What a week. What an incredible, wave-filled, friendship robust, laughing, napping, eating, surfing week. Lucky enough to be on the guest list for an all-time retreat, a waterman’s party at Villa Playa Maria in Rincon PR. With Chuck. #chuckweek to be exact.
The day started out calmly enough. Got in for an early morning surf session at Maria’s. Five guys plus me out front of the Villa. Chuck Patterson floating around on this hot pink foam board, “Pinkie” he calls it and a drone buzzing overhead. The waves were 3 foot perfection, glassy, peeling. The quality of the light bouncing off the top of the lip was all time epic. Felt like I could surf that forever.
A couple of errands and a good nap later, the world shifted. Waking up to the sound of pounding surf, I looked out in front of the Villa and saw that the swell had come in. Eight to ten foot and building. Now there’s movement at the Villa. The Westfalia gets pulled out from behind the guest building and boards start to appear. Naish, Starboard, paddles and Pinkie. Chuck is on the move and Russ Scully owner, of WNDNWVS and our host for #chuckweek is wide eyed and ready to roll. They’re headed for Tres Palmas where the swell is hitting with more regularity and greater height. I’m in. I want to watch. My bag is thrown together and I’m in the car trailing the Westie because there’s no room to sit with all the boards packed in.
We arrive at Step’s Beach. Everyone piles out to look. On the outside, the swell is firing. Cracking. Pumping. Macking. And nobody’s on it yet. The boys start pulling equipment out of the van when suddenly Chuck looks at me and says, “Do you want to go?” Dead silence. My heart just stopped. Yes. “Ummm… what?!”
Chuck again, “Do you want to go? Paddle out with us?”
I just look at him.
Then, someone else chimes in, “She’s not ready.” “She doesn’t want to go.”
Yes, I do. Yes. I. Do. Yes.
Chuck sees it and leans in. “You can sit on the inside bowl. I’ll show you. Look, over there. Right there. You’ve been surfing waves that big all week. You’ve got the channel there. You can do it. Want to come?”
I pull him aside and remind him of a conversation a group of us had on the beach the other day. About how big wave riding and safety go hand-in-hand. About how, when you paddle out in big surf, you go as a team. Together. “I’ll go if I know I’ve got eyes on me.”
Chuck throws his head back and laughs, “She’s comin’!”, he announces to no one in particular.
A board is found, Chuck’s 8’0. A paddle. Suddenly, I’m there on the reef looking past the shore break to the bowl he’s so sure I can handle. Here. We. Go.
Paddling out, I get the 3 minute safety download. If this happens, do that. Keep my eyes on the horizon. Worst case scenerio, head for shore. Got it. That’s IT?
Chuck & the boys head for the point and suddenly there I am, out at Tres Palmas. The outside is firing at around 15-18 feet. The sound of the waves is a thunder. The white water higher than I care to think about. Keep your eyes on the horizon. Stay out of harm’s way. But do it. Go for it. Try.
I spend a lot of time playing cat & mouse with the wave. Paddling in towards the bowl where the wave is breaking and fleeing to the outside when the sets swing wide and come bearing down on me. In towards the bowl and back out again. I’m laughing now. This is funny. I have to get it together and hold my position if I’m going to catch one of these things. I can do it. I think.
I find one. It’s the tail end of one of the cracking, thumping, boiling outsiders. It looms up, moves into the bowl and I put my head down and paddle. The wind is up. The nose is lifted. I have to practically slide all the way up on the board to begin its downward trajectory. But I do it. It goes. Suddenly, I’m sliding down the face of a head high, no wait… it’s way bigger than that. A big wave…8 foot? The wave holds the rail as I come down the face and angle out towards the shoulder.
Hang the fuck on. It’s fast. And powerful! Rail in but not much else. No room for critical error. Just go!
At the end of the ride, I pull out as the wave folds in on itself and start hooting. Who WAS that?!! My wave! What?!! Unbelievable. Epic. Powerful. Fast. Mine.
Again, the cat and mouse game with the incoming sets. In and out. More sets are swinging wide. The swell is shifting. I’ve got to be careful as there’s something weird going on from time to time and those mackers are sneaking into my bowl area without my having a chance to set up properly. Got caught by one and dragged 40 yards? Not fun. Let’s try to avoid that.
The boys check in. “How are you doing?” “I CAUGHT ONE!!!” They laugh, throw me a shaka over their heads and paddle back out. Everybody’s happy.
In and out. White water everywhere now. One more. Just one more. Caught a couple of shoulders but not the same as that … beast back there. Finally, I see it. Really see it this time. Set up, head down and dig. The nose doesn’t want to drop. I’m hanging over the edge of a cliff. Both feet up on the nose of the board, it begins to give way. Dropping in, I see the texture of the wall, the color of it, the closeness and hear the thunder right on my heels. That was a helluva drop! Dragging the paddle to slow down and gain some stability but the wave is now in charge, firing me along the face, feet still up on the nose leaning in towards the wave to hold that rail. Oh. My. God. It spits me out on the shoulder and I’m literally shaking. What just happened? What WAS that? Did I just…. where am I?
And then the world turns sideways and the swell gets ugly. Breaking sideways and swinging wildly in my direction, I realize it’s time to go. Now. The water’s turbulence forces me to my knees as I head in, skirting random peaks, fighting the current and the wind which picked up. To shore. The keyhole.
Slide through on a backsucking, gnarly, churned up shore break. Get to my feet and up the beach. I turn around and just look. Tres Palmas. And me.
My friends come back to shore stoked out of their minds. The rides have been epic. The mountains have moved men, thrown them, engulfed them and fed them. They are full of adrenaline, laughing, slapping backs. Suddenly, they remember and ask, “How did you do?”
I just nod. And smile.