Maiden Voyage to Nicaragua

Paddling outside my comfort zone

It was our last day to go surfing. As we walked down the beach, Nicole commented on how glassy and perfect the waves looked; the stars had aligned to give us a morning of awesomeness and I was ready.

Photo by Andrea Preziotti

I caught a few cute waves in and was improving on my pop-up. However, every time I felt unsteady I jumped off my board. Holly swam over to pep me up, telling me it was time to quit bailing and just stick it.

She was right; bailing was no longer an option. I caught a few more small waves and rode them into shore. I was dead tired from our volcano boarding excursion the day before and decided to hang out on the beach for a bit. Apparently I wasn’t the only one; the other girls trickled in opting to sunbathe and nap.

Holly and Nicole took the opportunity to paddle outside and catch a few waves of their own.

After awhile Holly came in and asked if anyone wanted to try paddling out the back. She said the waves were “super forgiving and cute” and presented the perfect opportunity for us to take the next step in our surf education.

I looked at my fellow amigas. They all murmured “no thank you’s” as they sprawled out in the sun. I was about to chime in with my polite decline, but something stopped me. I thought back to earlier that morning. This was my last chance to surf and bailing was no longer an option. I looked up at Holly and agreed to try it out.

I grabbed my board and re-attached my leash. As I trailed behind Holly, second thoughts flowed through my mind. “I’m going to be okay, aren’t I? Like, this isn’t above my skill level is it?”

Holly smiled at me as we walked toward the water. “You’ll be fine, just listen to what I say.” I nodded, trying really hard to concentrate to her voice over the pounding of my heart. We were going to use the riptide to pull us out. “So if you get to a wave that’s too big to paddle over, either turtle roll under it or bail your board and swim under.” I nodded again, wondering how big these waves were going to be. “Are you ready for this?” I smiled meekly in response.

Was I seriously too scared to form words? What, I lived through hiking up Cerro Negro and this was going to be the end of me? I had to trust Holly. I looked at the ominous whitewash. She wouldn’t let me do this if she didn’t think I could.

Photo by Andrea Preziotti

We hopped on our boards and started paddling over the breaking waves. “I mean, how often are you here, right?” She shouted at me as she paddled swiftly ahead. I agreed, taking some whitewash to the face. I was already exhausted and we weren’t anywhere near the riptide yet. I was the little longboarder who could… at least who hoped she could. I followed Holly on a prayer.

“Paddle, paddle, paddle!” She shouted at me. I remembered her saying something about our window in between sets being really short and we would have to use any free second to our advantage. “Okay, turtle roll under this one,” she shouted as she duck dived under the massive wave about to break. I swore and flipped my board over. I felt the current pull me a few feet back. This was no joke. I flopped back on my board pushing my fear aside. There was no time for second thoughts.

Holly encouraged me to paddle as fast as I could as we faced another wave forming a few feet ahead of us. She duck dived. Was I supposed to be timing my turtle rolls with her dives? Was I supposed to roll earlier? I took a deep breath and flipped over.

The wave pounded right down on top of me, ripping my board out of my hands (the girls on the shore would later tell me they saw the ‘yellow banana’ pop out of the water). I tumbled in the wave. The wind was knocked out of me and I felt my leash pulling in one direction as I somersaulted in the other. I covered my head with my hands to avoid being hit by my board and focused on calming down my body. I mentally reminded myself this was only a few seconds even if it felt like minutes.

I fought my way to the surface; I did not come this far to drown.

I gasped in fresh oxygen and pulled my board back to me. Holly paddled up next to me and helped push my board out of the impact zone. “You’re doing great,” she encouraged, “We’ve just got a few more to get through! Just keep paddling!” I now knew why surfers were in such amazing shape and so easy-going. This was so crazy strenuous and mind bending, everything else in life was a cake walk after you’ve learned how to hold your breath and just go with it.

I paddled my little heart out, hoping we would be out the back soon. Turtle rolling was getting exhausting and I was already wrecked from the earlier tumbles. I told myself to suck it up; I was too far out to go back. Bailing was not an option. I paddled through the burn, repeating my mantra with each stroke.

I heard someone shout excitedly nearby. Nicole came paddling up, impressed and stoked that I’d decided to paddle out. Holly sat on her board and smiled. I looked around us. We had made it out the back. I hugged my board with relief, ready to pass out.

“Now, we should be good to hang out here for a bit, but just keep an eye out for any rogue waves,” Holly advised. I pointed behind her and the green wave forming at her back. She turned around and smiled, “Alright turn around! This is going to be the best ride of your life! I’m going to ride it with you.”

I paddled as hard as I could with Holly paddling next to me. I heard Nicole shouting behind us. At the last-minute, Holly pulled back and pushed me into the wave. My board dropped onto the face, and it took a minute for me to absorb what that felt like. I heard Holly scream for me to stand up. I did, forcing myself not to bail, though this was the loudest, biggest, and most powerful wave I had ever ridden. I eventually pearled and tumbled in the wave, but I didn’t care. I hopped right back on my board and caught the next wave headed my way.

After enjoying a couple of rides, I went back to shore, my body filled with an electric current of happiness. I skipped and jumped around in the sand shouting at my amigas. “Did anybody see that? Did you see that awesome ride?”

They couldn’t see anything past the whitewash (except for when I lost my board). At first, I was a disappointed that they didn’t see my moment of triumph, but I let the emotion go out with the tide. I had just conquered a major fear of getting tumbled, paddled out the back with Holly, and caught a giant wave in. The moment was perfect. I didn’t care what happened for the rest of the trip. I was satisfied.

Holly and Nicole rode in, high-fiving and congratulating me on my success. Holly commented that even though I may not have been the best surfer at the retreat, I still went for it and that’s what mattered.

I spent the rest of the day stoked about my ride, replaying it in my mind. I felt like I could fly if I wanted and it showed.

Photo by Andrea Preziotti

I once again wondered if there was anyway this moment could be any more perfect. And as I danced in the waves I realized this was just the beginning.

Photo by Andrea Preziotti

The perfect moments would keep on coming as long as I kept pushing myself and my limits. I would always find the reward worth the effort.

And I couldn’t wait to see what came next.

Photo by Andrea Preziotti

9 Comments

  • Reply

    Barbara A Santora

    September 26, 2011

    You are an amazing woman!

  • Reply

    jasongrote

    October 1, 2011

    woop woop! Go Hilary!

  • Reply

    Bill and Loes Guske

    October 1, 2011

    You are the bravest girl ever!!!!!!!!!!!! We are so proud of you and love you so much.

  • Reply

    El Guapo

    November 14, 2011

    Gotta love that surfing. Not long ago, I tried paddling out against a 25 mile an hour wind, and 3 – 5 foot waves with no lull.
    20 minutes of trying, and I was actually closer to shore than when I hopped on my board.
    Go you for getting out there!

    • Reply

      Hilary Billings

      November 14, 2011

      Thank you so much! It definitely was a trying but rewarding experience.

      It sounds like that was quite the challenging day for you! I had a similar experience in San Clemente a few weeks ago. It can be so exasperating!

      Do you have a favorite break or board?

      • Reply

        El Guapo

        November 14, 2011

        I’ve only been surfing at Rockaway in NYC, beach 69th st. I surf a 9’6″ Wardy board (I’m 6’tall). The name was licensed, and now those boards are relativity cheap. But it looks great. And I’m not a good enough surfer to know the difference.

        I have pictures of it on the Toys page of my blog, and on one of the adventure entries
        What do you surf?

        • Reply

          Hilary Billings

          November 15, 2011

          That’s really cool, I’ll have to check it out! I’ve heard that Atlantic water is actually a lot warmer than our Pacific shore. And I understand the tall thing (I’m 5’8″ :).

          I don’t own my own board at the moment; I’m still relatively new to the surf culture. In my experience borrowing friends’ boards, I’ve found that I really enjoy Stickman longboards and the 9’4″ Stewart Hydro Hull.

          • El Guapo

            November 15, 2011

            Good that you can test more boards. I bought one to incentivize myself to get out there. (and there was no way to easily rent). If you end up coming out east, let me know. I plan to go year round (hoping the wind stays down on New Years Day), just bring a wetsuit and you are welcome to trade off on my board.

          • Hilary Billings

            November 17, 2011

            Thank you so much! I would absolutely love that. I don’t know when I’m headed to NY next, but when I do, I will definitely take you up on that offer. =)

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About Me

About Me

Hey fellow adventurers, my name is Hilary! After being rejected from grad school, I took off on a solo journey around the world. Now I constantly challenge myself to take on new experiences. This blog documents my journeys from Europe to Fiji, swimming with sharks and living with tribes, to becoming an accidental beauty queen and working for one of the top national media outlets. If you like what you're reading, please subscribe! Here's to the next great adventure!

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