Over the next few days this island bore even more of its fruit. There were waves–seriously good waves with no one surfing them. I just couldn’t believe it. I knew I’d said ‘my time will come’ as I had toiled in the city, but I immediately found myself immersed in surf bliss. How could it be? There was a long, rippable right hander and a shorter, more barreling left–totally empty, totally functional waves, and we could practically paddle from where the boat was anchored. I had come nearly 4,000 miles and never had I laid my eyes on so dreamy a setup.
A walk across the island confirmed what I already suspected. This was paradise. Imagine two rows of well-loved homes over-looking the sea with a cement sidewalk running in between. No cars at all. The people greeted us like long lost relatives. Warm smiles and hellos flowed from nearly every home. The elderly people were especially happy to share stories and ask questions. I passed out candy bracelets that I’d brought from the city to the kids. A one-armed painter smiled handsomely and asked Mckenzie to take his photo. The ‘mayor’ even invited us into his office. A grandmother teased her grandson, the only eligible bachelor on the island, when she found out I had no husband.
The waves just got better and better. Kemi, Mckenzie, and I spent hours upon hours indulging in this unexplainable miracle. Poor Kemi had to leave just as the swell was really picking up, but she got to spend at least four days playing in the empty waves. On the fourth morning we had arranged for a fishermen that was making the long haul back to the mainland to take Kemi to the closest town where she could get a bus back to the city. Just then a boatful of surfers pulled up.
That morning I surfed the left to avoid the ‘crowd’. I paddled over to the right once the tide was too low and joined the others. At first an uncomfortable silence befell the line-up. They weren’t exactly excited that we’d stumbled upon their little secret, but we shared the waves with respect and surfed just as hard as they did, so they couldn’t say too much. “This is ridiculous,” I finally thought, and blurted out a morning greeting. Two of them warmed up quickly, but I just couldn’t penetrate the pessimism of the third. “I surfed this place alone for yeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaars,” he whined cynically. I finally squeezed a toe through his ‘worthiness’ door when we discovered we had a few mutual urchin diver friends from Santa Barbara. “But you weren’t really born there were you,” he accused. I wasn’t getting anywhere with this guy, so I paddled back to Swell knowing that there were sessions ahead wherein I wouldn’t have to legitimize my right to be there. We had stumbled upon it, fair and square, without a whisper or a clue. It just so happened that they were heading back toward the city too, and offered Kemi a ride. So that afternoon, she made her second remote debarking from Swell. We missed you out there, Kemi! Thanks for la guitarra and the good company. I’m still working on those bean sprouts.
Tom, the captain of the boat, became a pleasantly familiar face in the line-up. After an epic session with him and Matt, we hosted them for mango-drizzled pancakes and coffee. He and Frank returned the following day and they loaded us up with fresh water, breaded amberjack filets, and Gatorades. On our last morning there, we had yet another pancake party with Tom, Frank, and Wendell. Frank, the maritime wizard that he was, crammed an 8-week celestial navigation course into one invaluable hour after we’d gorged ourselves on breakfast. These laid-back and knowledgeable guys had all grown up in Panama and were each somehow affiliated to the time when the U.S. operated the Panama Canal.
All in all, Mckenzie and I stayed there for 12 days and had great waves for eleven of them. After a few days, we discovered that we share lots of odd similarities. It soon felt like we’d known each other for years and I was excited that she had no schedule or obligations to hurry back to. It was obvious that she loves surfing as much as I do, too. Sometimes we’d just look at each other in the line-up and laugh at our ridiculous good fortune. When we weren’t hooting each other into sets, one of us was relishing a blissful solo session. Local fishermen dropped off fresh fish. Olivaceous cormorants and brown pelicans passed overhead in grand formations, flowing with the updrafts like ribbons of streamers in the wind. I was thankful for every moment. Every single moment was a gift I’ll never forget.
On our last evening there, I dropped the dinghy anchor near the right after spending the afternoon taking photos on the beach and hanging with the kids of ‘Punta Almendras” as we called it.” I paddled out alone on my favorite, freshly repaired board. Mckenzie had surfed by herself all afternoon. The lines flowed in with the push of high tide. My body felt strong again and I surfed with precision and respect for each wave’s moment of glory before exploding on the reef. I could not have been any happier. I stared out at Swell between waves in the dimming light. After all the maintenance, I’d found the magic.