In this satirical poem-novel, an unnamed protagonist recounts his summer trip to Costa Rica. As he explores the villages and rainforests of this foreign land, he simultaneously ventures into the jungles of his own soul, reexamining his place and identity in the consumerist, racist, misogynistic world of 2016 America.
As we waded into the ocean the smooth steady waves embraced us candidly and the water rushed our senses and our spirits. We waded farther and farther as Julián, our surfing instructor, advised us on how to proceed. We got on the boards, centered and belly-down. We waited. He held down our boards until the right wave came along. Julián turned us around. “Foot up,” “paddle paddle,” “Stand up!” And suddenly from behind me a strong sturdy force propelled me forward. And with my right foot in back I stood up and leaned forward and centered my left foot and folks on my very first try I rode a complete wave!
The rush was incredible. I screamed and hooted. It was such an addiction and I paddled back craving more! Adam was cheering and hooting and jumping around and couldn’t BELIEVE he’d never done this before! And it turned out that both of us were very decent beginner surfers due to our backgrounds in skateboarding and snowboarding— for those same mechanics come into play here— and we were ecstatic. And after five or six runs I was riding three or four waves IN A ROW! Then Julián asked us if we were ready to go deeper and of course we were! So it was time to get on our boards and hit the REAL waves.
I watched with what grace, what calm, what submission Julián interacted with the water. For to resist or to fight water in any way was a CERTAIN defeat. But Julián knew the water. He was its child. He did whatever it wanted, or he got out of the way. So if a giant wave came his way, either he allowed the wave to take him wherever it was going, or he dipped below it and let it pass over him. No struggle. No conflict. Complete tranquil liquid submission. I saw this and watched admiringly this man’s gentle surrender to the universe. For he understood that the ocean, the universe, the flow always wins. And those who try to order, to command, to conquer, to resist the flow, soon succumb to the flow. Yet those who succumb to the flow by their own wisdom find that the flow knows best, and they are at peace.
I wanted to learn what Julián knew. I wanted to see into this mind of the flow, of the submission. He knew water. He understood water. So as we swam out into the ocean’s great white-capped mountains I called out to him, “So I want to learn more. Like, I don’t understand the water.”
And Julián looked at me and he said with a look of sheer bewilderment: “What do you mean?”
And I thought, I sound crazy.
So I didn’t bother to explain further and Julián didn’t bother to ask. And I assumed that this highly intricate abstract philosophical concept which I’ve just expressed to you must be something he knows intuitively but isn’t able to articulate. So I moved on and Julián ordered that we begin to “paddle out paddle out paddle out.” I wasn’t sure what he meant exactly but I knew what “paddle” meant so I did that after him. And as we swam farther out into high tide the waves grew monumentous and solid and reached five or even six feet high and you really had no chance against them. So they started tossing me sideways and I called out to Julián “how do I turn?” meaning, how do I paddle myself in the direction I want to go. And with great frustration Julián commanded “paddle out paddle out paddle out.” I didn’t know what that meant at all so I kept paddling but whatever it meant, I knew it didn’t mean to just keep aimlessly paddling.
See, Julián had a very specific plan in his head. Direction, purpose, technique, objective…it was all in his head. But he wasn’t articulating it. And Adam and I were aware enough to ask, but either he wasn’t understanding our questions or wasn’t interested in answering. So amidst this enormous chaos of tidal fury, he just kept saying “paddle out paddle out paddle out” and that meant NOTHING to me if I didn’t understand 1) what “paddle out” means in surfer lingo, 2) what or why we are “paddle out”ing, and 3) what the objective is, like how do I know I’m doing the correct “paddle out.”
And then suddenly out of nowhere Julián cried “paddle in!” and I thought, “paddle IN? Fucker I’m still trying to figure out ‘paddle out paddle out paddle out’ and now you want me to ‘paddle IN?’” But whatever I was doing was wrong because very soon I found myself drifted over fifty feet away and facing sideways and bombarded with waves and Julián looked concerned and the other surfers were giving me that look people might give you when you’re drifting into oncoming traffic at five miles per hour. So Julián swam to me and fished me out and I could tell he had really lost his patience. But in truth, I couldn’t understand why HE had lost his patience. All he kept saying was “Look, you need to do how I taught you,” and I wondered, when did he explain how to do ANYTHING like this, because I would have remembered that! If he could find the words— Spanish, English, or otherwise— to explain what we were doing perhaps I’d actually impress him. But he must’ve said “paddle out paddle out paddle out” over a thousand times and I still knew then and know now just as much what “paddle out” means as you do, my Illustrious Reader. The bottom line was, Julián was teaching a teacher and he couldn’t teach. So I realized that unless I was gonna just bob out here like a shipwreck survivor I might as well move on with my life. I told Adam I was heading back and I semi-rode the waves back to shore and that was more fun than “paddle out” could ever fucking be.
Read more from “chapter one: Costa Rica.”