Shout-Out to My First Surf Instructor

This is a shout-out to my first surf instructor, Court Snider.

At the beginning of 2001, I moved to Tamarindo beach. Everything before that is a long story involving marriage and divorce and coming here a lot for work, but in 2001 all of that was in the past. I decided that I wanted to learn to surf. I’ve always loved water so I had to at least try. Unfortunately, I’ve never been terribly athletic—but lucky for me, surfing is not a team sport so nobody has to pick you. Anybody can play, if you suck you don’t ruin it for anyone else, and as long as you’re having fun, you’re winning. What’s not to love?

You cannot just guess how to surf (unless you’re very young or very athletic—which I wasn’t); somebody has to teach you. Court was in his early 50s then, or at least that’s how I remember it, an American expat with that slow calm that people get after a lifetime of surfing. He borrowed a big foam board from the surf shop where he wife worked and one terribly windy day in February when the there was no swell at all, only flat frothy chop, he took me out in front of the Capitan Suizo Hotel. If I remember right, he didn’t push me into waves—from day one he made me paddle.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t as fun as I’d hoped, either. Court kept grumbling about the “conditions” which meant nothing at all to me—my problem was staying on the board. And I’m not talking about standing up. I’m talking about staying on it lying down. Then you’re supposed to look at what’s coming up behind you while you paddle forward, and the wind is blowing water in your face and you can’t see anything. And then all of the sudden the wave picks up the back of the board and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. I scraped my eyebrow open on the sand on the bottom.

It gets better if you don’t quit.

Anybody who has figured out how to ride a surfboard, even if they screw up a lot, is not a quitter.

Court told me two things I’ll always remember. One, he told me years later as we sat on our boards watching the horizon. It didn’t mean much to me at the time. In fact, to be honest, I thought it seemed a little lame. But I’m closer, now, to his age then. I’ve been surfing longer. I’ve been more places and done more things. Maybe that’s the difference. “Life only makes sense when I’m surfing,” is what he said.

I think about that every single time I’m on a board.  “Life only makes sense when I’m surfing.” Or: my life only makes sense to me when I’m surfing. I have to say, I find it true. When I’m surfing, it’s very clear how everything has converged to bring me right here (right there, in the line-up with the tide coming in). And how everything has converged to bring the sets of waves across thousands of miles of ocean to the shore where one girl has traveled thousands of miles and given up everything to meet them. If we were sitting on surf boards together right now gazing into the horizon and I said that to you, it would make all the sense in the world. Guaranteed.

The other thing I got from Court, not about surfing although it has its applications: “Everything works if you let it.” Not applicable to things like deceased machinery and abusive relationships, but within the realm of the reasonable—everything works if you let it. In one way or another. Maybe in the way you had in mind, maybe not. If It doesn’t work, maybe you aren’t letting it.  Maybe.

Thank you, Court. For taking me out in the water and showing me how to stay calm. You were right about everything.

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