When I saw the paddle boards tied to the top of the SUV that was supposed to transport us to the beach, I could taste breakfast again. Just one gulp of saltwater disturbs the delicate fauna of my stomach for days, and no amount of food or alcohol seems to calm it down. It’s like having a hurricane that’s always with you.
Looking at the boards, I knew I was screwed. Members of our group were smoothing on sunscreen and looked forward to the caresses of the ocean. I was thinking about pervasive nausea, skinned knees and a heatstroke.
“Do you want to go snorkeling first of paddle-boarding first?” asked our driver as we made our way to St. Mary’s Bay past the beautiful hotels of Cabo San Lucas. Watching the cacti go by, I was thinking about breakfast in bed and the pool, oh so far away.
Then I had an idea. “Can I just go snorkeling?” I asked. That part, especially in a life jacket that makes you bob like a buoy, I could deal with. “Can I just go snorkeling twice?”
Then I looked around our group, with all its shapes and sizes and virgin enthusiasm, and heard the voice of Sir Richard Branson. “Screw it. Just do it.”
On the beach, I picked out the pink board because it matched my toenails. It had indentations in vague shapes of footprints, and I stuck my feet in them to see if they were a match. They were. We were on.
The surf crushed against the shore with enough ferociousness to smack you against the sand or at least tear off your bikini. That didn’t seem to bother our muscly guide who was in charge that our little group of first-timers wouldn’t sink. We did sign a disclaimer but my Inner Pessimist was screaming,” Really?”
The guy pushed my board forward across the waves, and I tried my follow him and not get knocked over. The salt water was stinging me like an evil form of acupuncture but I figured it was working its magic on my pimples.
“One, two and go!” the macho commanded, expecting me to jump right onto the board and not tip over. I held it with both hands and just about got smacked my face as the next wave rammed us on its way to the shore.
“The trick here is to get on it and stay on it,” I thought, remembering the embarrassing surfing lesson in Hawaii when after watching in-flight commercials, I assumed that surfing was akin walking. Just look at all the people who do it. After two days of lessons, I had a rash even with a rash guard still hadn’t caught a wave.
“Ride it like you mean it,” suggested the macho. I swung my leg over the board and leaned onto my hands for balance. I was also supposed to hold the paddle while performing this, but the macho man took pity on me and waited till I was on my knees.
Getting up and using the ore as my third leg turned out doable. But then the horizon started to tilt. “Imagine you’re on a subway,” I thought. “When your train is going fast and you have nothing to hold on to, you keep your balance by shifting the weight.”
Another wave. Tilting horizon. Muscle memory kicking in. So that’s why the board had indented footprints. “Get on and stay on.”
Keeping my eyes on the horizon and not on the people diving off their boards and showing off their pushup skills, I began to wonder how I was supposed to move forward, towards the cliffs that supposedly harbored marine life. Because there’s only one paddle, the board never goes straight. Two strokes on the right – you go left. Two strokes on the left – you go right. Add the waves working against you and you’re standing still.
But the promise of marine life was too enticing. “Get a rhythm,” I began to hum, counting strokes on one side and then the other. “One, two, three… one, two, three.” Oceanic waltz.
Sweat was leaving a wet trail along my spine. My legs, constantly balancing, screamed for a break, but that meant a potential dive. No dice. I hadn’t been writing a newsletter for my yoga studio for almost two years for nothing and had to have some muscle. The gig came with free classes. Now if only I’d actually gone…
My eyes began to adjust to the glimmering surface of the ocean and as my basic needs were met, I began to wonder about the promised wildlife. In all honesty, had I been a sea turtle, I’d keep this cove with all its novice paddlers and snorkelers and jet-skiers way out of my route. Had I been an octopus, I’d probably not care because no one would be able to get to my anyway, and if they did, it would have been their fault.
Then I saw what I thought were wings, but very close to the water. They went in and out, a whole group of them. I stepped back on my board to give it speed and went to row like a New Zealand native. They were manta rays. Big. Black. Leaping out of the water and going back under. Leaving our little cove in a hurry. My treat from the ocean.
Once the rays were gone, it was time for me to head back too. Everyone else was still paddling around as I made my way toward the macho, who caught my board and invited me to come surfing with them sometime. I said, “”No thank you. A woman has to know her limitations.”
Back at the hotel, I didn’t even take off the wet swimming suite before heading to pool. Why bother, right? Floating like a giant turtle, I made my way up to the swim-up bar and ordered a Virgin Sunset (a sad thought, if you think about it, but tastes great). And that’s how I met the bartender.