Photo: Jorge A. Russell/Shutterstock

How Surfing in Costa Rica Made Me Into a Beautiful Human Being

Costa Rica Travel
by Matt Hershberger Jul 11, 2016

WHEN I CALLED MY WIFE A FEW hours after my surf lesson, I decided not to tell her about the surf shop owner’s eye color. This was not because I was ashamed of how quickly I noticed how handsome the guy was — I’m pretty sure everyone who has ever looked him in the eye has felt a small puff of God’s breath blowing back their own mousey, inadequate hair and rocking them ever-so-slightly off balance — but because either I lacked the mastery of the English language required to adequately describe his eyes, or because the English language was incapable, in its infinite combinations and metaphorical twistings, to adequately explain what it was I saw.

I would have had to say, “His eyes were the color of granite mountains reflecting off of the waters of the fjord.”

To which she would reply, “So…. they were gray.”

“No, no, no,” I would say, “They were… the color of the earth rising over the dark side of the moon.”

“So blue?”

It would have served only to embarrass me and to commit a sacrilege by describing something that, like God, ought not be described.

The dude was handsome, is all I’m saying. And it’s this inherent handsomeness in every surfer I’ve ever met that has kept me from becoming a surfer. They all have long, bleach-blonde hair, cut, naturally-tanned physiques, and easy-going demeanors that make you want to lay down on a bed of palm leaves and do as they say.

I’m a doughy, pale, pudge-wad. My beard has bald spots. My hair naturally grows into the shape of the douchebag frat-boy from every 80’s movie’s pompadour. The only exercise I ever do is yoga, and that’s because there’s always a nap at the end.

So surfing — though always alluring to me in a very real way — has always felt forbidden to me. As if it was only open to the beautiful people, and not to the chinless cave-people who populate the internet. Even though I live a ten minute walk from the Atlantic Ocean (and a pretty decent surfing beach, by Jersey Shore standards), I’d never once tried to surf.

The internet’s cave-boy among the beautiful people.

But then Matador flew me down to Dominical, a small surf town on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and after a week of jungle hikes, beach-bumming, and cerveza-drinking, I was given a free day.

So I signed up for a surf lesson at Hunky McDreamboat’s Surfatorium (honest to God, I forget the name, and wish I didn’t, but in my defense, I was too busy composing metaphors for his eye color to remember piddling little things like names). It was the perfect opportunity. Matador’s staff is a pretty outdoors-y, surf-y crew, and they all got up early to catch the waves at high tide, so I knew that they wouldn’t be out during low tide to see me fail miserably. I went to the school, was swept off my feet by Hunky McDreamboat, and was assigned a surf instructor named Jossue.

Jossue was a Dominical native, and he wore a long-sleeve surf shirt, thank god. This was a very confusing sport for a man who had always identified as straight. After Jossue taught me the basics of standing up on a surfboard by making me jump up and down in the sand (which would have been embarrassing, but my mind was just shouting “LET ME BE ONE OF YOU” on repeat at this point), he took me out into the water. The waves smacked into me, knocking me over, as Jossue glided effortlessly through them like a chiseled Greek sea-god, or a more-handsome Moses.

Then he put me on the board.

It was then that I discovered why all surfers are easy-going.

First off, in other sports — like roller skating, biking, skiing — falling is an inevitability in the early attempts, but through the slow acquisition of competence, it becomes something that you can eliminate almost entirely.

This is not the case with surfing. In surfing, you have to fall off the board every single time. Even if you get up. Even if you have the best ride of your life. You do not glide up onto the beach at the end and hop off upright onto the sand. No — a surfer always falls.

Falling has always felt like a failure to me in other sports. But in surfing, it was constant. I knew, after the first wave, that I would fall. And when you know that, it’s hard to care about failure anymore. This mentality makes you an infinitely less neurotic person, and is undoubtedly why surfers are all chill as fuck.

Where the handsome comes from.

It was shortly thereafter that I discovered why all surfers are handsome. It’s in part, yes, due to all of the seawater and sunlight turning their bodies bronze and their hair blonde, but it mostly has to do with how incredibly tiring surfing is as a sport. You maybe — maybe — stand up one in five attempts when you’re first learning. And this takes an insane amount of balance, as well as leg and core strength. It’s a motion that clearly only comes with muscle memory, and with a lot of failure.

After my lesson, I talked to one of the editors at Matador, also a surfer, who said that he only learned the sport by going out literally every morning for two hours for an entire summer. That amount of effort is, inevitably, going to give you a rockin’ bod.

What I earned, after two hours of splashing around like a kid in a tub, was a chance to sit on the beach with Jossue and eat a half of a pineapple he’d cut up for me. We sat there wordlessly, looking out at the waves.

“His eyes are the color of sea spray in the Pacific wind — nope. Nope. I’ll just tell her he was handsome.”

Editor’s Note: the name of the surf school is Sunset Surf. Jesus, Matt, get a hold of yourself.

Costa-Rica. (1)


Proudly produced in partnership with our friends at Visit Costa Rica and Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines now has new direct flights from Los Angeles to Liberia, Costa Rica.

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