Playa Grande, Costa Rica

I’ve never been much of a surf beach kind of guy. I grew up next to a chicken farm, a long way from any ocean. Plus I have issues with public nudity stemming from low self-esteem and a rigorous Lutheran upbringing. I’m never going to have that tan, those dreads, or figure out the cool but indecipherable hand signals.
Sad, but at 48 I’ve just about come to terms with it. So it was with some trepidation that I changed into my board shorts in the rental car’s sticky hot front seat, struggled into my shortie wetsuit like it was a sausage casing and walked gingerly across the hot sand and into the waves. I wasn’t going surfing, but I spent good money on an underwater camera housing and I was going to do the next best thing, take pictures of other people surfing. More expensive, but requiring fewer motor skills.

Playa Grande is reported to be one of the premier surfing spots in Costa Rica, and the mob of tanned, athletic specimens of both sexes bore that out. I felt like something bloated and pale that had washed up with the tide.

But I was ready to face death in the form of monster waves, lethal rip tides and extreme risk of sunburn. I marched bravely into the breakers, my nerve bolstered by the presence of a gaggle of teenage girls standing in waist deep water a hundred yards offshore. It took some time, but I made it out to the breakers, and spent a lot of time bobbing over, under and sometimes within the maw of curling walls of water. Four feet of surf isn’t a lot in Oahu North Shore terms, but when you’re a balding middle age man in a neoprene suit, it focusses your attention.

I eventually decided the trick was to predict the spot where breaking wave, rapidly paddlng surfer and camera should intersect. Like a lot of things in life, I make it look a lot harder than it probably should. Over the course of four hours this happened roughly…once. But on top of that, I built an extensive image collection of blurry sand, bubbles and clouds. Sort of like if I put my camera in the washing machine. Which by the time the sun set, was how my entire body was feeling.

Photographed January 29, 2009 with a Canon EOS-1D III digital camera and 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. Exposure 1/1000 at f/6.3.

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