The Four Cs to Getting Re-Stoked

Perhaps I spoke too soon.

As with most anything, there are ups and downs. I just seemed to be experiencing a steady stream of downs which led me to believe that mediocre was about as good as I was ever going to get. Now, I have never been very good at stomaching just mediocre, much less anything to the south, especially if I had been investing a fair amount of time and effort in an endeavor.

So, it’s been with a great sense of disappointment that I have chronicled my surfing misadventures of the past year — all starting with my near drowning at El Golfo and continuing through my trip to Guiones eight months later where the swell was consistently overhead and relentless for the entirety of my seven day stay. Yes I had some successes, but no breakthroughs, nothing to merit a mention of anything but a claim of “mediocre” for the quality of my surfing. So I beat myself up and publicly pronounced in this blog that I was “just not a natural.” I doubted that I would ever be anything better than a mediocre surfer — not the spirit that draws one back into the water, especially with the plethora of alternate athletic pursuits that release dopamine into the system and generate an endorphin high. Let’s see: feel bummed out or feel jazzed? I’ll go with jazzed and what makes me feel that way.

So I went back to the tried and true. I went back to the gym, and lifted weights for six months. I told myself that I was doing so because (as I’d read in several articles on aging) weight lifting was essential for men of my age to defend against bone weakness and the loss of bone density. Okay that seemed valid. But much closer to the truth, weight lifting was something I knew I could do and be good at — certainly I could be better than mediocre. So to the gym it was, earplugs in place, music and muscles pumping — I set about a high reps, high intensity workout three to four days a week, confident that a six month regime would deliver results that would make me feel good/better about myself physically and athletically.

And it did.

And then I went back to surfing.

Six months out of the water, I went back to Guiones — site of the relentless overheads. And this time, I went back with the express intention of having fun, whatever happened in the water.

And lo and behold, I did.

And even more, I got noticeably better in just 10 sessions.

So, what happened this time around that eluded me in my previous two excursions and caused me to both doubt my abilities and lose my confidence?

Well first, the conditions were more in line with my abilities. I was challenged, yes, but not overwhelmed by the size and speed of the waves.

Second, I had coaching from terrific instructors who focused keenly on just two or three elements that I could fine tune. (Now, in all fairness, I had had a superb coach who did the same on my first trip to Guiones, but the conditions were just too overwhelming.) On both occasions, the coaches were precise and persistent at pointing out the few incremental shifts that could allow for a leap in my performance on the waves.

Third, I made a commitment to both listen to and follow through on the coaching. The former without the latter is a formula for frustration if not futility. (And, yes, I will fess up that I have been and am one to listen to good counsel without following through in other areas of my life.) But that was not going to be the case this week. The pattern was going to be different — and perhaps good practice for those other areas of my life!

And, finally, I allowed myself to be content with my sessions — each and every one.  Whatever happened out on the water, I told myself that if I was following through on the advice of my coaches, then I could allow myself to be just fine with the results — content.

Conditions, coaching, commitment and contentment — these are my take-aways. These are the elements that have lifted me out of a place of disappointment (if not discouragement) and re-stoked my enthusiasm.

So, if you will allow, let me linger for a minute longer and reflect on the broader lessons — the broader implications of these convenient (and okay, slightly contrived) four Cs.

Conditions: They will always be different. They are the exogenous variable over which we have no control. What we do have is the knowledge that they will change. Sometimes they will overwhelm. Sometime they will underwhelm. At times they will challenge. At other times, they will seem easy. Once in a while, they will be perfect. And then it all changes all over again. For my part, I can honor this dynamic, knowing full well to stay away when the conditions are clearly beyond me, but otherwise I can just keep going back.

Coaching: I am well served to connect with a coach who will help me articulate goals that are precise and meaningful to me — goals that get me jazzed about achieving them. This is valid not just out on the water, but for so many other areas of my life — personal, professional, physical health. Then the fun begins. It will be my coach’s job to set challenges and push me to meet those challenges and to give me feedback along the way to point out what to change or fine tune. My coach will be my champion and co-creator as I pursue my goals. My coach will be a gift I give to myself to help me grow!

Commitment: I will commit to follow through on the coaching I receive, or all has been for naught. At times this will take courage. If we look to the dictionary for a definition of courage, we find:

Courage n : 1. mental and moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty; 2. firmness of mind in the face of danger or extreme difficulty

So, at its core, we can say that courage is a resolve of the mind.

And, there’s more.

At the root of the word courage is the French word coeur, which means heart. At its core, then, courage is also rooted in the heart. That is to say, we garner our courage, in part, because we care, and that caring helps us generate the force to take on risk and confront fear — in short, to act! When we take into account both meanings, the full dimension of courage reaches broadly to embrace both our mental resolve (head) and our caring (heart). Courage, in sum, is the force that allows us to draw on the strength of our mental resolve and our deeper, heartfelt caring to push against fear, and dare to take actions that could have a strong impact as we attempt to grow.

And there is more.

When I commit, fully commit and follow through, there is every possibility that an unexplainable force will help me along in ways that I might never have been able to script for myself. The great German philosopher Goethe expressed this phenomenon this way:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which, kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it now. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

Contentment: Contentment is the high-five I will offer to myself with sincere generosity of spirit for a job well done. Regardless of the conditions, I will heed and follow through on the direction of my coach. I will have the courage to throw myself wholeheartedly and with mental resolve into the challenge handed to me. I will offer myself the peace of mind that comes with being just fine with the outcome.

So, what are my take-aways? Tomorrow the conditions will be different — that is out of my control. No matter. I will focus on the challenge and direction handed to me by my coach and I will commit to follow through. At the end of the day, I will allow myself to be content with the results!

I’m stoked.

Just Not a Natural

I am a competent surfer but not an accomplished surfer. And certainly, I am not a pretty surfer, unless caught in a photo at just the right instant. The few seconds on either side of the snapshot would reveal otherwise – feet turned out rather than pidgeon-toed, hips too centered over the board rather than forward to accelerate or back to break, hands over the same rail rather than opposing rails, head looking down rather than up and down the line. Okay, in all candor, perhaps there are more than the occasional good pop-ups with all of the elements of my stance coalescing and contributing to a steady ride down the line.

I paddled into my first wave some 13 years ago at the age of 45. In these past eight months since my near drowning on a reef break in Costa Rica, I am making peace with the notion that I am just not a natural. I suspect I am about as good as I am going to get. And that is okay. My efforts from this point forward will surely produce a share of fun rides and even some thrills, but whether I’ll become markedly better at dropping in and trimming and carving on larger waves, that remains to be seen.

Is a part of me disappointed? I don’t know yet. But I do know that a part of me is relieved. It’s that part of me that believed that I’d be cool if I was a really good surfer, or that in order to be cool, I needed to be a really good surfer. Either way, I am fine with not being a really good surfer. I am fine with not being cool and with not needing to be cool. I am cool with just being me, being Peter, whomever I appear to be or however I appear to be to the world around me. If and when I surf, I’ll go out because I want to be on the water, or because I want to paddle since paddling is a great workout, or because the waves look accessible and fun and even challenging. I’ll go, too, if someone invites me to join them in the line up. How ironic it would be if now, after all this time in Santa Cruz, after having given up the fantasy of really good surfing and instead settling into my more humble reality, I were to develop a small tribe of buds because of surfing.

Culture Shock in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

I am in culture shock within the first few minutes of arriving in Tamarindo after having spent seven days in the secluded, lush and quiet hamlet of Guiones only fifty miles south, but a world apart. Paved roads, lines of traffic, dozens of pedestrians on the shoulders along any 100 meter stretch of the road. Barely a view to the beach – so jam packed is the beach-side street with stores, restaurants, hotels, hostels and outdoor markets. A pickup truck with a loudspeaker makes its way down the main drag – its prerecorded announcement shouting out the attractions of the newest bar in town. Nicaraguan peasants blow bird calls through hollowed out wooden whistles and hawk a collection of hand-made beads, bracelets and other ornaments to passers by. A man with a mostly full bottle of vodka in one hand and a cup of iced liquid in the other staggers and props himself against a telephone pole while muttering as I pass by. Shirtless young men strut their stuff, their board shorts pulled low below their navels all but inviting further investigation. Girls in sarongs cluster, stroll, shop but curiously pay no attention to the guys. Am I the only one taking notice?

I slept soundly in Guiones. The fourteen of us at the surf resort were crashed out and regenerating for a new day of surfing by 10pm each night. Last night, the fourteen or so other guests at the hostel in Tamarindo were awake and sharing and laughing well into the late hours of the night. The self proclaimed “Meanest Night Club in Tamarindo” next door blared music into the night air until 1:30am. I was dead tired for my 6:00am surf session. And it could have been a great session – out on the boat, anchored off shore at Playa Grande, head high waves, no crowd. Not even dunking into the ocean water helped. I found myself yawning as I waited for sets. A few waves, a few wipeouts, a lot of sitting on my board trying to rev up. It was not to be. I paddled back to the boat after only an hour. I struggled to stay alert as the boat driver kept trying to engage me in a back and forth. The one other guy who came out with us stayed out for a good while longer. I closed my eyes on and off wanting to nod off.

I had breakfast alone when I got back to shore.

I woke up so refreshed yesterday morning in sweet Guiones. I didn’t surf, thinking that one day off would reenergize me for these three days in Tamarindo. It’s noon here now. I’m going to put in the ear plugs, take a nap and perhaps drift back south.

Community Makes All The Difference

I go on surfaris because I have grown to enjoy the community I meet and make along the way. This week in Guiones, Costa Rica, my tribe is a patchwork of varied and delightful men, women and boys. Two best-of-friends, adventurous, twenty-something Brazilian men are here on a stop while traveling around Central America for a month. For the more intrepid between them, Costa Rica is the forty-first country he has visited in the past two years. A navy doc dad and nurse mom are here with their two teenage sons learning to surf as a family. As the days go by, the sons are naturals in the water – not so much the mom or dad. But I am loving my evenings talking with them over glasses of Argentinian wine. A prosecutor novice surfer whose job back home has beaten down her spirits is here on the Costa Rican coast to get completely away and laugh and smile and feel alive for the first time in too long. And she is doing all of the above and is becoming more beautiful each day that goes by in this land of pura vida and the happiest people on the planet. A recently divorced dad talks lovingly and adoringly about his three-year old daughter and I can feel how hard the surprise of the separation and the negotiations around his daughter’s care weigh on him – every weekend taken up with looking after her, and his hours during the week consumed by his chiropractic patients. He is the hardest working surfer among our tribe, returning time and again to paddle out through the relentless onshore breaking waves. Now on day four of our week’s stay, his in-water therapy is giving way to a lovely playfulness and smile on land. The pharmacist in our group is a man in love with his profession. He is the more boisterous member of our tribe this week and enjoyably so, fueling and engaging our own enthusiasms. Our quieter business consultants are coming out of their shells as the week goes on, as we get more comfortable with one another, as the evening libations flow. Last night it was charades acted out from under a sheet – a post dinner party game fueled by mai tais, beer, wine and the punchy humor brought on by our collective exhaustion after two sessions in head high waves. For the novices among us, even the whitewater has been challenging – a turtle roll followed by another and another, just to get to the outside and then set up for dropping into a smaller unbroken wave.

Were I to be surfing these waves on my own without the community created by this crew at 6am yoga, eating breakfast, drinking post-surf smoothies, at lunch, on the beach, in the water, rinsing off in the pool, around the table at dinner, celebrating birthdays and laughing over party games afterwards, this surfari would be solitary, lonely, uninteresting, uninspired. Community is inspiring the experience. Community makes all the difference. And this week I have happened to fall in with – we have all happened to fall in with – a handful of individuals whose alchemy has created an upbeat and enjoyable community of companions.

The following video of our tribe was created by the very talented folks at Surf Simply in Guiones, Costa Rica

On Surfing


I stayed out of the water for three months after my near drowning in Costa Rica. It was at a reef break a mile offshore in 9 foot waves – waves that jacked up quickly and broke unpredictably left and right just as fast. The boat had to stay a quarter of a mile away in order not to risk getting swamped by the swell. I got caught on the inside after the first of a short interval 3 wave set – no sooner had I popped up from the second wave that I was hammered by the third and held down for as long as I had ever been held down.  I can remember saying to myself as I was churned underwater, “go with the flow, relax, stay calm.” And I did go with the flow. I did relax. I did stay calm. And then I didn’t. I couldn’t any longer. No air. Instead, I thrashed to get to the surface, pushing to get my head out of the water. Back on my board, breathing again, I had nothing left. Or at least I felt I had nothing left. Nothing left to get me over the oncoming swells and back to the boat – which looked so very far away – and with no one to come to my aid. Evidently I made it. But the eventuality of my getting back to the boat was not obvious to me at the time. I was terrified for my life. Terrified.

I got back in the water at home in Santa Cruz for the first time earlier this week and stayed for 15 minutes. I went back for a 20-minute session yesterday. First wave was great. Nice smooth drop-in on a 3-footer and a ride down the line. As I paddled back out, I turtled my board to get beyond a breaking wave, but the force of the lip smashed the board against my forehead and I came up hurt and dazed.

Surfing is not a sport for the delicate. Nor is it a sport for those unwilling to own the collection of scars that will be acquired through an inevitable sequence of slices and slams. And it’s not necessarily a sport for the self-professed or closeted masochist, either. But regardless the slings and arrows of my outrageous fortunes on the water, I do go back. I paddle out for another wave, another ride, another rush, and invariably another encounter with reckless abandon.

Most days I do stay away.

But some days, some days, I have the best waves ever!

There’s a swell today. It looked big this morning. Maybe it’ll be a little more forgiving this afternoon.