I am habitually non-adventurous. I go camping and spend most of my time running from bugs. I go to the beach and sit on the sand, scowling at the hidden dangers of the sea. When I was little my dad was getting tickets to see the Cubs play the Cardinals in Chicago, Sosa vs. McGuire, the biggest showdown in baseball but I didn’t go because I was scared to leave my mommy. But for one blessed week when I was eight, I stared adventure in the face and dove right in. And then I was promptly dragged out to sea.
My parents and I took a trip to Costa Rica with a couple of their friends back in 2001. While I had spent most of my life up to that point bouncing from state to state, it was the first time that I had actually left the country. The plan was to rent some rugged SUV and just drive across the country. Why they thought this would be a fool-proof adventure is a mystery to me. We got lost in the parking lot of a supermarket within an hour of landing.
I don’t have a linear memory of that vacation. I can’t prod along and tell you what happened when and in which order. There are a great deal of highlights. I know that our hotel flooded on our first night. I know that we traversed a river in our rental car, Helga, and that river was way deeper than we thought. I got into a yelling match with a tree full of howler monkeys and developed a pineapple soda addiction that continues to this day. We passed through towns where iguanas ran the streets like stray cats and visited friends in a house on a mountain top. We pulled off a forest road to watch a sloth cross the street. I stared at a bolt on a stair for an hour because in the dark of night I thought it was a poison dart frog. I also geeked out like a maniac when I finally saw a real poison dart frog on a rainforest hike.
There was a lot of stuff going on in that trip. But there’s one night that sticks out in my mind clearer than the others. We were staying at some little hotel on the beach called like Iguana Cove or something. We had returned to the room for the night and the adults got their drink on pretty hardcore. I don’t really remember what I was doing. Probably looking at some book about native animals and seeing what I could cross off my list next. (Capuchin Monkey? Check. Macaw? Check. Coati? Check.) Next thing I know, my dad and his friend Matt are taking me out to fetch some body boards they saw by the beach and we’re gonna go surf around in the ocean.
Note it was pitch black outside accept for the light coming from the moon and the flashes of lightning striking a little ways off shore. If I had seen Jaws at this point or even been allowed to watch Shark Week, there was no way this was going down. That’s prime conditions to be shark murdered. But I was dumb and they seemed super confident that this was gonna go swell and so I blindly followed them into the ocean.
We’re the only ones out there because I guess you would have had to be drunk or something to think it was a good idea to go out into the water that night. Luckily 2/3 of us were.
The wind blew heavily and waves crashed around us as we ran out into the black water. I’d never seen a body-board lot less ridden one, but I jumped into the surf with reckless abandon. There was nothing graceful about that evening. Their legs were wobbly enough without walls of water smashing into their drunk asses every other second. But still we soldiered on, occasionally riding a wave with some level of balance but mostly falling around and kind of sort of drowning in a fun way. We stared at the storm in the distance and laughed in its face as we rode the water back towards the shore each time.
I don’t know how long we were out there, but I know I didn’t want it to end. We pulled ourselves out of the water, somehow with all of our limbs intact, and I made my dad promise that we could do it again the next day.
And that was the rest of my trip, me searching for a body-board anytime I saw the coastline. It’s a weird thing I do on vacations. I find one thing that I really like and that’s the only thing I focus on for the rest of the trip. I discovered churros in San Diego and then proceeded to eat close to 3,000 over the next two days. I drank more Fanta Pina in that one week in Costa Rica than anyone should ever drink. And I learned how to flail around in the water and call it surfing.
This new obsession was going smoothly for the next few days until we went to Lookout Point. It was this gorgeous hilltop hotel sticking out of the rainforest. There were monkeys and natural springs and that bolt that looked like a frog. Most importantly it looked out over the ocean and I had a hankering for some inept bodyboarding.
The five of us talked one of the hotel guides whom we bonded with into walking us down to the beach, our boards in tow. Once again we stared out over a largely empty beach, the perks of our secluded little hideaway. I grabbed more board and took off for the water when we realized that our guide was walking back toward the hotel. They called out to him and asked him to stay but he politely shook his head with a look in his eyes that clearly said, “You white people are fucking crazy.”
We turned back to the water and saw that it looked particularly rough that day. The waves crashed in hard and pulled back out strong. But we’d surfed in a storm. We were seasoned veterans by now. Blue Crush-style.
I readied myself to get to boarding when my mom stopped me and told me to let my dad and Matt test the waters first. So I stood impatiently as they walked down the shore and were immediately met with an angry sea. The undercurrent was apparently ridiculously strong. They’d wade out and then they’d struggle mightily as they pulled themselves back to shore. The process was repeated a handful of times before it became pretty certain that our guide had left us for good reason and that the waters were not fit for humans today.
But I kept inching toward the water all the same. Fascinated by its push and pull, anxious to ride my board, Poseidon be damned. We were laughing at Matt and then the surf spat him back onto shore and he collided dangerously with a huge piece of driftwood. Everyone rushed over to make sure he was okay. Everyone but me who had no made it to the water.
I was maybe shin deep when a wave came in and knocked me on my face in the sand. I laughed for a moment, “Haha, okay, you win Poseidon. I will not tempt you today.” But the laughter quickly turned to panicked screams as the undercurrent latched onto me and began to tug my body back toward the ocean like jungle cat pulling its kill away to eat later.
Salt water smashed into me again and again as I felt myself get dragged away. Everyone stampeded toward me, yelling for me to get to my feet, to get out of there. I tried to get up but I couldn’t find the strength to battle the water. I’d get to my feet and immediately be pulled back down to my back or my stomach. My mom and her friend Terri pulled at my arms and I felt like I was going to be ripped in two like some sort of medieval torture device.
No matter how much the two women tried, my tubby little ass was too much for them. I could hear the God of the Ocean laughing at me in the distance as I cried, desperately not wanting to die over a stupid activity I wasn’t even good at. I clawed at the sand. I cried. I promised my mom that I would do the dishes for like a month if she saved my life.
It could have been two minutes but it felt like five hours. Eventually, I think through the combined might of four grown adults, I was pulled from the clutches of the ocean and onto the relative safety of the beach. We limped our way back to the hotel and cursed our guide for not talking us out of our own hubris.
And thus ended my adventurous streak. It was a glorious week long capping itself off in the brutal murder of a young man’s sense of whimsy. Now when I visit the beach, I sit in sand and offer my pasty skin to be painfully burned by the sun. An offering for the time that vengeful sea god let me live.