Jacob turned 8 on April 29th. His birthday will be the only one we celebrate in Costa Rica this year. Jacob knew that this birthday would be different without the typical fanfare surrounding all of our celebrations. But all of us counted down they days for weeks prior, enjoying the excitement and anticipation that comes with every birthday, regardless of age or location.
Considering the facts – no 8 year old’s to celebrate with, no invitations, party favors, jumpy castles or the like, we had to start from the ground up. Jacob wanted nothing more than to celebrate his birthday surfing. The day of his birthday – we went surfing. Honoring tradition, Jacob and Matt went to breakfast together and when they returned we walked to the beach and surfed for a couple of hours. During the afternoon, Jacob chatted via Skype with grandparents. Afterward, we celebrated with cupcakes and gifts, followed by dinner at Bamboo.
The big birthday anticipation, however, culminated yesterday with the long awaited, long anticipated surf trip to Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point. From the moment we arrived in Tamarindo, we have all wanted to see, (simply see), the legendary Witch’s Rock. Unfortunately, while there is a beach break and surf shop named after Witch’s Rock right here in Tamarindo, the actual Witch’s Rock is a two hour boat ride from Tamarindo. I am glad we didn’t waste our time taking this trip any earlier. And I am hoping, and assuming, that Jacob will never forget where he spent his 8th Birthday.
Witch’s Rock is considered one of Costa Rica’s best surf spots and attracts serious surfers. We do not fall into this category, but luckily we have friends that do. So, we asked Brian to help us arrange the trip, (in a way that would work for our family of 5 – the right weather, swell, boat, etc.), and asked Omar and Brian to come surf and hang with us – extra hands, eyes and experience. Thank goodness, because we had no business being out there by ourselves.
As usual, we had no idea what to expect, but as usual it was an amazing experience for all of us. We were picked up on the beach in Tamarindo at 7:15 May 1st. We spent about two hours traveling north to Witch’s Rock. When we arrived, Captain Rick and Brian scouted the area for awhile, considering the size of the swell and the size of the boys! They finally settled on a spot that seemed “reasonable.” Alright… the waves were big and my boys are small… but, I put on my game face and got “excited,” despite being nervous. In the end, I was jumping in with them, so I had to get over my nerves.
We were coming into the waves from the back. We had only surfed waves from the beach and now I’m not sure if waves are more intimidating from the front or the back. It’s the difference between seeing the size and imagining, (with my limited experience) the size. Either way, the waves were much bigger than anything we had surfed before. Omar, Brian, Ben, Jacob and I tossed our boards off the boat and paddled toward the outer swell. Brian gave the simple, fitting and intimidating advice, “listen, the waves are coming, they are big – you can get crushed by them, or try to ride them. You might as well try to ride them.” I wish I could say that we all went for it, but we didn’t…
We stayed on the outer set for a short while, but Jacob and I headed toward the beach when we got a break. Before long, we all found our spot – Brian and Omar were catching the big waves, Ben was hanging somewhere in the middle, Jacob and I headed for the milder beach break. A couple of times, I would leave Jacob near the beach to check on Ben. There were lots of eyes – Rick and Matt with binoculars from the boat, Omar and Brian in the water near Ben, and me, paddling between the two boys, unable to see both at the same time.
On the way back in to check on Jacob again, I saw him crying, paddling back through the waves with the help of a stranger trying to push him through the break. I was now behind him and I couldn’t paddle fast enough to catch up or yell loud enough to get his attention. We were right at the break, getting knocked back and under by a steady stream of waves. I finally spotted Omar, yelled at the top of my lungs, “help Jake,” while pointing in his general direction and quickly approaching him. I was mostly desperate to get close to provide comfort, knowing that he was not alone in that moment. Omar and I approached at the same time and we all three got crushed again by another wave. Jacob was escalating toward panic at this point. In my worry about him I was having a hard time staying calm.
Omar kicked into high gear. I still get chills thinking about it. He has been a surfing hero to the boys and a dear friend to our family since we met our first day in Tamarindo. He quickly abandoned his (very, very nice competition board), told Jake in a calm voice to relax and summoned some sort of super hero swimming power. He grabbed Jacob and his board, pulling his own board behind him by the leash, diving under and swimming through wave after wave at incredible speed and with total focus. I was running on adrenaline, paddling as fast as I could, getting pushed backward with each wave. Before I knew it they were 10 feet, 30, 50 feet ahead of me. By the time I got through the last large set, they were through and half way back to the boat. At this point I spotted Ben, calmly hanging out on his board, (thank goodness) and Brian behind me after coming in to check on us. I kept paddling toward the boat, toward Jacob. Brian was with Ben trailing close behind us. Jacob was on the boat, staring into the ocean before I even touched the boat.
Jacob was fine, but shocked. Omar was fine but exhausted. I was fine, but shaking from adrenaline and exhaustion. Brian and Ben were happy and tired. Jacob quickly fell asleep on the boat and Omar was right behind him. While we were out surfing, Jacob was surfing appropriately sized waves, having a great time. He only got scared while paddling back to the boat. He was not in danger, but he was scared and fear is dangerous while in the water. Forever more, Jacob will be bonded to Omar and I will be grateful for his strong, calming presence in those moments. Omar lost a fin and Jacob’s board had some pretty substantial dings, (most likely from their boards crashing together in the waves). We bought Omar some new fins as the most minor of thank-you’s upon our return to Tamarindo.
While a big part of this post, that was only a small part of our day. We took a deep breath and then motored another 20 minutes north to Ollie’s point. Ben, Brian and Matt jumped off the boat and swam to this awesome point break – totally empty and just starting to break. Abby and I swam, Omar relaxed and Jacob shook off his shock. By the time Matt returned to the boat, Jacob was ready to jump back in and go for it. Ollie’s did not require any paddling through the break, so Brian, Jacob and Ben spent the next hour plus taking turns catching nice, long rides – one after another. The boys were so happy, taking every little piece of surf advice they could gather from Brian. Matt, Omar, Abby and I enjoyed the hour taking pictures, swimming and relaxing on the boat.
Matt and I have had the amazing experience of watching our boys surpass us, (rather quickly) in skill, confidence and understanding since the time we started surfing. What an interesting and cool rite of passage as a parent. They are still small, still my little boys, while the ocean is big, powerful and unpredictable. Our day just would not have been possible or successful without Brian and Omar who provided the skills and support that Matt and I just didn’t have.
May 1st was another incredible day in Costa Rica that changed us. Ben and Jacob wrote their own accounts of the day that I can’t wait to read, type and post.
Here are a few pictures from the day at Witch’s and Ollie’s: