie to worry. Also, he’d been out in the water standing in the current for a long time and I didn’t want him getting worn out. Sylvan and John were going to get their surfing in later, at Wilderness.
Sylvan and I made it to the beach, carried the board to the car with John and Julie and made for the closest bar to find ice. Before heading to the bar, I’d looked in the side rearview mirror of John’s car and saw the swollen bobble. It looked like a large marble had embedded itself underneath my eyebrow and nested there. It was mobile too, which was kind of fun. I could push it around, though it kind of hurt. The cut didn’t look bad. It was about a 2 centimeters in length and not deep.
Lydia, the bartender, at the beach bar was to be my nurse for the moment. She is a shorter Hispanic woman appearing to be in her forties/fifties, probably street-smart, caring and motherly tough. She gave me some ice and let me stand next to the bar as I bleed onto the napkin and ice she had gave me. Lydia asked me if I’d like some rum, gold or white? I agreed with the passing thought of maybe saving some to drink. I chose white rum. Sylvan offered to pay for the ice and she declined as she said she would charge $100 but it’s free if he didn’t have it. I think Lydia got a kick out of our visit. It at least, maybe, provided her with some comic-relief for the morning. We liked Lydia anyway, and next time I’m in Jobos, I’ll be looking to get my rum from her, para un bebido, and not for my eyebrow : )
Sylvan and I found our way back to John and Julie at the bar next door and relaxed a bit before heading out for the rest of the day’s adventure. Sylvan and John got to surf at Wilderness while Julie and I took a walk along the beach and explored some ruins. I had so much fun that day and throughout the rest of the week.
My next surf lesson came without injury. Sylvan is a great teacher. He has a strong passion for surfing and an incredible way of harnessing that passion into a lifelong learning experience in and out of the water. I am so grateful for having him in my life and for him sharing his passions with me. Thank you for having me on your blog Sylvan! The experience I had surfing in Puerto Rico this January was fuel for the fire. I can see how easily addictive it is and why Sylvan is on his board as much as possible. I love the water, love finding peace in activity (if that makes any sense) and love sharing experiences with people I care about. Surfing incorporates all these things and I’m looking forward to learning more about it and getting on the board again soon, sans injury, and sans cold weather. In the mean time, happy running! ; ) Jenny