Taking nine wave-thirsty gals on a surf trip to southern Costa Rica in late February is a risky move.
We would need an unseasonal south swell to light up the point at the second longest left-breaking wave in the world, one of our favorite homes-away-from-home. But with the start of the proper South-swell season still a month off, the odds weren’t exactly in our favor.
As the trip drew near, the surf report looked unpromising, but not un-surfable. And as our annual pilgrimage to the southlands had become something of a Dkoko tradition, Siempre Domingo (Always Sunday), our aptly named four-bedroom villa-with-a-view, had already been booked for us months ahead.
Worth bailing on our yearly surf retreat in jungle paradise? Absolutely not.
With the confluence of international surf contest schedules, entrepreneurial responsibilities, motherhood, and the ebb and flow of our everyday lives as women surfers, it was an actual miracle we could all make the trip.
As per our usual, we strapped stacks of boards to the roof racks, Tetris-packed our bags in the trunk, and shimmied a pair of Jack Russells, a French Bulldog, and my Rottweiler Pitbull into two SUVs, and were on the road at 4:00am, ready for the five-hour drive. It was reggaeton and vape pens for the childless crew in one car; indie rock and sugar-free snacks for the moms in the other – one on active duty with her three-year-old asleep in his car seat, two more on family hiatus; and me, somewhere in between, with my 80-pound lapdog snuggled up in back, praying for waves at the end of the road.
Surf author Dr. Thad Ziolkowski writes: “The ocean shore is the geographic equivalent of dawn or dusk, of the transitional mode of consciousness between waking and sleep, an intermundial state in which the spirit is quietly loosened from its moorings and set adrift. Edges blur, identities become uncertain, shifting, subject to flux and transformation. New thoughts well up, changes of life direction are contemplated…. All manner of crisis, whether planetary or personal, create liminal zones as they push us to the brink. The brink is a threshold, a crossroads.”
As a woman navigating multiple crises, both planetary and personal, I witness myself negotiating these liminal zones of change. On one side live the carefree days of my younger years spent traveling the world to surf, collecting impossible lovers like reef scars on the heart, feet tired from the tread. And on the other side, the existential angst that now comes with my story as a thirty-something single woman considering what’s next – a stable career when I finally finish my PhD? The prospect of motherhood? A home to call my own? At this crossroads of identity, I’m content enough in the backseat of today’s adventure, giant pup sprawled between my legs. But when will it be time for me to take the wheel and drive? What of my mermaid world will no longer fit beyond the threshold of these questions? Am I willing to let those pieces of my story fade?
They don’t call it Reflections 2022 for nothing.
Fortunately, by the very nature of our wave-riding obsession and endless hours spent mermaiding at sea, surfers know liminality – life lived at the threshold – better than most. We exist on shorelines, subject to the energetic whims of the ocean, comfortable with the chaos and uncertainties of weather patterns, swell directions, surface conditions, shifting seafloor geographies. Suspended in this liminality, spurts of activity accent the steady states of inertia we’ve grown accustomed to in our daily pursuit of transcendence, flow, communion, connection, self-mastery. And as women surfers, establishing our place in the vast sea of a still very male-dominated sport, industry and lifestyle, the nature of our liminality is often both survival strategy and well-honed super-heroine quality.
You’d think that the storied convergence of nine women surfers on a long-weekend bikini shoot in the jungle – two in their early twenties, a few dabbling in the mid-thirties, and some of us now circling in on forty – might read more like an intergenerational sorority sitcom than a surfy version of the Playboy penthouse.
Lucky for us, it was neither.
In fact, where cut-throat competition among women, and the sexualized objectification of our bodies are normally conditioned into modern surf culture, this trip was anything but that.
Instead, our story tells of sunny surf sessions at the palm-lined beach break down the road, impromptu group workouts, poolside dance parties, low-tide reef meanderings, vibrant home-cooked meals shared over family histories and lessons learned from our past relationships, reflecting both differences in the many joys we’ve lived, and similarities in the challenges we’ve faced as surfer girls coming of age in our distinct corners of the world.
What the swell lacked in luster as the weekend progressed, sweet jungle vibes did not disappoint. Early rains, brilliant sunsets, refreshing river dips, water apples and wild ylang ylang dangling from the trees lining the drive. Between photo shoots, Siempre Domingo lent itself to chill time in the lounge, yoga by the pool, siestas in the hammock. Moms remembered what it felt like to have free time to themselves. The younger crew sipped Corona with lime and reminded the rest of us we weren’t too old to still have a good time. I tried, in vain, to keep my beast from consuming a terrier while I journaled my stark reflections into temporary submission.
Meanwhile, the Reflections 2022 sustainable swimwear collection was the star of our surf-retreat show. Running our fingers through bold and baby blues, burnt orange, subtle seafoam, cherry-red and classic black, we basked in the body-flattering beauty of analog colors, retro-cut designs, the softest regenerated nylon fabrics in iridescent sheen and textures we couldn’t keep our hands off. Teeny string bikinis on sunkissed buns. Classy, high-waisted bottoms with more conservative coverage. Supportive sport tops, fresh metallic details, surf-worthy full-sleeve suits for that sunny midday tide. High-leg one-pieces straight off the set of Baywatch cerca 1989.
On retreat in the southland jungle, we were nine women with different surfing bodies and style preferences, from multiple continents, diverse backgrounds and distinct day-to-day lives, marveling in the ways the Reflections collection had a little bit of something for everybody.
Because there’s no one way to be a woman surfing the waves of this wild world.
If the rejection of social confines is to be found anywhere in modern surf culture, women surfers are at the center, making some serious waves – organizing intersectional activist networks, fighting for equal prize pay in the World Surf League, leading campaigns for diverse representation in surfing media, building sustainable swimwear brands, and supporting one another in sea-loving sisterhood. Where modern “competition” pits women against one another in the world of surfing and beyond, a different mode of sisterhood now occupies the liminal space of an emerging, global women’s surfing collective, harking back to the Latin roots of the word – competere: to strive toward or after something, together.
Surf scholar Dr. Krista Comer calls it girl localism, or a global surfeminist movement. We can also call it – plain and simple -- sisterhood at sea. While the waves might have left something to be desired where our shared thirst for surf was concerned, our Dkoko trip to the southlands, honoring the Reflections 2022 sustainable swimwear collection, was no exception to this new rule.
And while the deep life questions still swirl in my headspace well beyond the long drive home, there’s still nowhere I’d rather be than here, among inspiring women, surfing this world one wave at a time.
Story written by Tara Ruttenberg.
Location: Casa Domingo, Pavones, Costa Rica.
Chicas: Adriana Masís, Giada Legati, Emily Gussoni, Yorgina Ureña, Rachel Feeney, Tara Ruttenberg, Jennifer Saunders, Veronica Wessel and Michelle Rodríguez.