Learning how to surf was the number one reason I traveled to Costa Rica. It was something I had never done, but always wanted to do. I hoped that since it was a water sport, and because I'm a swimmer, I might be able to pick surfing up with relative ease.

So amped was I to try my hand at surfing, I had trained vigorously ever since booking my flight four months prior. I started a regimen at the gym where I worked, swimming half mile to a mile, two to three times a week. I did push-ups from a set of parallel bars in anticipation of having to push myself up onto a surf board. I tirelessly worked my core muscles, a part of my body that I really despise working, in hopes of improving my sense of balance. I practiced diligently upon a rolling balance board to further develop my abdominal strength and ability to balance. By the time I got to Costa Rica, I was in fantastic shape and ready to take on the ocean.

My surfing instructor couldn't help but take notice of the unexpected strength I displayed as we proceeded with our lesson. He remarked that I was in fact much stronger than I appeared. While lying upon the sand, my instructor taught me the basics of finding a good wave and crawling along side it before pushing up with my arms, and then using my core to hop to my feet in a position somewhat similar to the yoga asana of Warrior II. He was an excellent teacher, instructing with clarity and making it very easy to understand the basic technique. My instructor emphasized that once I was ready to dismount, it was important to simply step off, as opposed to hopping, from the board. Once he felt confident I understood the process, we took to the sea.

My instructor helped me tow my board out to where my feet just barely touched the sandy bottom. He taught me how to put my hand on the back of the board to guide it over the waves, while ducking my body well beneath it. Then it came time to ride my first wave. In anticipation of the crest, I paddled alongside the long white surfboard, and when the time was right I attempted to confidently pop up and ride. My first try was unsuccessful, while my second attempt was an absolute success. I rode the wave unshakably while gazing off into the tropical horizon with a grin stretched from ear to ear.

As I glided closer to shore, so enthusiastic was I with my success, that I completely forgot my teacher's words of warning. I leapt from the board, losing my sense of balance as the board flipped out from beneath me. I felt a searing pain rip through my kneecap. My right leg twisted as it collided with the ground below the shallow surge.


At first collision, I cried out in agony. I then cringed and bared the terrible sensation as I dragged myself whimpering out from the billowing waters, struggling to contain any verbal release for fear of coming off as a wimp. I limped pathetically upon the shore before collapsing upon the beach. My instructor rushed to my aid.

"Are you okay?" he asked, concerned for my injury.

"Yeah," I said, holding back tears, "I just need a couple minutes to recover. Just a little break, that's all, I'll be fine." The pain shot and throbbed up my leg, but I gritted my teeth and I tried to suppress it. At first, I couldn't even bend my knee because the pain was so incredibly excruciating. I mentally forced myself to heal as quickly as possible. I didn't want to miss out on the rest of my lesson, and I didn't want to waste my instructor's time. He waited patiently with me as I shook out my leg and began to forcefully bend my knee. Within ten or fifteen minutes, I had increased mobility and felt willing to continue on with my lesson. I paddled out and tried once more to pop up upon the board, but the resulting pain compelled me to collapse.


I thanked my teacher for his excellent instruction, and blamed myself for not heeding his advice. Thanks to my knee injury, I was only able to tolerate one additional day of surfing. I was determined to demonstrate inner strength and get back on the horse. The one piece suit I'd worn for my surfing lesson had been completely destroyed. It was stretched to the point of disrepair as a result of the forceful tide surges. There was no way I'd be contained within a typical bikini top, so I hit the beach in a sports bra and underwear. No one could tell the difference between legitimate bikini bottoms and my beloved granny panties. Although I only succeeded at catching waves a few times, the entire experience was fun and invigorating.

Despite the fact I was injured, I do not regret that I learned how to surf. I understand that bad things happen in life. They're a part of our world, and although we can take care to make conscious decisions, there are bad things in life that cannot be avoided. I was probably as likely to be injured slipping on the ice or being hit by a car in Chicago as I was to go surfing in Costa Rica. Sticking to what you know isn't going to stop bad things from happening; in fact, it might make things worse when they break your routine. This is why I'd rather try something new.

Call me a thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie, but when it comes down my heart, adventure feels right. We must proceed with caution, while living to honor our best aspirations. The moral of this story isn't the injury – the moral of this story is the experience. I got to go surfing, and it was totally knarley.


- Kat Vallera, creator of NomadiKat Travel Media, author of Around the World in 80 J's

Special thanks to Roman Buchhofer Photography (first two photos)