Surfing In Portugal

          For this week's Behind the Photo, I decided to choose to tell the story of when I learned how to surf. First, I need to back up a little bit and tell you about Couchsurfing. I left the US to go traveling for an indefinite amount of time with absolutely no plan of where I was going or what I would do when I got there. Before I left, my more experienced traveler friends told me about this amazing community around the world called Couchsurfing. For those of you who don’t know, Couchsurfing is a community of travelers who offer strangers the opportunity to stay at their house for free, and they’ll typically share a meal with you and maybe even show you around the city you happen to be visiting. I have since become very involved in this community, and I have surfed quite a few times with a lot of different people in a number of cities around Europe as well as hosted people back in the US.  For the most part, I have had incredible experiences and made some wonderful friends. However, there's always a learning curve, right?! 
          The first stop on my travels was Portugal. I decided to Couchsurf the first night and ended up making an amazing new friend who I stayed with for 3 days. While I was there, he was kind enough to show me all around Lisbon. I was so excited about this new discovery, Couchsurfing, actually working out so wonderfully that I signed up to surf at another host's house who had offered to host me in the South of Portugal. This guy was older, but he had other girls who were living at his house and working for the summer, so I figured it would be fine. He was super friendly the first night, but things got weird the second night. When we were making dinner together he kept saying things that made me a little uncomfortable. I knew that I should trust my instincts and that I needed to get out of there the next day, so I did. 
          There was only one small problem; there were no rooms available within 30 miles, except 1. So, I booked it and took a cab straight there. I knew it was going to be a different experience when we started heading way off into the countryside. The cab pulled up to the hostel, and it turned out to be a surf camp. No problem for me. However, a small problem arose when the guy at reception didn't speak any English. He finally called someone that did speak a very little bit and I talked to her on the phone then handed him the phone so she could interpret. It was a comical situation, and luckily we were all in good spirits about it. I got my bed and went outside to lie in one of the hammocks and enjoy the quite solitude of this new environment. An hour later a car pulled up. In it was one of the many interesting characters I had the pleasure to meet on my journey.  He was what you would imagine the ultimate "surfer dude" to be like, with a Portuguese accent. He called everyone dude, bro, babe, etc. He never wore shoes, even in the grocery store. Tank tops and board shorts were his standard attire. And, he was so good-natured about everything in life. He asked me how I ended up at his camp, and when I explained what had happened he offered to take me into town so I could get some groceries for my stay. On the drive he also told me all about surfing and encouraged me to take lessons while I was at the camp. I immediately turned the offer down. One of my biggest fears has always been natural bodies of water, so the thought of being far enough out in the ocean to surf was a terrifying thought. However, I mulled over the thought quite a bit throughout the next few hours. I finally came to the conclusion that the whole point in the journey I was on was to push myself and do things I would never normally do. So, I knew I had to do it.
           I signed up for the lesson, and the next day I found myself on a beach, in a wetsuit, with a board in my hands. I would love to tell you that once I made up my mind to do it that it came easy. But, that would be a huge lie. I was terrified. I had so much anxiety about the whole situation. I finally knew if I didn't do something I was going to back out. So, I sat down on the beach during our few minutes of free time before the lesson and I made peace with the ocean. I let it all go. I had an internal conversation with the ocean where I told it that I respect it and its power to take my life as it sees fit. I asked it to protect me while I was in it. And then, I just trusted that it would all be ok. I dove head-first into the experience. I wanted to get as much out of it as I could. I was out there for 3 hours straight trying to get up on my board and ride the waves in. In total, I caught 3 solid waves. It was a huge accomplishment for me, and it did not come easily. I fought hard for those waves. They were worth every ounce of energy that it took me too. I cannot describe the unbelievable feeling of catching the wave just right and riding it all the way to shore. You feel so free. You feel on top of the world. It's an incredible rush. And for me, it's impossible not to smile thinking back on it. I never wanted the day to end. I didn't care how tired I was. I would have been out there for at least another 3 hours if he had let me. I wanted more waves! I wanted to feel the rush over and over again. I cannot wait until my next surfing experience. Next time, there will be no hesitation, only extreme enthusiasm!

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