Playa el Tunco Waves: 32. Mindy: 0.

The beaches on the southern coast of El Salvador are famous for their waves. Since I love water, it was a no-brainer stop. I might as well learn to surf while I’m here! So I headed south to Playa el Tunco the minute the “work” part of my trip was wrapped up.

You couldn’t beat this: only an hour bus ride from San Salvador, a hostel that had an infinity pool and free breakfast, an ice-cream stand on the beach that sold creamy frozen fruit on a stick for $1, fresh ceviche from the dock for 4 Quetzales, and black volcanic soils that scalded your feet if you stood in one place for more than five seconds. I was in love.

Plus, check out the fish markets on the dock!

OK, time to conquer surfing! I found a Salvadoran local to give me a lesson for $10. What a deal! My “teacher” had me practice going from lying face-down to standing on the board several times on land before saying, “OK! You’re ready!”
Nervously, I asked if that was it – just as simple as standing on the board and keeping my balance?
“Yes! Surfing is so easy! Just remember to keep your knees bent. Oh, and if you get pulled by the wave, just make sure the board is in front of you so you don’t get hit or knocked out by the board.”

Alright, let’s do this, Rasta-fari man. I’m ready to conquer the waves and surf.
So we paddled out to the big waves that roared in. This was fun so far; lying prone on my surfboard, waiting for the right wave to come in, pretending like I knew what I was doing.

“OK! This one! This is it! Just remember – Paddle and when you feel you are going fast, then you just stand up!”

I didn’t say anything – I was trying to concentrate on the wave looming towards me. My surf “teacher” pushed me in the same direction as the wave was headed, and yelled, “Vamos!” I paddled furiously, felt my board rise with the wave...and then was promptly SLAMMED by the sea. My surfboard was pulled from underneath me, I felt a strong tug on my ankle that had the leash strapped to it, and all I could think was, “Please, please, don’t let the board hit me.” The waves tugged me in every direction, and I managed to surface for air before promptly swallowing a disgusting amount of sea water.

This was repeated about five times. Yes, five consecutive times of being swallowed by waves that refused to let me stand up on my surfboard. Lack of confidence? Wrong timing? Waves too powerful? Not knowing what the heck I was doing? Poor instruction? Quite possibly all of the above.

After two afternoons of attempting to surf, I give myself a final grade of F. Yes, FAIL. I didn’t even stand up on the board once. My new Salvadoran surf friends told me afterwards that the waves this weekend were extremely strong and powerful because of the winds, rendering them nearly impossible for beginners to practice on. Who knows, it could’ve been the waves. Or maybe it was just me. After deciding I’d swallowed enough sea water, I’d wind up on the beach each afternoon, watching the surfers glide over the waves effortlessly. I felt like an uncoordinated kid who wasn’t invited to play. No fair.

Well, I think I will stick with swimming with goggles in calm waters and pools that have lane lines. This is my comfort zone. Someday, I’d like to give surfing another attempt. Maybe with milder waves and a surf teacher who gives me technical instruction and speaks English. Two days of being slammed by waves was enough for me – I bid farewell to a beautiful Playa el Tunco, tossed the bikini in my red backpack, and headed for the highlands of Guatemala with sunburned shoulders. Hiking is something I’m good at and mountains have always been my friend!

Click here to view photos from my trip to El Salvador and Guatemala!
And here to read other stories from my adventures in Central America!

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