January 26th, 2011
Memories, Friends, Robert August, Van Halen… and Some Surfing too
October 4, 2013
Kimi Ceridon is a recovering corporate engineer and manager. After 15 years in the consumer product industry, Kimi decided to call it quits and follow some other dreams. Along with learning to surf and enjoying other water-related sports, she is pursuing a Master’s in Gastronomy, getting trained in Culinary Arts, trying her hand at Urban Homesteading, perfecting throwing tennis balls with her dog and blogging about it all at on No Return Ticket
From now on, every time I hear the rapid fire drum intro for Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” I will be immediately transported back to sitting in the Eat At Joe’s open-air dining area at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp.
It is a bit embarrassing to tell you I associate one of my fondest vacation memories to Van Halen. Despite the parts of my brain dedicated to their song lyrics, I am not a Van Halen fan, nor a Van Hagar fan, nor a Van whoever-is-lead-singer-now fan. I admit I went through a hair band-loving phase in middle school and high school. But, I would like to think I have out grown that phase. However, that song, along with the many other 80’s and 90’s throw-back songs always playing at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp will forever trigger memories of my learn-to-surf adventure in Costa Rica.
This year, I decided I needed to go on a big, adventure vacation reminiscent of trips of my youth. Backpacking remote wildernesses? No, needed more time to get in shape for that. Sailing blue jeweled seas? Tempting, but I was looking for something more physical. Mountain biking rugged downhills? Nope, I am convinced I should stick with very tame mountain biking trips. Learn to Surf at a golden sand beach? YES! Learning to surfing was a bucket list item. Given my Filipino family’s long history and residence in Hawaii, it was an ancestral obligation for me to learn to surf.
While a visit to said family was considered, we chose Costa Rica as a destination. I looked at many ‘surfing adventure’ packages. There were luxurious resort-type getaways with daily yoga, spa packages and add-on adventures. While the price tags were halting enough, the whole idea of an ‘adventure’ vacation involving daily pampering was not really what I had in mind. There was the option of booking daily surf lessons for the week and accommodations separately. Uh, yeah, that was just a level of effort I wasn’t prepared to take on for this trip.
Then, I came across Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. Surf lessons and accommodations in one spot? Check. Laid back atmosphere with a bar, a pool and a restaurant? Check. All day board rental? Check. 50-Feet from the beach and ocean? Check. Breakfast daily? Check. Reasonable price? Check. Minimalist accommodations fitting for salty, sandy, wet surfers? Check. Local microbrews on tap? Check. A surfer legend in residence? Check.
Wait. . . what was that last one? Surfer legend on site?
That’s right, the thing that sealed the deal was surfer legend Robert August was the board shaper in residence at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp. While I never surfed before, the movie ‘Endless Summer’ ranks high on my list of great adventure tales that includes ‘On The Road’, ‘Into the Wild’, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. Granted, ‘Endless Summer’ ain’t literature, but it was an amazing tale. And here was a chance to shake hands with a legend. Oh yeah, don’t forget, I was going to learn to surf too.
My husband and I arrived at the surf camp on a Saturday after a long day of navigating unpredictable Costa Rican roadways and navigating the even more unpredictable Costa Rican drivers. We were ready to check into our room and unwind for the afternoon. As we entered the restaurant, the music elicited a bit of a snicker and thoughts of ‘Oh man, bad 80’s music’. We soon learned the music was part if the ambience that makes this place so awesome.
We were introduced to our room, which was basic with a bed, a nightstand, a safe, a bathroom, an air conditioner and a polished floor that was perfect for oceanic abuse. The view of waves crashing on the beach allowed us to monitor surf conditions as well. It was a great home base for our plans of surf and beach all day with a place to lay our heads at night. After unpacking, we naturally headed to the bar. While listening to more throw-back hits, we savored our Witch’s Rock Pale Ale & Gato Malo Dark Ale, watched the surf and awaited our lunch.
It didn’t take long before a fellow guest struck up a conversation and asked us if we just arrived. This was the first member of what I came to think of as my learn-to-surf-this-week tribe. This happened several times throughout week and not just while at the camp. We made new friends with fellow Witch’s Rock tribespeople all over Tamarindo. Throughout the week, our tribe would not only take lessons together, we would bond together. Save for a few couples like us and a few friend’s vacationing together, no one knew each other beforehand. Nor did Witch’s Rock organize tribes or activities. To throw out one of those overused phrases, it just happened organically.
We gathered around tables in the morning before the music started playing and enjoy cups of coffee and surf talk. We watched each other surf from the beach and took pictures. We gathered for beers. We went on trips and tours. We coalesced around dinner. We laughed and chattered during classroom lessons. By the end of the week, we even did that thing that cements all modern friendships, we Facebook friended each other. Oh, and, yes, of course, we surfed together. All the while, this was set to hair band soundtrack.
I have done a lot of traveling. Trips with organized activities forcing travelers to spend time together. Less formal trips where people barely offer a grunted greeting to each other. I’ve had accommodations under the stars, in tents, on floors, on cots, in hostels, on trains, on sailboats and in luxurious and dive hotels alike. My travels have resulted in many long lasting friendships. Yet, it is a rare treasure to meet and bond with a group of people and form lasting friendships like I did with my learn-to-surf-this-week tribespeople.
I am sure you are wondering when I will talk about the lessons, the surfing, the instructors and Robert August. I started out planning to do just that. In the process, I realized what was awesome about my learn-to-surf week was more than these pieces. Don’t get me wrong, if all those elements sucked, no amount of friendship and bonding would have fixed it.
The instructors were dedicated, caring, insightful and fellow tribespeople. The surf was amazing – must have been considering I started catching waves during my first lesson. Robert August was every bit of awesome that I expected and, despite his local celebrity, he was approachable, friendly and funny. The staff was always accommodating, friendly and helpful. You can read all about these things on my blog.
But, there is something special about the environment beyond the ”learn-to-surf basics that made that week special. Our backgrounds ranged from physicist to geologist to mom to teacher to engineer to financial planner and more. We came from many different places. But somehow, we made lasting friendships. I don’t know if every week is like this at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, but I have no reason to believe our week was any different. If I become a life-long surfer, which I hope I do, I think it will be the community more than the lessons that are to blame. Or, perhaps, it was just the hair band soundtrack that will be the catalyst.
Whatever it is, it works.
Before my trip to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, hearing that unmistakable drum intro to ‘Hot for Teacher’ would have done nothing more than elicit an instantaneous reach to change the station. Now, I am a changed woman. When that intro starts and rolls into the familiar guitar riff, I get a quick flash of the rolling, regular surf of Playa Tamarindo under thatched umbrellas, the taste of sea breeze mingling with my morning ‘Typical Tico Breakfast’ of rice, beans, eggs, bacon and coffee and snippets of surfing conversation with fellow learn-to-surf-this-week tribespeople. The corner of my lips turn up with a knowing smile, I take a breath to reminence, reminding myself to email one of my tribespeople to say, ‘hello.’ Only then does my hand reach out to switch the station.
I am not sure that is exactly the reaction David Lee Roth was aiming for when he wrote that song, but alas, I am still not converted to a Van Halen fan.