I went to Panama in April for a week. I had not traveled out of the country for over 2 years and I was really happy I did this trip. I really needed it and I didn’t know how much I needed it until I got back. I spent most of the time at a kitesurfing guesthouse, right in front of the beach, to learn how to kitesurf. The house was full of other kitesurfers and instructors. Why kitesurfing? Well… because it’s really challenging and fun and allows you to experience the world in a whole new lens and travel to places you never would have gone.
So I went to Panama with 2 of my friends from the beach and we went to Punta Chame which is a peninsula, quite isolated from any city life with a population of less than 500 people. For a nice geography lesson, look at the map below and zoom out slowly.
The trippiest part of this place was the massive tidal range (video below)
At low tide, there’s over 100ft of sand between the backyard and the ocean and the boats are on the sand. If we go out for a few hours and come back to high tide, the water goes right up to our backyard and it’s a couple feet deep! What a trip! This change happened every 6 hours!
We were able to watch the sunset everyday, just like we normally in LA, but this time, we were at the equator so the water temperature was 80°F and the air was even hotter, but there was always wind. We would sleep to 25mph winds with the windows open and no shirt or blanket (or a thin sheet) and sleep like a baby.
Our kitesurfing instructors could tell there was something different about us because by the second day, we had setup a slackline for everyone to play, taught the others how to spin poi and also introduced acro-yoga. It was interesting to note that this was all new to them even though they had hundreds of people staying here during the windy season, we were the first to introduce these concepts to many of them.
Sooo… I’m a kitesurfer now! (Video below)
Life Lessons Learned From Kitesurfing
Without getting too deep into the sport, I’ll share these two tips that may be applicable to life in general:
- Learn to Let Go: One of the things you have to learn is that when shit hits the fan (when you lose control of the kite), you have to take your hands off the bar rather than pull on it, which is counter-intuitive and you need to train yourself to let go. Learning to let go is a lesson that’s applicable to life in general in regards to past relationships, grudges, and so forth.
- Look Where You Want To Go: The other thing that dramatically helped, once I was able to stand on the board was to look where I wanna go, rather than look at the kite. As a beginner we tend to want to look at the kite to control it, but if you look away from that haphazard kite and instead look where you want to go, it forces you to go with your feeling and this works way better. That’s another metaphor to life somehow, I’m sure of it.
Is kitesurfing difficult?
Kiteboarding combines aspects of wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing, surfing, paragliding, skateboarding and gymnastics all into one extreme sport. It’s an interesting sport because while it’s not overly difficult, it does have a steep learning curve because of all the information you need to understand and the delicate kite control you need to cultivate. (Kitesurfing is 90% about kite control and 10% about the board.) So controlling the kite requires a lot of practice to get good at and lessons from an instructor are mandatory otherwise you will hurt yourself. If you know what you’re doing, it’s not an overly dangerous sport, as long as you stay off from shallow water. (Most crashes happen when people are on the sand. Falling in deep water is not anywhere near as dangerous.)
Physicality: Kitesurfing doesn’t require any special amounts of strength or flexibility either. It’s mostly skill work, so it requires practice and repetition, preferably under the watchful eyes of an instructor.
Luxury of time: One needs to have the luxury of time and a flexible schedule and the ability to go when the wind is good, otherwise you will never be able to get practice time in if it’s windy when you’re at work. But… it’s also nice to go on vacation purely for that purpose at a place that is known for its winds which opens up the entire world now in a different lens. If you go deep in the rabbit hole, you could travel the world following the wind year-round.
Cost barrier: Kitesurfing isn’t a cheap sport. Lessons cost a lot of money, and that is why it’s much cheaper to get lessons in Latin American than the US or Europe. The other thing is the gear is very expensive when new ($2-3k) and you need not just one kite but multiple kites because the lighter the wind, the larger of a kite you need for that day/hour.
While kitesurfing doesn’t require any special strength or flexibility, I feel that I was able to pick it up really fast due to all the other sports I do. I noticed my coordination skills and ability to execute physical instructions have skyrocketed. (I’m proud to say that I could go downwind at least. Now I am learning how to go upwind, as time permits, in Los Angeles.) Probably due to all the slacklining, rings and other fun stuff I do.
The kitesurfing community is way nicer than surf culture because it encourages a buddy-system
Another interesting aspect of kitesurfing is that it’s not a sport you could do alone unless you’re advanced, but even then it isn’t a good idea. In the beginning, you have an instructor that teaches you. And then later on, you should have a buddy that could help launch and land your kite for you because it’s advanced to do it on your own. And it’s important to have a buddy looking out for you in case something goes wrong with your kite and you’re in the water. So it encourages a buddy-system and because of this, a lot of them turn out to be naturally very helpful. Meeting other kitesurfers on the beach reminds me of the community at the Original Muscle Beach, where everyone is open and helpful! This is the complete opposite of the surfer community, where surfers become highly territorial and it’s an every-man-for-themselves situation and people don’t talk to each other in the water and you have to be very aggressive when claiming a wave.
When we weren’t kitesurfing, we were doing all sorts of other activities, as usual (video below)
And here’s a video featuring a couple of our instructors tearing it up on the last day…
This trip broke the hold Facebook had on my being that I didn’t even realize it had
At one point I needed to make space on my phone to record more photos/videos and I realized I had not used Facebook for several days so I deleted the app. (It’s actually nice that you could delete the Facebook app but keep the Messenger app, so you could still communicate with people.) I didn’t have any urge to check FB. I sort of semi-wanted to post the things I was experiencing once in a while but I told myself, I will share this footage later, at another time.
When I returned back home, I found myself not wanting to reinstall the Facebook app, so I didn’t. I went on the site and I had 60+ notifications after a week of not checking it, and I found myself only mildly interested in only 1 of those 60 notifications. So I stopped visiting the site all together. Watching the newsfeed was like watching TV. It’s something mindless to tune out to but not really a good use of time. Some people post funny or educational stuff but most of it is stuff about themselves, and just like most public things, it’s just a highlight reel because it’s somewhat taboo to post super negative things on Facebook. So you end up seeing what people want you to see. But then when the political divisiveness exploded, it really changed the landscape a bit and made it way more dramaful and way more negative.
This trip to Panama was the perfect opportunity to get “Facebook likes.” It’s positive, fun, and has a lot of cool pictures. But, I had a bit of trouble integrating my life back into the online world. And this is coming from somebody who enjoys living a significant portion of his life in the online world. (So where do I post all this footage? Maybe I will use all this energy to just pour it out on my blog instead? That’s one of the reasons I’m writing this. It’s part of my self-exploration and I am still pissed at myself for not writing a blog post at the end of 2016 to just wrap the year up outloud.)
When I returned home in LA, I was questioning what was important in my life. I was in a completely different mindset in Panama. I would wake up according to the wind and tide forecast for good kitesurfing rather than anything else. If the conditions were right, you go kite-surf. If the winds weren’t present or if the tide is too high for my beginner-self, I just chill on a hammock or walk the slackline. That whole week just immersed me in nature and nothing else.
Back at home, I wanted to keep experiencing the disconnect from technology. I even found myself not wanting to check reddit, which I am a moderator of many subreddits, including my own. The other benefit of this trip was that I didn’t hear any political stuff for a solid 8 days. Nothing about Trump. Nothing about any politics. Nada. I didn’t know how much I needed to get myself out of that drama. Getting updates on what Trump is doing everyday is like a soap opera that I don’t want to be apart of.
In the meantime, I instead found things to read from an actual newspaper instead. Yes, an actual newspaper. But the problem with the newspapers are that they smell and leave residue on your hands. Plus, they’re made of trees. Trees that used to make oxygen for me to breathe. So I guess all of us getting our news through the Internet is really a great thing if you’re a tree.
The interesting thing is, it’s not like I’m deprived of nature here in LA. I go to the beach 3-5 times a week to connect to nature and end the day with the sunset clearly in my view. Even with that kind of a balanced life, I STILL needed a digital detox and break from social media, so it’s very likely that you need one as well. (Hint Hint!)
In the end, I eventually went back on Facebook, but the break from it for 2 weeks was more necessary than I realized. I don’t really frequent it as much now but I feel it’s a good platform for spreading any message you want to your global circle of friends. So, it is a powerful platform. It’s not inherently evil either. It’s more-so just a question of… how do we find balance within it?
Other Random Stuff from the Trip
When we left our kitesurfing paradise, we went back to the city to stay a night and then go to the airport from there because it was closer. I quickly became overwhelmed by all the traffic, noise, and speed that comes with any city. I didn’t like it. Even though the hostel I stayed at was extremely good and chill, it wasn’t as chill as the beach. I guess that’s what happens when you spend a week in a town of 500 people on a small peninsula in Panama, where the “super” market was a tiny store that had as many groceries as a 7/11.
The trouble with traveling if you have a pet
I did not take my dog with me. The only problem I have with traveling is that my dog Medax goes into depression and then gets sick if I’m away from her for more than a couple days. Btw, my dog just turned 14 this year and I still walk her nearly everyday on a different pathway trail or route everytime. You could see her cute face here:
But I tell ya, I see a lot of people who are child-free that rush to get a dog. Don’t do it unless you realize the responsibility you’re undertaking. It’s a long commitment and a real one. Once you have a dog you can’t be away from the house for more than 6 hours. You really need to walk them every day, and definitely make them run somehow.
Also, it’s not fair to force your roommates to take care of them. And it’s not fair to just give your dog to other people in general like that. Also, you can’t just go on a trip on a whim for a few days without getting a dog-sitter. If the dog gets sick, vet bills are astronomical. Get the picture? HOWEVER, if you have a human-child, you already have a constant steam of responsibility to deal with and getting a dog adds an insignificant amount of responsibility relatively speaking. So if you don’t have kids, think thrice about getting a pet. This message brought to you by the association of responsible dog owners of Earth.
Spanish, Spanish, Spanish!
The kitesurfing guesthouse we stayed at was full of people who mostly spoke English and very few knew Spanish, so it was interesting that I didn’t really get to practice my Spanish very much. I know enough to wing it but don’t know anything beyond the basics. One of the locals, Ricardo, was very helpful for telling us where to go and what to do. And I was wishing my Spanish was as good as his English, because his English was really impressive. I returned home feeling bad that I don’t know Spanish as well as I should, especially living in Los Angeles. It reminded me that I should continue to practice speaking Spanish in Los Angeles, because tons of people around me know both Spanish and English, so if I had a question on how to say something, I could simply ask them as well. Plus, if I order my food in spanish, people seem to be super happy to see me trying to speak their language!
Anyway, that’s all I got to divulge for this trip. It was fun putting all the videos and photos together to make this trip and taking this opportunity to speak my mind a bit. I need to do this more often, and maybe I will since I’m spending less time on social media. The next blog post will be about the importance of single-tasking to be able to focus efficiently and cut down on information overload. Stay tuned!