Today, we’ve decided to join a local initiative to clean up the beach. After that, we’ll do some free surfing. It seems like a perfect way to spend a Saturday, so I inhale, the hot and humid tropical air filling my lungs, and look out at the ocean. This is when I realize that I’ve finally made it. Just over a month ago I left the comfort of my European home as a single mom with three kids, hoping to make the world our classroom. We had nothing more than a one-way ticket, an empty bank account, and a dream.
Of course, it hasn’t always been easy. More than once my teenage daughter, Silvana, had packed her suitcase, dragging her belongings along Costa Rica’s dirt roads and crying she’d leave this Godforsaken place so she could go back home. I’d taken her away from her friends, her school, and the only world she’s known. In this new world, there was nothing but…water.
After cleaning up the beach, the kids are ready for their introduction to surfing. A young man whom I’ve recognized from before has taken them under his wing. I stand there for a while just to look at them, look at him. I smile. I can’t help noticing how tall and strong he looks. The tattoos on his arms and back tell an unknown story. His hair is a little messy, and his shorts seem to have a careless way of fitting his body. When I walk into the water, he turns to look at me. Then it hits me how natural it feels, how natural he feels. We start to talk and he introduces himself as Julian. He is Australian-born, but nowadays the world seems to be his home. With great enthusiasm, he asks the kids to join him again tomorrow. After spending a few days together, he decides to give the kids his surfboards. But it isn’t until we actually part that I realize the impact he has made on my life. Just like that, this complete stranger changed our entire journey.
In surfing, Silvana has found her passion. She’s out in the water for hours on end now. It’s what keeps her grounded and keeps the smile on her face. She used to sit in a classroom five days a week and now she gets her education from nature and from the ocean. She’s being taught by the countless pelicans flying by the lineup. By turtles, sea lions, and whales living and breathing in this place she’s started to fall in love with. She’s learning things books would never teach her. Slowly but surely, this educated little girl is turning into a confident young woman of the world.
Julian seems to have fundamentally changed something deep inside of me also. I’ve started doing the things I always wanted to do but never had the guts to try. Surfing is a natural first check mark on that list. His gentle ways of handling me, teaching me, and his loving ways of talking to me have made me open up and blossom like a flower in springtime. Surfing is now part of my soul. The ocean has become the one place where I don’t actively think, I simply do. I don’t need anything here. Out here, I can forget everything that exists on land.
Fast forward a year and a half later, now in Mexico. We have traveled from Costa Rica to Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and like I said, now Mexico. We have been through earthquakes, and tsunami warnings. We have camped in the desert and slept in bus stations. We have touched ancient temples and sacred pyramids. We have surfed the Pacific and Caribbean. We are learning by living. The world is still our classroom.
A single mom. Three kids. Forever chasing dreams, and now chasing waves too.