Surf Town, Planet Earth

Waves in Pavones, Costa Rica

If he looked back on what his life had been lately, he had perhaps managed two or three days when he had woken up, looked at the sun – or the rain – and felt glad to see the morning, just happy, without wanting anything, planning anything, or asking anything in exchange. Apart from those few days, the rest of his existence had been wasted on dreams, both frustrated and realized – a desire to go beyond himself, to go beyond his limitations, he had spent his life trying to prove something, but he didn’t know what or to whom. -Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

A bunch of girls from Surf with Amigas were taking a boat from Matapalo to Pavones, and offered to let me tag along. The boat would pick us up at Pan Dulce, and one of Michelle’s neighbors generously offered to give me and my boards a ride down on his quad. He dropped me off at the beach parking lot, and I scanned the horizon for a boat. The tide was low, and clean, well-formed waves were breaking around the rocky, cobblestone point on the south end. It was difficult to imagine where a boat would land as the beach break was slamming against the sand and the point was dotted with sharp, shallow rocks poking through the surface of the water.

Eventually, I got an answer as I saw a tiny boat punch through the waves at the point, hang a left toward the rocks, and slide through a keyhole of deep water before backing up to a tiny patch of sand. At least two hundred yards of sharp, slippery cobblestones stood between me and the boat. I thought about asking for help, but it didn’t seem right. I put myself in this position with all these boards, and I was going to deal with it. I carried my backpack over to the boat and tried to scout out the best path. I returned for the board bag, hefted it onto my head, and thankfully made it to the boat without eating it on the rocks.

We boarded the boat and took off, watching a beautiful set roll in through Pan Dulce. The amigas said Pavones should be pumping. And indeed it was. As we cruised across the bay, we started to see sets rolling it at Pavones Point. They were overhead, clean; some of the longest, most perfectly formed lefts I have ever seen. The boat docked on the beach and we unloaded our gear. My friend Marie had recommended a cabina, and after checking out the various lodging options, I decided to take her advice and settle in at the small, shaded accommodation overlooking the waves. Horses roamed freely through the town and on the beach.

I stocked up at the super mercado, thrilled at my proximity to fresh produce after spending the last few weeks miles away from stores and restaurants. After unpacking my groceries and grabbing a bite to eat, I set up my hammock by the beach and watched the waves for a bit. They were fast, high performance walls, about what I’d expected from everything I’d heard about the place. I went for a surf and started the process of figuring out the wave firsthand. It was hard to get into and hard to make sections. But I picked off a few and they were fun, a good learning experience to get up and get going backside.

As the sun set, I came in and got ready for dinner. There was a fiesta and rodeo going on, and vendors had set up stands selling food, clothing, and jewelry in the town square. A surf movie was projected on a large screen, loud music screamed from speakers, an announcer shouted an ongoing dialogue, competing with the flashing images and bumping music for attention.

I wandered around for a bit, bored despite all the stimulation, and went to bed early. All my itchy stings and bites had been keeping me up at night, and I had finally gotten ahold of some Benadryl. I slept deeply and awoke groggy the next morning, desperate for coffee. In the town square, a stand was open, and I ordered cafe con leche. It was the equivalent of two dollars for a small plastic cup full of weak coffee. I asked for sugar, and turned to watch the waves as the vendor went to fetch it. Eventually, I turned back, still bleary eyed, and spooned two generous helpings of crystals into my cup. As I stirred the coffee, my vision cleared, and I saw the sugar container resting on the far side of the bar. I had seasoned my coffee with salt. I motioned to the vendor and explained my mistake. She muttered under her breath and brought another cup, set it down, glared at me. You need to pay, she said. I don’t have it, I replied, surprised that she would demand more money, as such a thing would generally be complementary back home. She withdrew the small plastic cup and I drank my salted coffee, deep in thought.

In a way, I understand how this type of attitude proliferates in a place like Pavones. People come here from all over the world, to surf a world class wave in a picturesque tropical setting. They come for surf, and amenities, and not much else. Many of these people, myself included, are on a budget, real or imagined, and looking to stretch it as thin as cellophane, wrap it around as many waves as they can. And thus ensues a tug of war between the people of the third world and the first.

On a boat trip in the Mentawais, Indonesians would paddle up in their canoes, selling crafts and carvings made of wood. One man was selling a hand carved bow and set of arrows, beautifully crafted and engraved. A surfer on my boat indicated that he wanted to buy it and asked how much it was. Twenty dollars, the Indonesian said. The surfer countered with five dollars. The Indonesian explained that it had taken a lot of work to make this archery set, that it was worth much more. Bargaining is a part of Indonesian culture, and I fully expected the two to hash it out and settle on a price. But the surfer wouldn’t budge. Five dollars. He held firm. I thought of all the possessions he had brought with him on the boat – new boards, name brand clothing, a jailbroken iPhone, a subservient Indonesian wife who rubbed his feet every night. I though of the cost of the boat trip itself – over $2000 for 10 days, per person. And I looked at the Indonesian man in his dugout canoe, pictured him selecting the wood, carefully carving and stringing the bow, shaping the arrows by hand. Five dollars. When we hold our money so tightly, value others so little, its no wonder they fight in return for every penny.

This is my first time in Pavones, but I have been here before. I have been to many surf towns, with amenities, and perfect waves, in a picturesque tropical setting, filled with people frothing to get as many waves as they can. These types of places are the MTV of surfing, where all of the cool people hang out and talk about the turn someone did, the barrel someone pulled into. It is a proving ground, a scene, a place to be seen.

To be fair, these types of towns can be a lot of fun. There are lots of people to meet, many are young and good-looking and athletic. Most people speak English. There are things to buy, things to do to fill time between surf sessions. I ran into a group of Brazilians I had met in Matapalo, and we had a great time hanging out and watching the rodeo. There are wonderful people to be found, even in the midst of the surf craze. And of course, the waves are excellent. Yesterday, I got some of the fastest, funnest lefts I’ve ever surfed and feel like I’ve reached a new level in surfing backside.

Even the coffee vendor has come around. This morning we joked about my mistake with the salt and she gave me a mango from the tree above her stand. The people in the cabina where I’m staying are wonderful. We’ve run out of water two days in a row and they’ve all been extremely considerate and generous about sharing their supplies and keeping the place clean despite the shortage. The owners even offered to let me use their computer when mine wouldn’t start. Luckily a few rounds in the freezer brought it back to life. We’ll see how long it holds up.

Pavones was where I had originally planned to start my trip, but I don’t think it’s where I’m meant to be. I’m glad to see it, because I would have wondered what it was like, would have spun a decadent fantasy safe from the discerning palate of experience. But now that I’ve tasted it, I’m ready to move on. I will head towards Dominical, but other than that, I don’t have much of a plan. I like to think that I’m holding space for magic. Hopefully, with openness, and a little bit of luck, some more will come my way.

3 thoughts on “Surf Town, Planet Earth

  • Posted on April 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    “When we hold our money so tightly, value others so little, its no wonder they fight in return for every penny.”
    Best writing yet. This and wrapping cellophane over waves. Love it.

  • Posted on April 20, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Oh those dreamy lefts!

  • Posted on April 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Loved this blog and pix and particularly loved your ‘phone call of yesterday. I’m living vicariously through you although as you know I don’t like roughing it. 🙂 Luv, Nana


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