Fighting the Fear Surfing In Costa Rica

The first morning in Costa Rica, I got up before Mrs. CK and grabbed my board to go catch the good surf. I had been anticipating this day for months and was full of excitement. I headed to the beach making my way down the narrow trail through the forest, watching the small lizards dart out of my path. As I got closer to the beach, I started to hear the roar of the waves. On a quiet morning with nobody in sight, the sound was deafening. It echoed deep in my gut, but I had my board in tow and there was no turning back – I was there to surf.


Through the gaps in the trees, I started seeing the waves – they were big. The largest were much taller than me. Last time we were in Costa Rica, I mostly rode the whitewater and smaller waves. After some nasty wipe outs, I avoided paddling out in the big surf. This time, I was on a mission: paddle out in the bigger surf and do some real surfing. But without a soul in sight, I was getting more and more anxious.

“Alright you chicken shit, this is what you’re here for,” I told myself as I marched into the water. I patiently started working my way through the surf and after a few big sets of waves came crashing through, I took advantage of a moment of calm water and paddled out. I got past the impact zone and waited for the right wave. When I saw a decent one coming, I started to paddle.

It was a good wave, but I came up short of catching it, and turned around to see a monster coming my way. It was too late to get out of the way and the wave came crashing down on me. I tried to roll my board and hold on, but like a rag doll in a washing machine I was taken along for a wild ride. I was probably held under for less than 10 seconds, but when you have no control, it feels like an eternity. I came up for air only to see another big one coming right at me. Fear gripped me. I turned my board around and rode the whitewater back in. I’d spent the last few months envisioning breaking this barrier and now I was once again running from the surf with my tail between my legs.

Feeling deflated, I started to make my way back when I saw Mrs. CK pop out of the forest. “Hows the surf?” she asked. “I think it’s just too big for me today,” I said. “Well are you gonna give it another try?” I nodded my head, maybe I’d just mess around inside the impact zone with the smaller waves. At least I wasn’t the only one on the beach anymore. Mrs. CK could drag me in once my surfboard floated in close enough to shore, I thought.

As I was working my way back through the surf, another surfer showed up to take advantage of the big waves. It was Doug, a surfer we met last time we were in Costa Rica and inquired about taking lessons. His South African accent struck me when he told me to “watch out for the sun down here, we’re near the Equataah, you know?” He was an excellent surfer, and was always out on the big surf days. It was reassuring that someone else was way out there past the breaking waves. I paddled out to catch up with him.

“Hey, not sure if you remember me, but we were here back in March.” I said as I floated up. “Yeah I remembah, you were thinking of doing some lessons, yeah?” he asked. “Yeah I could still use some, it doesn’t have to be anything formal but if you could give me some tips…. I’m still a bit nervous paddling out here and trying to catch the bigger waves,” I said. “Yeah, you’re at that tricky stage now where you gotta figure out just how to time it right… Well here comes one now, why don’t you try and catch that one?” I looked back to see what I thought was a really big wave coming. I paused for a second, but I had no choice – I went for it.

I paddled hard, but once again came up short, and turned around to see another big set coming right at me. I couldn’t just run away this time, so I paddled toward it like hell and just made it through as the crest of the wave started crashing over my head. “Nice one, most people would have ditched their board, but you held on,” Doug said. “Well, my usual move would have been to try a turtle roll,” I replied. “The turtle roll is good, but only on certain size waves. You gotta ditch the board for something like that. Just send it parallel to the surf so the wave doesn’t snap it in half. Here comes another one, you should go for it.” Feeling more confident I went for another wave. I missed it again but Doug caught it.

We were both paddling back when another monster set came through. “Ditch your board!” Doug shouted. I pushed the board to the side and dove down. A couple of seconds later I came back up and after some tugging at my leg, my board popped up as well. A monster wave much taller than me had come and gone. And I’d survived. Holy crap, I though to myself, that wasn’t too bad. Then it started to rain – I couldn’t leave Mrs. CK on the beach, so I thanked Doug for the tips and said I was down for lessons whenever he could.


I didn’t catch any waves, but I was floating on a cloud walking back from the beach in the rain. Only an hour earlier, I thought I couldn’t hack it. I think it was the fear of not knowing what would happen if those big waves got a hold of me and churned me over. But now I’d been swallowed up and spat out, and the worst that came of it was some water up my nose. Even better, armed with Doug’s tips, I now knew how to evade getting sucked in for a good tumble.

So maybe some water up my nose was an understatement. When I got home, my nose started dripping seawater. I leaned forward and a stream started to flow, must have been half a cup of seawater that came draining out of my sinuses. Didn’t matter – if you asked me how I felt, it was an eleven. We went out for some casados, then I passed out for a nice long nap.

I never did get to have a formal lesson with Doug, and the surf was never as big, but things started to click after that first session. I started to catch a few waves, and I caught a lot more wipe outs. Every day I progressed a bit more, and every night I emptied half a cup of seawater from my head.


Mrs. CK did manage to snap some photos of me catching a few decent sized waves. Even if I looked like an uncoordinated ape on a board, I know I had a big monkey grin on my face.


I’ve been scared of a lot of things. Would we be OK if I quit my job? We would. Would I drown if a massive wave got a hold of me? I wouldn’t. These were all fears of the unknown. My mind is geared to feed me excuses to stick with the status quo. “You’ll be safe if you just keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing, Mr. CK. Let’s stick with what we know.” Maybe it takes some coaching, or seeing someone else doing the thing that’s so scary. But if you get out there and try, you might realize you can ride those monsters you’ve been running from.

23 thoughts on “Fighting the Fear Surfing In Costa Rica

  1. I’m an absolutely huge chicken, so getting over fears is something that I really want to work on. Namely, I’ve been thinking more about doing blogging full time. But if you already have a full-time job that’s pretty difficult to do. I’m sure it would be more successful if I could devote time to it full-time, but I really do fear the financial repercussions. I know at some point you just have to say a prayer and jump ship, but I don’t think I’m quite at that point yet. I hope I can ride that wave one day like you. 🙂

    • Having a solid plan for the future helps. When I was getting ready to quit my job I was really nervous, but with our finances in order I knew it was just my nerves and not something I should really be afraid of.

      Same with the waves. I knew how to swim, but I was still being chicken. Once I had a better plan on how to tackle the waves, things became clearer and the fear disappeared.

      Best of luck on following your dreams 🙂

  2. Awesome story and message, Mr. CK – not to mention some killer action shots! Can I expect to see you on the cover of Surfer Magazine sometime soon?

    There’s nothing quite as powerful as having a helpful “big brother” to help with pointers and to push you over those fear hurdles. I’m an OK surfer who benefited tremendously from a much more accomplished friend over a few days showing me stuff and helping me out. But this bro did absolutely not have a sweet South African accent. And I wasn’t in Central America either. Your ride was way more exotic than mine…and if you look like a monkey on your board (an assessment I disagree with), then I probably look about as coordinated and capable as a newborn calf!

    Great read as always – travel, life tips and a killer message – classic CK!

    • Yep, it was a big help having someone to give a few tips to help me past some of the fears. I was perusing Surfer Magazine during our layover at the airport… I think I have a long way to go before I hit those kinds of waves. But I’m definitely getting hooked on the sport 🙂

  3. Love this and especially how it applies to FI. Money can be scary. (actually, just not having it can be scary– I should know, seeing as how I’ve got $600k of student loan debt) and so its nerve racking taking risks (like trying out big waves).

    Also, I need to get back to Costa Rica! This made me feel a pang of jealousy.

    • I agree money can be scary too, especially when you have a large burden like that to work through. At least you have the courage to face it and work through it 🙂

      I’m also missing Costa Rica now. Is there such a thing as surfing withdrawal?

  4. Looks like fun Mr. CK!

    Now that you’ve conquered your fear of big waves, what are you going to do about the sharks?


    The thing about fear is that *we* create it. The real danger may be unknown, so our fears may be either warranted or exaggerated. Knowing the difference is key…and the only real way to do that is experience (in my opinion).

  5. Awesome story!!! My wife and I went to Cost Rica a couple of years ago. That surf is no joke at times. We were doing some body surfing and I definitely remember feeling like I got put in the rinse cycle a couple of times.

    Awesome job for not giving up and I love how you tie it back to quitting your job. Thanks for sharing!!!

  6. Very cool pictures. Costa Rica is so much fun (though personally I’ve never surfed I do love hiking and nature).
    I’ve found personally I almost always have fear in the anticipation, sometimes even when its something I’ve done repeatedly. But in the moment I just do it and afterwards I’m glad I did. As such I always just push that nagging feeling aside and go for it.

  7. Love this, Mr. CK! I’ve had that feeling…you captured it perfectly in your post. Killing the fear and doing what you thought you couldn’t do is the most amazing feeling in the world. You tell a great story. Congrats on taking on the big waves!

  8. I’ve found that most things aren’t as bad as you think they are once you have done them. Fixing something on your house or car, taking an exam, or some other situation. You just have to get started and go for it.

  9. Enjoyed the story Mr. C.K. Conquering fears is hard to do, but the high can be well worth it. For me it was learning to scuba dive when I don’t _really_ know how to swim. Terrifying, and also exhilarating.

  10. Awesome! I took a surfing lesson in Hawaii once and it was a lot of fun. I’m not a strong swimmer so I haven’t done it again. I like small waves. 🙂

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