If we could all wake-up for a sunrise, snowshoe hike followed by hours of snowboarding in the winter, and spend summer days riding rights in the ocean, I imagine we’d all be pretty ripped up.
The lower body strength required to hike and maneuver a snowboard in heavy boots combined with the upper body strength it takes to paddle out into the ocean, cobra-up (like up-dog in yoga) to launch over crashing waves and then pop-up to your feet (to actually catch a wave) creates a super human. I know this for a fact. If you don’t believe me, read on to find out how I learned all of this and more during my recent surfing trip in Puerto Rico.
Many of you know my silly brother Hunter was/is a professional snowboarder. He grew up going to Stratton Mountain School to quench is 13 year-old thirst for shredding pow. After striking a deal with my parents that would allow him to spend half of his days in class and the other half on the hill, he was out of Indiana and well on his way to adventures all over the world. Hunter spent most summers going to the New Zealand Open to compete while other Stratton kids went to Argentina for back country riding.
Hunter was always a NZ kid until his senior year when he attended the South American Snow Sessions (SASS) led by Travis Moore. Despite his world travels, Hunter was technically still a youngster, so naturally my Mom connected with Travis to make sure all was squared away. She and Travis became friends meanwhile Hunter became one of Travis’s many mentees. Flash forward and my mom went to check out one of Travis’s several business ventures, Rincon Surf School on a vacation with her boyfriend two years ago.
My mom and her boyfriend had a great time, but she wanted to bring me, someone who would really LOVE the surfing component, because as you’ll read in this article, there isn’t much else to do besides surf in the tiny little town!
Flash forward again, and last weekend we, (SHE) made the trip happen!
I’m about to tell you how vanilla beans, iodine, and the term “leftie” made my weekend in Rincon, Puerto Rico more than alRIGHT. Beyond the aforementioned, I’m stoked to share with you why I was thankful that both Mother Nature and a step off the grid reminded me of why I #daretomove
If you’re not here to surf, you’re not here
Rincon is not a big town. Technically it’s a tourist town, but actually you’ll find zero high-rise condo/hotel buildings. No convenience stores larger than a few isles (marked with a nondescript sign somewhere), no chain restaurants (or companies for that matter) and no indoor activities exist— except for the option to play pool at a bar, I did see that.
It’s rustic and beautiful, it’s calm and it’s tacos can be fire-y. Sometimes there are horses on the loose and I passed a donkey while carrying my surfboard to Dogman’s on Day One. Side note: Dogman’s is a surfing area/beach named after a man who lived there in the 70’s and had a lot of dogs.
There’s only one true parking lot in the town, and it’s probably the size of a small soccer field; naturally the small surf spot just beyond the unpaved lot is called, you guessed it, “Parking Lots.”
At Parking Lots, there’s a yoga studio made out of either a former semi-truck or a large storage container, (it was hard to tell) that has a super cool instructor and great energy all around.
It’s the kind of place you just wanna stop and hang out, and eat raw coconut with the instructor, who just chopped the coconut down from a tree. Also in Parking Lots, there’s also a cute restaurant and a small gift shop if you wanna feel touristy. But don’t miss the horse stable across the street from Parking Lots!
Aside from Parking Lots there’s a surf spot called Steps, (which I didn’t get to surf), and if you want know how it got its name, check out the photo below.
Sandy Beaches is also a spot I loved, the name is self-explanatory.
The day my foot swelled up (more on injures further down) it rained. And, the swell was so big, only the experts (and that includes a 7-year-old) went out to pop-up and crash down; and that was when I realized, if you’re not here to surf, you’re not here.
Fear isn’t allowed
On Day 1, my mom freaked out a bit. The waves were huge and the bottom of Dogman’s is all coral. I’ll admit it was the hardest paddle-out of all (of the the few) paddle-outs I did. She’d never played in waves like I did as a kid, and she had no idea what being knocked down was like. And, it’s not fun. Being held under for 3-5 seconds it scary; but in my case, my experiences told my gut that I’d bob right up to the surface sooner or later, so I didn’t freak out. I’m proud of her for even attempting to paddle-out at Dogman’s. Even the pros know it is not always “safe.”
You don’t mess with Mother Nature, Julia told my mom that day. You can’t be scared of her and expect to do well. But you can respect her and just let her do her thing, is what we learned from Julia.
I can happily say that I never did let fear get the best of me– even when my first ride in was followed by being swallowed up by one big breaking wave. When I came up for air, startled and disoriented (after being held under AND yanked back 10 feet by my board), I saw another wave coming and hoped I’d take big breath fast enough.
After the second one held me under longer than I’d have preferred and my board jerked me back further, I felt my body panic; right as panic began I saw wave number 3… 10 feet in front of me! Because of the panic, I didn’t get enough breath before it hit me. I came up gasping after 2-3 seconds under water and saw wave number 4 …. something came over me. I had to chill, or I wasn’t going to make it; panicking wouldn’t allow me to take a deep enough breath, I remembered Julia saying. I inhaled, relaxed my shoulders and went limp incase I was going to be under for more than 4 seconds. When I came up for air the water was flat and calm. Time to do it all over again, I thought.
Power is required and earned, not given.
I strength-train all year round. I teach spin classes every week. But you already know that. But nothing prepares you for the full-body exhaustion of paddling-out over waves that are subconsciously— or consciously— scaring the hell out of you.
You paddle through the burn. It’s akin to the Erg row-machine, but much more epic. To ride a good wave you have to earn it by a powerful, deliberate and well-timed pop-up. But taking a step back, to get out there in the first place you have to have the power in your mind to never give up when you arms tire. The waves are powerful but they aren’t given to you. You must be powerful in and of yourself, to trust yourself and then the wave is earned.
From now on, instead of calling me “G,” you can call me “H” for Head-wound Harry. If you follow me on Instagram (@garrettnwood) you saw that on Day 1, I scraped my foot somehow (not sure if it was my board or coral). The gnarly scrape goes from the pinky toe of my right foot, up toward my ankle.
What’s funny is that I didn’t feel the scrape happen. I was more in tune with the fact that it was my first wipe-out after standing up on the board. In the moment, I focused solely on holding my breath (as noted above), but it was like three waves later on that day, when I looked back and my foot was still epically bleeding.
Oh well, I thought. Time to keep learning; no time to be scared of coral or cuts and scrapes! The coral bottom at Dogman’s was all I knew– Julia had prepared us for that. We were not allowed to touch the bottom. Always tread water. And all went well, until what ended up being my last wave, when I met Fire Coral.
Julia, being the totally tubular coach that she is, covered literally everything with us from the moment we met at the resort up until my last wave— including fire coral. It sucks, she said, I’ve hit it once in a year and a half and it stung for like two weeks. Julia told me about how it swells and you get hives.
Well that would suck, I thought, as I likened it in my head to getting eaten by a shark.
And then I rode my final wave on Day 1 in far, close to the beach. Looking down at the shallow water I strategically attempted to “pancake” (aka belly-flop) so that I wouldn’t land on coral, until I landed on like a mushroomed-up singular piece of coral. It was so much shaped like mushroom (higher than the bottom coral) that for a moment I thought I landed on a turtle. There were turtle everywhere at Dogmans!
I saw a wave coming at me and tried to push myself up and away from the coral and realized I was stuck. I held my breath until wave 2 was over and then came up for air, affirming that my leash was somehow stuck on the coral.
“I’m stuck!” I called over the wave. “I’m caught! I’m stuck!” I screamed right before wave 3 swooshed over me.
When it was done, the water was so high I could barely take a breath. I gasped and went under. I had to undo my leash or I was going to drown. Got it. Ditched my board and by the time the fourth wave was over Julia had already swam to me.
“I‘m Ok!” I yelled when I came up.
“Cool, where’s your board?”
“I let it go,” I said.
“Tread water there, I’ll go get it.”
And she was already almost to it. Did I mention Julia was a Division I swimmer in college?
After she grabbed the board she asked if I was OK, and I told her I wasn’t sure (not wanting to sound dramatic to the ever-so epically chill Julia) but I thought I’d hit fire coral because my hip and knee were stinging.
By the time we were out of the water, in addition to my stinging, scraped-up bloody foot, my right hip had what looked like claw marks on it and was bleeding; my left knee was breaking out in hives. My left shin, left toes and left pinky finger were all stinging but had no marks on them. It didn’t feel good but I wasn’t deathly afraid because Julia had already explained that fire coral isn’t poisonous, it’s just a bitch. The only saving grace (besides Julia) was that the wave that landed me on that bitch was a “leftie”— a toe-side ride for a goofy girl like me (meaning I ride right foot forward) and that proved I was capable of pointing my board in both directions!
By dinner time my cuts and scrapes felt fine, especially because I put lime juice all over them per surf coach Ross’s advice.
Day 2 was fine, until I dipped my foot in a “rinse your feet here” foot-deep mini-pool of standing water outside a restaurant… and infected my open wounds. From that point on (12 noon on Saturday through this morning) I’ve been applying Hydrogen Peroxide, Iodine, triple-antibiotic ointment and gauze all over my foot.
Mom should have been a nurse. She took care of me throughout the trip! Lucky for me, Day 3 (Sunday) was rainy and waves were gigantic so I kept my foot elevated to reduce swelling for some hours and sat a lot. We went to watch some talented surfers at Dogman’s and spent the other part of the day at the pool.
On Monday I was determined to surf, if Julia said I could. At 7 a.m. I got a text from her basically saying the swell was big but if I paddled-out hard, I could do it. I was IN!!!!
And of course, on my first wave of Day 3 surfing, my leash wrapped around my second toe (which is infected) and pulled hard. Ouch! My third wave? somehow the fin on my board gashed into the space between my big toe and second toe of my infected foot, cutting pretty deep and leaving me bleeding for 3 hours. Ouch. Iodine is my new accessory. And my guy is now a surgeon.
Imagine a busy, popular water park with a giant wave pool— and it’s packed; packed with models like Fabio, Jessica Alba, and “Surfing Ryan Gosling” (a term coined by my mom at Dogman’s). Everyone around you is fit and good-looking. In the wave pool it’s kind of a free-for-all— organized chaos. But then imagine all of the attractive strangers are actually pro-athletes, and you’re in a real ocean wearing a rashie and bikini bottoms. Okay, now you are me, yesterday.
All of the sudden, as you’re chilling on your belly, perpendicular to the waves, you hear “Outside!!!”
It’s time to paddle hard. “Outside!” means there’s a set (of waves) coming and it’s like everyone is running to the kitchen for fresh-baked cookies, but there’s 20 of you and only 12 cookies. And there’s also a bear running to the kitchen too. Chaotic and scary. But exciting.
You see, when “Outside!” is called, if you don’t paddle-out far enough, in certain spots, the waves will actually crash and crumble on you, which is NOT a good time. Everyone paddles out HARD to either be 8 of roughly 40 people going after a quad-set of incoming waves.
It’s thrilling and challenging all at the same time. Oh, your back/arms are tired? No worries, just sit here and let four waves almost drown you while others enjoy the fun. No cookie for you!
When Mother Nature mellowed after a quad-set, we’d rest. Julia would be on her short board chest deep in the water facing the horizon. I’d be pointed toward the beach ready to paddle hard, when Julia would say “paddle hard!”
We didn’t talk the whole time. As Julia held the nose of my board, keeping lookout for good waves, I spent a lot of time looking down at my silvery, sparkly nails as they glimmered in the sunlight against my vanilla bean board. The combination wax, dashed with gritty sand on a hardwood surfaced 8’4” surfboard, glazes into a vanilla bean ice cream mirage if you stare at it too long.
Guilty as charged.
After craning my cell-phone hunched neck upward for over an hour to scout waves and cobra-up over waves, my neck tired quickly to exhaustion unlike my ancestors, I’m sure.
When we did chat, we spoke about the time Julia sailed around the Bahamas after college. In fact, the story goes that she landed in Puerto Rico only because she and a friend wanted to get off the sailboat they’d been on, and never got back on the boat, thanks to a shitty captain—her words, not mine.
But what’s even cooler than Julia’s adventures (I could go on for days), is the camaraderie in the water. Julia’s roommate Dave always had a smile on his face. Another instructor, Ross, cut his surfboard fins short for fun and called waves “crumbly.” Ross claims he’s been “pushing people for years!” (meaning that he’s been coaching 10 years— it takes a good push from a great coach to get a new surfer up over the wave so they can make the drop in and pop-up).
On Day 2 at Antonio’s (near Parking Lots) I met a nice guy form New York named Josh who was at Rincon Surf School surfing with his Boss from American Express. I was actually quite chatty while I waited for my mom to get up a few times. I met a guy named Steve from Utah who’s lived there for three years. I watched Fabio (okay his name wasn’t really Fabio) coach a long-time client through excruciating frustration on a sunny day.
Everyone is in their happy place– their element– and nobody can complain in heaven. It’s fun to joke about shitty waves, unintentional lefts, and other’s totally dropping in on YOUR wave, but at the end of the day, it’s the epitome of paradise.
People make Paradise, Paradise
Thanks to the snowboarding and surfing legend Travis (who also is a husband and a Dad to two very adorable little girls) Rincon Surf School has a whole lot of character. From his BFF Brett, who sometimes acts as the brains of the operation wen Travis is swamped or coaching snowboarding, to the cool french guy (Adrian) who rides his crotch-rocket to Parking Lots to leave Julia handwritten work-memos on her car door handle, to Travis himself surfing circles around Dave on what he called a “Legendary Lesson Day” (the day my mom surfed!), Rincon Surf School is one of a kind.
The instructors connect with the wanna-be surfers on a deeper level because they aren’t just coaching you on a movement/exercise— they’re making sure you’re gonna survive what Mother Nature spits out at you. They all love what they do. Everyday is spent in paradise but it takes a positive outlook, a love for meeting new people and a drive to actually SEEK a lifestyle that makes you epically happy to create the Paradise that Rincon Surf School exudes.
I will forever remember this mother-daughter adventure. My mom works hard 365 days a year to stay fit… for life. Not for a dress size or a number on the scale… but to move well. To feel strong. I’m proud that my 51-year-old mom can paddle hard, pop-up and have guts to even seek out this adventure in the first place!!!
I can only hope that someday, I too, will surf with my little girl or boy!
If you have any interest in heading to Rincon Surf Resort, reach out to me or Travis! There website is here! The wifi is quite spotty, but that’s what makes it a relaxing place. You feel like you’re off the grid for a few hours– a few hours I think we all need in our lives.
If you’re serious about surfing Rincon OR have a surf trip elsewhere and want to be in the BEST SHAPE EVER for surfing, stay tuned because next week, my coach Julia will be doing a guest article on the Top Five Cross Training Moves for Surfing– the ones she does to stay fit for surfing!!!