by Wanda Medina

My first taste of the pura vida began on Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. It was there that I was able to overcome one of my greatest fears and truly understand what I was made of.

I had always been petrified of waves, and an incident in Mexico years ago further heightened my fear. Since then, I had been absolutely paralyzed at the site of anything that closely resembled one. Espadilla is known for its strong current, and looking at the waves crashing in, I knew I was in for a nerve-wrecking day.

After watching with envy as the smallest of children dove in, I realized that the only way I was going to overcome my fear of waves was to learn how to ride them. I took a stroll down the main strip, came across Kobe Surf School, and signed up for a lesson with Christian, a local who could not have been more than sixteen years old.

The waves that afternoon were unlike any I had seen before, and as I made my way onto the beach, I could feel my knees buckling. After a brief sand lesson on technique, paddling, and popping up, we were off. Once in the water, my anxiety level spiked and I began second-guessing my decision. My first good wave, however, was coming in and there was absolutely no way of getting out of it.

As instructed, I began paddling as fast as I could and tried to get up when Christian yelled to do so. Before I knew it, I was knocked down by the wave and was being dragged and pulled underneath. Five seconds beneath the water felt like an eternity, and the panic I experienced years ago began rushing back. When I finally came up for air, Christian told me to shake it off and hurry up because there were more coming in. I had no time to think about what had just happened.

For the rest of the afternoon, I was battered, flipped, and submerged countless times. With each fall, I enjoyed it more and more. In fact, I was able to stand up and ride quite a few times. By the end of the day, I was painfully exhausted but exhilarated at the idea that I had not only conquered my fear, but had found a new sport to pursue. Next winter, I am heading back to Costa Rica and signing up for a multi-day surf camp.

This was only one of the many experiences that changed me on this trip. I never fully understood who I was until I was staring one of my greatest fears in the face and doing it alone. As odd as it may sound, I felt as though I wasn’t by myself on this adventure—I was with myself. Fortunately for me, I am one hell of a travel companion.

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Wanda Medina dreams of one day becoming a member of the Travelers’ Century Club. She has backpacked her way around Europe, haggled with street vendors in Morocco, and swung from tree tops in Costa Rica. She is currently working on a collection of travel essays.

Monday through Friday, Wanda is a research manager for Hearst Magazines, where she works with editors and management to better understand their readers’ needs.

She lives in New York City—but one day will call Seville her home.