I felt totally out of place as I waited beside the small wooden roadside shack for my surf instructor to show up. An athletic girl in a branded bikini was bent over a board, rubbing in wax – her bronzed skin, tight abdominals and tousled flaxen hair the trademarks of a surfer’s existence.
Dominical, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast barely passes as a town. Until 15 years ago, dilapidated fishing huts were its only man-made structures and even now, walking the length of its single dirt track takes less than 10 minutes. The few basic hostels and hammock-strewn beach bars are concealed behind breezy palm trees. Rougher and more hostile than the white sand-carpeted bays that attract sun worshippers to the country in droves, Dominical owes its existence to surfing.
‘Sorry I get here late’ said a short but well-built Latino man. ‘I am Junior. ‘I be here early but drink too many beer last night and stay in bed.’ That’s reassuring, I thought. He ran a muscular hand along a line of boards stacked upright against the shack, finally settling on a 10-foot monster. ‘Easier for balance. You carry. Follow me.’
Fifteen minutes later, with cramped fingers and arms shaking from fatigue, I lay my board on the beach. He stood over me as I demonstrated an increasing inability to jump – in one fluid motion – from lying face-down on the beach to the classic surfer’s stance. Realising that a few attempts later I would probably be permanently moribund, he gestured me towards the thrashing ocean, pausing only briefly to depict a riptide in the sand with a stick.
Ominous charcoal clouds weighed down against the horizon and, as I picked my way gingerly over sharp rocks and washed-up driftwood, I questioned the wisdom of taking my first ever lesson in such impetuous waters. Eight-foot columns twisted and crashed behind me and I struggled to mount the board in time to catch the swashes of white water, which then propelled me with immense force towards the shore. Progress was slow, but during the next five hours, I managed to stand up a few times before toppling headfirst into a turbulent whirlpool of flotsam.
Only as the sun began to set did I decide to call it a day. I clambered up the beach, suddenly overcome by exhaustion, and settled among the pebbles with my knees pulled up to my chest. A deep orange haze burned through the now wispy trails of cloud, skimming the toppling waves and, alone on the vast beach, I watched in awe as the remaining human silhouettes carved delicate designs in the ocean swells with effortless precision.
For more photos of my time in Costa Rica, click here.