Day in the Life- Surf Camp + Photography at School of the World Costa Rica
Posted by Maureen Ryan on September 11, 2014
Now that I’m Program Coordinator, I hear from a lot of people that are curious about a typical “day in the life” here at School of the World. I came originally as a guest for two months of surf camp + photography classes before I joined the family at SotW. I wrote this reminiscing about my experiences learning to surf, exploring with my photography, and settling in to the “pura vida” life in Costa Rica.
I never thought waking up to the sound of rain would be quite so beautiful until I came to Costa Rica. Rain isn’t considered “bad weather” here, I think because it’s just too lovely. It cools off the hot pavement, makes the trees flourish and their branches dance, and creates the most calming sound on my tin roof. This causes me to lay in bed and relax a few more minutes while my roommate got ready for Spanish class. I eventually pulled my hair up, throw on some shorts and a t-shirt, grabbed my camera and tripod, and put bug spray on my ankles.
This was my first day at School of the World.
I stepped outside room 1 with a strong sense of independence with mixed feelings of fear, determination and curiosity. The rain had come to a sudden halt, just like most Costa Rican weather, notorious for acting as if it couldn’t quite make up it’s mind. I spied blue skies beginning to show beyond the suspicious wispy gray clouds, and even was privileged enough to hear some raucous scarlet macaws yapping above me. I didn’t realize until several days later that Costa Rica is the only country where wild scarlet macaws roam, free and protected by the no hunting law. This really is the greenest country in the world.
I popped into the common kitchen to grab some tea and chat with some other guests, and I could hear the Spanish students practicing their conversational skills. I stirred my tea and overheard stories of all different topics, from Burning Man to quitting jobs to what it was like traveling in North Korea. I’ve traveled around the world a bit, but I have never been with a community that is more diverse and interesting than those at School of the World. Not only are their home countries from all over the world, but the type of people who are attracted to a place like SotW are always unique, up for a good laugh, and have fascinating and mind-opening stories to share.
I knew photography class would be interesting once I met Carlos, a great photographer, artist, and surfer who is well known throughout Jaco and Costa Rica. Being greeted with “What’s up ma rasta!” made me feel like School of the World was quickly becoming my home. I had my DSLR Canon T3 for a year or so, but I never fully understood how to utilize it properly. All the new photography students were brought into the classroom and given an hour long orientation where we learned about getting to know your camera. Carlos taught us about venturing off of “automatic” settings and moving onto manual mode, so your photos were truly your creation and were taken using your own “visual vocabulary”. You could feel Carlos’ passion for teaching others and expressing himself through photography and his art.
After orientation, Carlos rounded up all of the photography students into the van and took us on an picturesque adventure where we could practice the skills we just learned in class. We went to an abandoned lookout where you could see all of Jaco, with lots of interesting local art on the walls and run-down staircases. I still have the shots from that day, and it makes me smile seeing the effort I put into each picture and to know how far I have come along since then.
By the end of the week, I already was trying to apply different aspects of photography to my photos, such as aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, white balance, traversal lines, and perspective. I bought Photoshop Elements and Premiere on my laptop, and was enjoying my spare time editing my photos and videos we took during excursions. Carlos taught me that everyone has their own unique style which they should embrace. It always puts a smile on my face whenever I see photography students hop out of the van from an excursion and walk into the school, filled with inspiration and contentment.
During my break between photography and surfing, I explored Jaco on my rental bike and went to brunch with some friends to one of my favorite restaurants, the Green Room (I’m a sucker for eggs benedict). I spent time getting to know the quaint, homey town of Jaco and stopped at the Fruiteria on my way back to the school. You won’t get fruit and vegetables like this anywhere else. Every avocado is perfectly ripe, every papaya seems to taste better than the last one (you haven’t lived until you have tried papaya with lime juice), and a homemade fruit smoothie is never, ever a bad idea. That is, as long as you have no problem sharing with all the students and staff (especially the Program Coordinator!).
What I did on my time off varied everyday. Sometimes I would just laze around on a rainy morning and chat with my roommate or watch “The Office” on replay. Other days I would go out on a waterfall or zip line tour, or get a scooter and roll around town and see other towns outside of Jaco. Most times I would spend it surfing with some friends or editing pictures or videos in the lounge. It changes with every person who filters through School of the World, but I think the beauty of this place is to stay grounded in one area and still feel accomplished at the end of the day.
My first day of surfing is one I will never forget. I’ve been a competitive swimmer my whole life, but I’ve never lived close enough to the ocean to pursue surfing and I had never been to a surf camp or surf school. Carlos took a huge board into the yoga room and motioned me to follow him. He showed me the proper standing technique and had me stand up on the board. He looked surprised, and I started to get excited to try it in the water. He spoke quickly in Spanish to another surf instructor, Alonso, and said “I bet she’s below a 7’0” by the end of the week.” I started off with an 9’0” on Monday, and by the end of the week, I was on a 6’8”!
The feeling of standing on a wave is even better than it sounds. It truly is a sport where you must be in touch with your mind, body, soul and peacefully immersed in nature to really get it. You will never forget the moment you really catch a wave for your first time, whether you had help or did it alone. They say paddling is 90% of surfing, and I was lucky to have practiced enough paddling for a lifetime. Every person succeeds at different paces with surfing, as with anything else.
Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at School of the World as a student were in the van going to and from surfing. Jokes are fired from students and instructors from all over the world and in all different languages, we sing to music, chat about our travels, and really get to know each other and discuss surfing with our new friends.
Once we pull up to the beach, Alonso or Cristian say “Time to run!” and the students go for a small jog down the beach to warm up. We grab our boards off of the racks and put wax on the them as we are assigned to an instructor. They tell the beginners about safety in the water, how to hold your board, go over paddling and standing up again, and head out with you to the white water where you will catch your first waves. Sooner or later, you will progress to head out with the big boys in the larger waves, but your instructor is always there by your side. It was so comforting always having Carlos next to me, reassuring me and giving me tips if I had bad days, and cheering me on and critiquing me on my good days.
No matter where you have been or what you have done, you won’t experience anything like sitting on a board in the middle of the ocean in a gorgeous tropical paradise at sunset. The sky will light up into vibrant pinks, purples, oranges, yellows and reds. The silky water of the ocean will look almost white from the reflection of the sky and sun. Sting rays leap joyfully out of the air and belly flop on the surface of the water in the distance. Pelicans swoop down gracefully to catch their prey just a few feet away from you. There really is nothing in the world like surfing in Costa Rica.
After a long day, I usually would make the responsible decision and go enjoy a pina colada or three while chatting with other guests over dinner. I still am in contact with the friends I first met when I arrived at School of the World a year ago, and have seen some of them several times since. I now have homes in Germany, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Ireland, Kenya, Canada, Australia, and many other beautiful countries. Every person has stories to tell, some have never been outside of their home state, while others have been to every continent and over 170 countries.
I couldn’t be more grateful to work with a family like the one at School of the World. Each person makes me feel at home and brings a smile to my face for all different reasons. Although I am the newest of the bunch, they’ve welcomed me with loving and genuine Costa Rican hospitality.
I hope my story gave you all a more clear picture of a day in the life at School of the World and showed you what an impact this place has had on my life. Should you have any questions, I’m just a phone call or email away! We hope to see you in paradise soon!