Princess of Tides
I'm sitting on the side of a dirt road in a small surfing village in Costa Rica when I meet the Oracle of Beach Town. He's your stereotypical surfer dude, shuffling by in baggy board shorts and an untucked madras shirt, his beard bleached blond by the sun. I'm pale and encased in an industrial-strength tankini, my nose deep in a book on surfing. It's true, most people don't learn to surf by reading, but my first lesson has left me crabby—you try to jump from a prone position to a regal stance on a moving wave. In anticipation of my afternoon tutorial, I've decided to pick up a few pointers.
The Oracle squints at me and then shakes his head.
"You should work on not being so stressed out," he says in tones of blissed-out benediction. "You look really stressed."
As he ambles on, I have to admit he's right. I'm in this tiny, unpaved town as part of a seven-day surf camp for women run by the Surf Divas, twin sisters Izzy and Coco Tihanyi, who founded an all-girls surf school in their hometown of La Jolla, Calif., in 1996. Four years ago, they added the camp in Costa Rica, picking a laid-back surfer's haven on the country's northwestern shore, about five hours from San José. To keep other surfers away, the Divas won't reveal the exact locale until you've plunked down a deposit. The motto at both camps is the same: The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun.
That would be my pal Elaine Giffen. We're new friends, both daughters of the landlocked Midwest who lived in St. Paul at the same time but didn't meet until we discovered each other in a New York City boutique a few years ago. She's a purse designer who names her creations—which is how I acquired a handbag called Edith and a friend nicknamed Lainey. We each decided to leave the small pool of our former lives for the rougher waters of Manhattan in our 40s; after taking on the big waves of a midlife move, surf camp didn't seem like much of a stretch.
What I never knew about my good friend Lainey was that she had a secret crush on Laird Hamilton, billed as the world's best big-wave surfer. One day, she was watching TV at my house when she saw him tackling a 60-foot wave. "That's more insane than climbing Everest," she said. "I wish I could do that." So when I mentioned surf camp, her immediate response was, "Holy smokes, let's go!"
That's why Lainey's in Costa Rica. I'm here because of the same recurring impulse that recently led me to a hike in Machu Picchu and a boat trip down the Nile: The older I get, the more I don't want to miss a single adventure. No wonder I look stressed.
ceos, moms, and lawyers on surfboards
Even before we arrive at camp, I know how the week will go. Lainey will ride the waves like a goddess, and I'll pick seashells out of my swimsuit and worry about stepping on a stingray. When we show up for our first lesson, I learn that there's something else to fear—becoming a kook.
A kook is a beginner so hapless that she puts her leash on the wrong foot and hits her head on her own surfboard. Rather than carry it, a kook drags her surfboard along, using her leash as if she's towing a wagon. This is the surf gospel according to Christy Baker. The 24-year-old head instructor of the camp gathers our group of seven for breakfast at an open-air restaurant, which serves as camp headquarters.