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Courtesy of Mohame Nohassi

Moments I Felt on Top of the World: Sunset Surfing in Playa Venao, Panama

If you read my Costa Rica post, you know that I’ve always wanted to be a surfer. You know, the “salty hair, don’t care” girl who’s bikini stays perfectly in place even when she wipes out, knows what to do with sex wax and can feel at home anywhere there are waves. Well, in 2017 that journey began when I caught my first wave in Costa Rica, and since, I’ve slowly been stacking up my surf skills anytime I visit somewhere with waves—like Australia, Ireland and Florida’s east coast. So while I’m all for surfing, I still feel totally intimidated at the idea of just grabbing a board and paddling out amongst (what look like to me) expert surfers—at least until Playa Venao.

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All of us with our surf guru Fufo at El Sitio in Playa Venao.

Girls Surf Trip to Panama

Long story short, I decided to join three adventurous girls on a weekend surf trip to Panama the night before they were leaving. Less than 48 hours after I booked the flight, I was waking up at the crack of dawn in Panama to drive five hours across the country to Playa Venao.

Guys, Please Don’t Call Me a Kook

While we were figuring out our accommodations and having lunch with a side of surfer views, I was feeling pretty anxious. I kept thinking of how I’m not sure I’ll be able to surf and all these girls I’m with—along with everyone in the water—will be shredding waves and comfortable as ever. When I’d look at the lineup, I was so intimidated by the idea of just paddling out and trying, despite the fact that I’ve caught waves before and taken plenty of lessons.

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Me on our last day in Playa Venao.

Surf’s Up & So Am I

By the time we rented boards, I realized we were all around the same level and figured this was the perfect scenario to just walk the walk. This wasn’t a solo trip where I’m getting lessons just to have someone ensure me I belong in the water—I was with three badass friends that were just as excited as me! Plus, I was using the shortest board I’d ever tried, a six-foot soft top.

Once we got in the water, I was standing up almost every time I caught a decent wave! I’d say hello to every surfer that paddled by and make conversation or get tips. When I’d look around, my friends we’re having a blast, too. For the first time in the context of surfing, I realized I belonged (cheesy, I know).

Uh, Am I Cool Enough to SURF AT SUNSET?

For some reason, I thought surfing at sunset was something reserved for only, like, people that live in Hawaii and started surfing before they could walk. I often see warm, fiery photos with surfer silhouettes in my Instagram feed and think, “Wow, now that’s living the dream” and it didn’t occur to me I could do that, let alone without actively planning it or looking forward to it.

We had a long day and spent probably four hours in the water before having dinner and taking a break. I was absolutely beat but looking forward to getting back in the water before dark, so I cozied up in one of the hammocks surrounding our room. After resting and thoroughly digesting my food, I did a quick yoga session with Kelsie, the friend who invited me to Panama, and we were off to the water!

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Living on the Other Side of the Screen

The whole day had been overcast without a speck of blue in the sky, so when I saw fiery pink and orange breaking through the clouds over the mountains, I realized something good was coming. The water glamorously reflected the sunset, surrounding us in tips of pink and orange mixed with black. I simply could not believe my eyes. I was LIVING the Instagram pictures I dreamily gaze at, wondering if editing is the master or sunsets over water really look like that.

Captured the Moment With My Heart Instead of My Camera

“I wish I had my camera” was the first thing that came to mind when I got past the break and could just sit on my board taking it all in. Anytime that happens, I immediately remind myself that

this is real life, I am actually living the experience that I want a picture of 

and instead try to capture as many details as possible by memory and fully soak in the moment. When you can’t capture a photo, the moment becomes completely yours. Only you have the memory. Only you saw the scene with your own eyes. I’m starting to think the best moments should be left for the heart alone to capture.

Surfing Feels A Lot Like Falling in Love

While any wave I catch feels like the best one ever, I actually caught my best two waves ever during this sunset. Our board rental guy/friend/surf instructor Fufo was in the water and he set me up for two waves that I personally believe were sent to this Earth for me by God himself. That’s how good they felt.

First you’re patient, waiting and watching for the perfect one. Second, you’re paddling; putting in all this work and effort, with fear creeping in that maybe you won’t be able to stand up and it’s a waste. Third, that euphoric moment when you feel the wave pick up your board and you know it’s time to stand. And the rest is smooth sailing surfing (at least you hope!). During and after each wave, I was smiling from ear to ear trying to put into words how it feels when you catch a really nice wave. This is the best I could describe it:

Catching a nice wave feels a lot like falling in love: you can’t believe it’s really happening and you hope it never ends.

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