Simplicity and the Seduction of Surf

“Come onnnnn” he taunted, looking out at the horizon.

“I’m getting cold” another joked, mockingly rubbing his arms over his wet suit.

As they longingly searched for wave formations, I looked perpendicularly across the lineup: a string of bobbing heads floating on surfboards. All facing the ocean, they hovered just outside the invisible line where the waves would break. Each one strategically positioned to turn around quickly once a wave was spotted.

The backdrop of the morning was breathtaking. The sun was rising quickly behind the clouds, painting the sky a soft glow of yellow and orange. When the waves rolled in they crashed along the beach creating a mist that floated back over the water, like steam filling a hot shower. The sand on the beach was met by rocks covered with lush green trees that rose high into the sky. No hotels, no houses, no manmade structures.

Before I so much as spotted a ripple in the water, the surfers knew that the next set of waves were forming in the distance. They began to swing around on their boards. Ready to paddle, pop-up, and drop in.

A second round of shouts and taunts ensued as they assessed the size of the first oncoming wave, where it would break, and who was perfectly positioned to claim it.

Four surfers dug for it, paddling ahead with bursts of power and speed. The first surfer popped up and dropped in on the wave, so it was now his. The second and third surfers resisted the urge and hung back, reluctantly bowing out. It was a rolling wave. Soft but steady so he rode it effortlessly, cutting back and forth to get more action from it. No longer taunting the waves, he had now tamed one.

When the ride came to an end he gracefully stepped off the back of the board into the water, but first looked back at the horizon. I wondered if he was already looking to see what he could ride next.

As he paddled back to the lineup the jesting compliments began, spoken in thick surfer lingo. The equivalent of high-fives or chest bumps in other sports.

From my position at the end of the lineup (beginner territory), I watched like a kid admiring his older siblings, wanting to be just like them when I grew up.

Speculating on the appeal of surfing, I came to the elementary conclusion that you have to be able to surf to join the conversation. Entrance to the club has to be earned. It takes practice and determination, wiping out over and over, and getting in the water before most people have their morning coffee.

Further appealing because of its natural simplicity is the duality of surf.

In the water, surfers are like amphibious creatures. Quick, nimble, and completely accustomed to their aquatic environments. Gliding through the water appears to be second nature, as thoughtless and uncomplicated as walking. Their surfboards resembling an extension of their limbs.

Out of the water, surfers are tan and fit, with hair majestically lightened at the ends because of the sun. Throwing on a hat and t-shirt after surfing they embody the effortlessly-cool look.  For the tropical, warm weather surfers, they live in beautiful places that most city dwellers experience only once in a while, if ever.

When it comes to personality, surfers are friendly and easy going. Chilled may be an understatement. They make decisions based on the weather of the day and the wave report. They’re not planners. They assess each day and then make the most of whats available.

Most of the surfers I met in Rincón, Puerto Rico, had moved there a few years prior. They came from working in finance, management, and professional services. Some were married when they moved, but most were no longer. Each had their own influences but they shared a common decision: it was a life they were ready to live.

They were tired of living by the clock. Tired of working long hours. Tired of feeling like they were on an endless loop chasing unimportant things. They were ready to enjoy their lives and they knew what they were looking for. They weren’t giving up on their existing lives, they were trading them in for the versions they now wanted.

I asked one of them, Brett, what it was he missed most about living in the states and he instantly replied “reality” with a sarcastic laugh. He was clearly aware that the life he chose was unconventional to most back home, and that his reality was in a place most people only dream about.

Having taken a few surf trips, I’ve found the surfing lifestyle is simple and seductive. There’s beauty and grace in the sport but its the fluidity and freedom thats most alluring. In a world where many are governed by routine and incentivized by feeling important, surfers quite literally go with the flow, and just wait for the waves to roll in.

In and Around Rincón, Puerto Rico

To Eat

  • Make a pit stop for alcapurrias and more fried treats at Brisas Del Mar in Barceloneta (don’t forget to wash them down with cold beers, or Don Q rum)

  • Grilled and marinated octopus at Shipwreck

  • Fresh ceviche made from the catch of the day at Pool Bar Sushi

  • Breakfast at The English Rose (make a reservation in advance, the place is small but the view is incredible)

  • If you head to Isabela, visit The Eclipse for lunch and ginger margaritas

To Surf

Dogman’s Beach or “Doggie’s”

  • Playa del Antonio or “Antonio’s”

  • Maria’s Beach or “Maria’s”

  • Surfer’s Beach in Aguadilla (afterwards, stop for sandwiches and pastries from Levain Bakery)

  • Kitesurfing at Montones beach

To Do

  • Frolic in the San Sebastian Waterfall

  • Rent a boat at La Parguerra and spend the day island hopping, snorkeling, and drinking lots of cold beer (don’t forget a cooler, or just make your own out of a backpack)

  • Play Gringo Bingo on Wednesdays at La Copa Llena

  • Find the pink donut van along the roadside and buy a box of 6 (try the queso & guayaba or canela flavors)

  • Explore the caves and find serenity in the view at La Cueva del Indio in Arecibo

  • Stay at the Rincón Surf Resort and take surf lessons or hire a guide (they’re also the Rincón Surf School)

Surfer Spotlight: Dave Turnmire

1) How would you describe the life you chose down in Puerto Rico?

My move to PR was all about a fresh start and simplifying my life. It was a fairly quick decision but I wouldn’t change it for anything! It came down to being faithful to my desire to improve my surfing and to just take a big leap.

2) Describe the surfer mindset, culture, and lifestyle.

Surf culture I think is very fluid as you come across different people & there are different levels of commitment within it as well. Some never obsess over wave reports while others will check them five times per day. I think it as varied as surfboards…so many different feels.

3) Why do you love surfing? Explain why you’ve surfed for so long and if/why you’ll continue. 

I’m kind of a lone wolf and have been since childhood. Always drawn toward solitary endeavors such as golf, tennis, skating & sailing. Surfing for a few weeks when I first started I finally rode a proper wave and from that point on it was all in for me.

4) Do you ever have doubts or regrets about moving from the US down to PR? Explain some of those feelings.

I will surf the rest of my life! It as much apart of me as my hands. I could never imagine not looking forward to being in and surrounded by the ocean. For me it’s a religion in which my faith is heavily vested!