Paddling Through Our New Way of Life

paddling outAs usual I got out of bed at 5:30 this morning. But I didn’t brush my teeth. I didn’t make the bed. No customary scan of the morning’s emails that had come in overnight from business partners or customers.

I skipped breakfast and took three big gulps of coffee as I pulled on a pair of board shorts still wet from last night.

The tide was coming in, set to peak at 6:30am, and in Playa Jaco this means one thing. You surf.

In Jaco, as in any town around the world with a break, the tide chart is the only clock that matters for most of the residents who choose to live here full-time.

It tells them when to wake up, when to go to bed (well, some of the younger set seem to ignore the clock’s advice on this one), and it even narrows down what they choose to do for a living. If a job comes without breaks that follow the tide chart, it doesn’t fit.

Of course, there are plenty of people who choose to live in Jaco for other reasons. Maybe to escape to a simpler life in a beautiful beach town or for professional opportunities to begin new development projects in this booming locale. Our neighbor, Sergio, for example, moved here from Argentina to take a coaching position with the town’s new professional soccer team.

But at its heart, Jaco is a surf town. We’ve met people from all over the world who now call Jaco home to take advantage of the consistent daily beach break which is a short walk or bike ride from nearly anywhere in town.

They live it.

Tide Chart

This is what a clock looks like in Jaco.

For some, surfing is spirituality. Plenty has been written about the parallels between surfing and life and there’s no need for me to dig deeply into those parallels here.

And I’m not going to pretend that I’ve become some stellar wave rider from the small amount of time I’ve spent flailing around in the waves here. I’m new to surfing and as with any new sport, quite frankly I suck. But we all suck when starting out with anything that’s worth working hard at.

Yesterday, for example, I experienced the incredible rush that comes as the board crests the lip of the wave and then begins its journey down the face moving faster and faster, screaming along the surface of the water, no separation between my body and the earth’s natural rhythmic cycles.

There was nothing else in that moment. Not to weird you out here with eastern religious philosophical rambling, but I believe it was a small glimpse of enlightenment. At least as close as I’ve come even with a regular meditation practice.

 Inevitably, I lost my balance and bailed just as the weight of the wave came crashing down on top on me.

Rolling around under the surf, I had a surprising sense of calm, knowing that I only needed to come up for one gasp of breath before the next waved closed out on top of me. In what should have been a state of sheer terror, I felt peace. I trusted the ocean and knew that if I didn’t fight her, she’d eventually put me back to where I needed to be.

And what I sensed even more strongly was the screaming internal dialogue running through my mind:


For a brief moment, I understood the strange way of life of the soul-searching surf bum.

In his book, Saltwater Buddha, Jaimal Yogis, a former Buddhist monk and lifelong surfer, examines the search for enlightenment through the lenses of both Buddhism and surfing. His juxtaposition of the two is incredibly thought-provoking.

In surfing, you spend hours and hours paddling out through the impact zone for perhaps three seconds at a time of pure bliss. And the way we live our lives is similar.

We spend the vast majority of our time paddling. We pay bills, work, maintain our homes and cars, all in order to be able to enjoy our moments of bliss; watching our children take their first steps, enjoying sunsets over the beach, laughing with friends.

And it’s ok to paddle.

It’s as much a part of the journey of life as riding the wave. The point is to find peace in the paddling and accept it as part of our journey.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, “Oh sure, Nate, whatever. You guys are on this journey around the world for a year. Your paddling must be REALLY difficult!”

However, I’ve realized that even during our travels I’ve been doing lots of paddling without accepting the waves as they come. I’m constantly trying to define what we’re doing and always trying to shape our experience instead of just letting it be our experience.

Am I working too much instead of taking advantage of what our destination has to offer?

Are the kids getting to experience enough fun activities?

Are we tourists or travelers?

Have we spent enough time speaking with the locals to learn their way of life?

Have we checked everything off of our to-do list for things we want to see and experience?

I need to learn to accept that long-term travel is a life just like any other. There are plans to be made, work to be done, and plenty of things that we still need to manage back home. I’m learning to find peace with that paddling and accept that we’re still living our lives, just in a different place and in a different way.

I’m finding that it’s ok to paddle through this new way of life. Just as you can’t fight against Mother Ocean, you can’t fight against the questions that arise when making such a major life change. All of these questions I’ve been struggling with in trying to define our experience and make it what we truly want it to be are natural.

I’ll just keep paddling, taking what comes, and it will make all of those moments of bliss even sweeter.

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2 Responses to “Paddling Through Our New Way of Life”

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  1. Brett says:

    Nate…. It was great to meet your family! We just left yesterday and miss Jaco sooo much!

    • Nate Johnson says:

      Hey Brett,

      Great to meet you guys as well! We'll be leaving Jaco tomorrow to head up north and it's definitely going to be tough to say goodbye. It's such a great spot!

      Keep in touch!


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