Here’s how it unfolded. I decided I needed to plan something to look forward to during Christmas break. So, I bought a ticket to fly from Cortez to San Diego and back. My flight left Cortez in the morning light causing luminous rays like brush-strokes from a fine painting across the face of Mesa Verde. Over the snow-capped La Plata and others of the Rockies, then a twisted dive down to the Denver airport- the first leg of the trip.
All airports appear the same to me (except Cortez's which has a friendly cat and the smallest runway ever). I’d paid to have my backpack checked and found myself feeling oddly light-footed as I bounced around Denver Airport. I noted the roofline shaped like a line of irregular teepees out one of the windows as I wandered through the terminal. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and, as it was nearly noon, I decided to treat myself to a Philly cheese steak and an ice cream cone.
My final flight into San Diego was smooth and eventless. I’d decided to find the bus to the hostel after retrieving my pack. Driving beyond the hyper-activity of the airport, we soon were contouring the edge of the main bay. We made a 90 degree turn and headed uphill slightly. I counted the cross-roads until we arrived at Front Street.
The hostel I lodged at was only six blocks up the way. I passed by some fellow hostellers who smoked on plastic lawn chairs in front of the old Victorian. It was late day of December twenty-second. My birthday would arrive the next day.
“Hello. Can I help you,” asked the girl with a thick accent I couldn’t place. She leaned over the check-in counter.
“Yeah. I’ve got a reservation for a bed,” I said.
Keleher. Joe Keleher.”
“Yeah. We’ve got you down for a couple of nights,” she said as noted the reflection of the computer screen in her glasses as she scanned it.
“That’s right,” I leaned over the counter. “Umm… I wanted to ask about getting a surf lesson. I’m turning fifty tomorrow and would like to give it a try.”
She smiled. “I’ll ask Thiago. He’s the guy who just walked by on his way to the shower. I’ll let you know.”
The Next morning Thiago, a high energy Brazilian who started surfing when he was eight, fit me with a wetsuit and surf board. Two South African lasses joined us as we all wandered down the street to catch the trolley and transferred to a bus to get to Pacific Beach.
Vicky led us in early morning yoga, before we donned our wetsuits and hit the waves. It was a gorgeous day with waves of three to four feet and only a few other dozens of beach occupants.
Thiago gave a short and heart-felt lesson. He prepared me for the waves, getting beyond them and the actions I needed to ride one. “Ready?” he asked.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” I responded.
The four of us fought to get out beyond the waves. Soon I found I’d drank my share of salt water and found my upper body muscles twitching from exertion.
Thiago came along side of me. “Okay. Turn your board.” I followed his directions. “Now…get up on it and paddle, paddle, paddle!”
It was the one wave I can actually claim to have ridden. I rode on my knees and soon found myself nearing shore. I let Thiago know I was exhausted. “Rest up and then you can come out again,” he suggested.
I stretched out on my board and read from Girl With the Pearl Earring. After several chapters, the others came in from the waters. Thiago and I went for a long walk and talk along the beach followed by the four of us going for a late lunch at a beachside restaurant which specialized in fish tacos.
It was one of those days. One I won’t forget. Salty ocean breeze twirled with the distant sound of waves breaking. I’ve surfed through fifty and look forward to fifty-five more!
* "You can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf! Life is good!"
*Quote from t-shirt I got bought before leaving San Diego