Thursday, 20 January 2011

Brief Encounters: surf crowd

The people at my surf camp on Costa Rica´s Pacific Coast are a mix of mahogany-skinned experts, regulars slowly remembering the moves, and learners falling off their boards a lot (guess where I am). They say things I could never pull off, like "let´s hope it cleans up later" and "it´s like a washing machine out there today".

There´s Billy from California, who´s been partying too much: "I haven´t seen him carrying a surfboard much lately," someone said, concernedly. There´s Bob, who rigged up a contraption back home in land-locked Idaho to help him get his paddling arms into shape. It involved bottles of water and a pully. And there´s Jennifer, my roommate, a smart New Yorker studying for a PhD who surfs at home - in Queens.

But best of all, there´s Dusty. A silver-haired grandfather in his 60s, he surfed for 20 years in southern California in the 1950s and 60s on longboards, when you learned by clambering first to your knees, then your feet. He chuckles at the memory.

Married for 33 years and living hundreds of miles from the sea, he takes a surf trip three or four times a year, usually to Baja. What´s the attraction? "It clears you head. I´ve got a lot of demons in here," he smiles. His four grandchildren are impressed. "They think it´s pretty cool their Grandpa surfs."

He didn´t surf this morning. He walked to the sea with his board, and came back shaking his head. "Terrible. Messy as anything. It´ll clean up later."

Monday, 17 January 2011

Brief Encounters: Francisco

Francisco is tanned, has lots of freckles and when we meet, in a swimming pool, he shows me his his party trick: blowing a thin spout of water high into the air through a gap in his front teeth. He is nine years old.
He lives in Mal Pais, a "legendary" surf town on Costa Rica´s Pacific coast. He goes to school here. His parents are American, but he says he is Costa Rican, and he´s fluent in English and Spanish. He is talkative but seems a bit lonely.
The ocean is dotted with surfers from sunrise onwards, bobbing in the water and riding the messy waves. His mother works at a surf camp. He is surrounded by dudes day and night - they muss his hair, play around with him and throw him into the pool.
"Your surfing must be pretty good," I say. "I don´t surf," he replies matter-of-factly. Now, living in Mal Pais and not surfing is like living in the Alps and never skiing. I ask him why, but in reply, he shrugs and dives to the bottom of the pool. But I already know: it is Francisco´s nine-year-old way of asserting his independence, of wanting to be different from every other person in this town. I inwardly salute his confidence, and kick off for the other side of the pool.