by Amy Waeschle
I stood in the idling boat with the others, our breaths collectively held. Fat ridges of swell were stacked to the sapphire-blue horizon, and one was steaming toward Marbella’s black-sand shore.
The wave peaked; the deep blue lip reaching forward, then a burst of spray sparkled in the sun like shards of colored glass. The wave peeled perfectly for an impossibly long time, roaring like a jet engine. The entire crew of surfers exhaled a simultaneous, “whoa,” before becoming a flurry of bodies rushing and jostling to get into the water. Smirking, our boat driver underhanded our surf boards into the water like fistfuls of rice at a wedding. I plunged in after my board, reminding myself that if my guides didn’t think I could handle this wave, they wouldn’t have sent me here.
After three days of Witch’s Rock tours program, I was well on my way to surfing my brains out. I could also feel myself getting more comfortable surfing bigger waves. I was ready for this—I’d been surfing for only a few years but wanted to push myself and improve. I was tired of being the newbie, the scardy-cat.
But I hadn’t slept a wink the night before because Marbella was a serious wave. When my favorite surf guide found out I was headed to Marbella the next day he looked at me gravely and said, “Careful. Mar-baya ees a heavy wave.” He also told me to not, under any circumstances, get caught inside.
Sitting in the lineup, my throat was so tight I wondered if I might be having an asthma attack. Do not get caught inside rang in my head. I kept a constant eye on the horizon for the big sets. The first surfer paddled for a wave and got pitched over the falls, the wave exploding with a thunderous boom as he disappeared inside the massive foam ball. I winced and didn’t exhale until I saw him scratch over the next set. Another surfer dropped in with the same result.
What was I doing here?
Another surfer dropped in and ducked beneath the lip, shooting down the line, the wave arcing in a perfect oval after him. An almost-barrel. He carved a hard turn for the lip and flew over it just as the wave slammed shut in a thick mass of foamy, blue water.
Finally it was my turn. I spied my wave and spun for it. Behind me, the lip made that feathering sound when it’s starting to spill. When I dropped-in and punched to my feet, I was greeted by a lip as thick as my thigh. I carved low around the fast-breaking section, balancing against the alarming pace and steepness by grabbing my outside rail and crouching low, outrunning the pitching wall while my heart thumped like a base drum in my ears. The wave glittered a shiny, slate blue, thinning as it reached out. I held my breath and raced upwards for the lip.
Do not get caught inside.
The wave pounded shut behind me, erupting with spray that peppered the backs of my legs like buckshot.
I paddled a safe distance outside and replayed what I had just accomplished. My mind relived the steep drop, my hand reaching for the outside rail (when had I learned to do that?) the fluttering, crushing lip folding behind me, my smooth, racing exit. Slowly, a grin spread across my face. My first almost-barrel! I couldn’t wait to try it again. My next ride lasted a lifetime and left me breathless.
By the end of my weeklong trip, my arm muscles were so worked I couldn’t brush my hair in the morning and my skin was so fried from the equatorial sun that I barely recognized myself in the mirror. Something inside of me had changed, too, though no one could see it. I had ditched my newbie surfer self for good.
AMY WAESCHLE is the author of Going Over the Falls and Chasing Waves. She sometimes gets crazy, such as surfing urchin-infested reef breaks or taking her kindergartener backpacking. This month she’s giving away a boatload of surf books. Enter here: http://bit.ly/2xVOxtJ.