Tumbling in the waves of Sri Lanka

Note: I entered a version of this story to the World Nomad’s travel writing competition in 2017. It’s been adapted and expanded on here. I’m hoping to publish more stories like this in the future. Share your thoughts in the comments!

Sometimes you have to just laugh at yourself. And that’s what I did. Snorting seawater out of my nose, I laughed at myself, deeply and heartily.

Galle Fort ocean

I’m in Sri Lanka with two old friends, and one new one. Mirissa Beach is well known for tourism, with beachside restaurants and lounge chairs going for a few hundred meters. People from Europe, South America, and Asia alike gather here with their loved ones and enjoy the waves coming in.

Sri Lankan surfer boys show off their skills with a football, and some ponytailed and bearded brethren serve drinks in the restaurants lining the beach like boxes all in a line. It feels a little surreal, but I would not trade these sunsets for anything.

Surf board at Mirissa Beach in Sri Lanka

Mirissa Beach in Sri Lanka

In between meals and chilling on the beach, we also play in the waves, jumping with them as they come in.

Bigger waves wash over me and try to take me back with them to the ocean.

Although I grew up swimming and even got certified to lifeguard, I’ve never been much of an ocean swimmer. I grew up in New York City, and my interactions with the ocean were limited to occasional excursions to Coney Island, where we dared not swim. My mom can’t swim and though my dad says he used to swim when he was younger, I’ve never witnessed such a thing.

It was by my mom’s pleading that I started taking swimming lessons when I was about 7 years old. She told me about children who drowned when a ship sank because they couldn’t swim. For the next 8 years, my mother would take me to swimming classes and happily watch me as I swam like a little frog.

Ocean swimming is a whole different ballgame, though. Currents and waves do what they will with me, pushing and pulling. Short of stature, I always stay where I can find my footing.

Out in the waves, my short legs don’t give me nearly as much power as I was hoping. A few meters out where I waited for waves with my friends, my toes grazed the bottom and I could just about tip toe.

The smaller waves carry us a little closer to shore each time we jump with one.

Negombo Beach in Sri Lanka

A big wave comes. Eyes shut tight, I get tumbled around for a few seconds before I find my feet again. I look up, checking for my friends as they check for me.

After the initial exhale of seawater, I burst out laughing.

Pushing my knees through the water, I trudge all the way back to the beach to catch my breath for a moment, and a small thought pops into my head. I don’t have to go back out there.

I stood there, ocean water washing up against my ankles. As soon as the thought flickered into my mind, it left and I knew I would go back in. Of course, it would be safer to stay here.

Me at Negombo Beach in Sri Lanka

But that would be the easy thing to do.

A past version of me might have stayed. This day’s version of me didn’t. With a big grin, I trudge back out to where my friends are. We laugh and jump with oncoming waves. When the next big one comes, my friend beside me shouts “Go under!” and we all dive in.


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