BY GRIFFIN HULKOWER
Finding Common Ground: Reflections Between Waves in Bocas Del Toro
One of the main reasons that I chose to come to Bocas was the close proximity of good waves and good vibes. My gap year is feeling triumphant as I continue to have great experiences on the road. With regards to the “giving” aspect of Give and Surf, I have helped out at escuelita (the Give and Surf school) and have been a part of the Surf Outreach Mentorship Program as well. Neil Christiansen has teamed up with Juan David Issac of Mono Loco Surf School to make it possible for local kids in the community of Bahia Roja to surf three times a week. With boards donated by other organizations, Mono Loco, and travelers passing the torch on to the next wave of rippers, we have the foundation of a great program (including enthusiastic volunteers).
The first day of the program, I was plucked from my dock at 9:00 a.m. island time to be greeted by the kids. Introductions came through a few ‘holas’ over the sounds of the boat engine. We pitter-pattered across the surf to Mono Loco. Neil and Juan David allocated about an hour to properly introduce the group, program, safety, and surfing etiquette. The first session was heaps of fun. All of the kids varied in abilities from having surfed once or twice – to more – to never. My partner was one of the most experienced ones, so I felt less guilty about taking waves for myself, only after he caught one. Enselmo and I spoke briefly between waves. I would either offer tips or make small talk. After the session I reflected on the experience; the initial thoughts rotated around my awkward conversations in rusty Spanish and how reserved the kids seemed to be.
Since that first session I have grown to understand the reservations I encountered with some of the indigenous people on Bocas. I learned that a great deal of rich gringos have taken advantage of those we work with, whether it be in pursuit of a development project or as their employer. I understand now that even though you come with great intentions and are willing to give, it does not mean that the people you intend to help are going to greet you with open arms and immediate gratitude. It takes time to build relationships especially when someone has been wronged in the past. After being here for over a week now, I feel like I am settling in. I know more names and faces, and continue to learn about so many people I come across, especially the group of surfers.
I think that people tend to idealize the notion of volunteering as bringing forth some great epiphany. This seems to be true in some cases, but I feel my experience has been much more subtle. Totally immersed in nature, surfing allows you to share something with those around you. I am able to settle on common liquid with kids from completely different socio-economic statuses and social norms. In times of grief and turbulent waters I found relief in surfing. I was able to be present and appreciate what is in front of me, despite an underlying discontentment with my situation. Now, to see these kids completely hooked and wanting more, I am faithful that this group is tapping into the same relief from life’s harsh reality. The drive to give yourself to the sport is extremely powerful. The hunger for improvement is only temporarily quenched and returns anew, perhaps stronger.
Words do injustice to fully convey the experience of surfing. Therefore, sharing it with someone else gives your specific relationship something unique, a feeling that is understood, something beneath the surface that is pure joy. As long as surfing is passed on, joy will follow. Neil, the other volunteers, the kids, every surfer, and I will continue the sport as long as possible. In a world that is in a constant flux, we are graced with the experience and its eternal existence. Surfing is an eternal force. It brings happiness, wisdom, relief and opportunity. Something this rich will never die.
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