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Echo of a Splat

In high school, I had a friend who could backflip off anything. By anything I mean any height. The highest I witnessed was him standing atop a spindly tree - because the rock just wasn't high enough - that was at least 65 feet. While the rest of us jumped off the bridge or the rock (never the tree), he would turn facing us and push off into oblivion. No matter the height, I never witnessed him pull out of the perfect arc, start rolling up the windows and bail. I envied his skill. I envied his huevos.

I, too, backflip off the odd perch into water. In the last couple of years it was off a bridge in Glacier National Park, a pier in Puget Sound, and a stubby waterfall in Kona. The highest of these jumps was 25 feet, maybe. Regardless of the height, the end result tends to be the same - pleasure. There is something about jumping off a ledge backwards, blind to my landing until I rotate sufficiently enough for my head to drop back and spot the waiting water below.

Today we visited a waterfall in Uvita, Costa Rica. It was aptly named the Cascada de Uvita. We went early to beat the crowds and wait out the high tide at the beach. When we arrived, there were four people there, a tour of sorts - two guides, two clients. I had seen videos of this place. People would slide down the waterfall. Other folks would jump off a higher point and do some flippy tricks. While my expectations were low for this spot, my brain had already rehearsed a backflip or two if I could find an appropriate spot and huevos.

I was immediately thankful for the tour guides present. It wasn't obvious where to enter the falls for a chute-like experience. There appeared to be three possible entry points to the falls, but the guides showing their clients made it clear there was only one entry - the middle one. I'm not sure I would have done it had I not seen it done. Perched at the top, water pushing past his legs, he squatted into the current and pushed his legs straight in front, his arms bracing against two rocks. He released his arms and crossed them over this chest. His body succumbed to the force of the water and gravity and slid/bounced down the rock surface hidden behind the rushing, white water. About midway a rock kicked him forward and he free fell into the frothy green water. It didn't look smooth. My enthusiasm flagged. I watched the two clients go and things looked even less smooth.

I climbed the re-bar ladder. I have to try it once. Things I tell myself. I did as I witnessed and when my back hit the last bump I flailed - legs out, arms sprawled. Splash. The roar of air mixed with water enveloped me. Nothing hurt. It felt smoother than it looked.

I tried to convince the wifey to go, but it took more than an expected amount of coaxing to get her in the cool water. No deal.

I climbed back up the ladder and crossed the river about 10 feet above the waterfall. On the other side there were easy steps to a ledge that faced the pool below. As far as ledges go, this one was generous - perhaps 18 inches long and about 12 inches deep. This was a confidence booster. The issue that eroded my confidence was the sloping rock beneath me. Regardless of this ledge, I would have to jump out about ten feet just to clear the rocky edge and enter near the waterfall. This is when all the worst possible outcomes frolic through my head while on my very comfortable ledge. My wife, at the edge of the pool below, made known her concerns with her mouth, but with her phone ready in her right hand. She knew how this would play out.

I contemplated a backflip, but settled on just a forward jump, telling myself I needed to test the depth and my ability to jump out, to build my confidence. With the ledge about 30 feet above the pool, even this processing took a minute. My hesitation on a forward jump unnerved me. This was a cyclical mental train wreck. I jumped and the familiar stomach drop felt normal, as expected. In the water, I bobbed to the surface and all was well. Step 1 completed.

I did the slide one more time. I didn't flail this time when my back hit the last bump. The water was cool, bright, rejuvenating. The entire time my brain was trying to process the possibility of a backflip from the generous ledge. I imagined I was capable of pushing off sufficiently to clear the out-sloping rock. But if I didn't, I imagined that blood and bones on my insides might make it to the outside of me. I also tried to process the trauma this might cause my lovely wife, still voicing her anxiety while holding her phone below.

I made my way back up the swinging ladder, across the river, and along the curved rocks to the ledge. My brain rehearsing every looming step once on the ledge. As this goes, the easiest way to do this is to turn around, face the rock, and jump. The shorter the time between these tasks the better. My brain can be a capricious mother in these moments. Sure, reason needs to be part of these internal conversations, but once I have calculated the risk, the next necessary step is to turn around, inhale, exhale, lean back, and push into the waiting void behind me.

Lean back and push. Lean back and push. Just lean back and push. I just have to clear the rocks. Lean back and push hard.

I turned around to face the rock and paused. This pause isn't always part of my steps, but it was today, allowing for three two solid inhale/exhale cycles. I leaned back and pushed, hard.

Too hard.

Within four milliseconds I realized I had bought the farm and I didn't want the farm. The lean back and the push from my legs were just what were needed to clear the rocks. The rocks were no longer of imminent concern. In my nerves, I threw my arms too hard. If the cliff had been 15 feet high this may have been perfect. Being that it was at least twice this height, it was determined that my feet would not be entering the water first, no matter how hard I rolled up the windows.

It was as if I fell out of the sky. My back smacked the surface of the water. While surprising, there was no pain that is usual with a belly-flop smack thanks to all the air in the water. Despite this relief, my neck snapped back and I could feel an immediate shock in my neck, shoulders, and into the middle of my spine radiating out in to my rib cage. My arms shuddered, ached. My brain stayed on and I swam to the surface. Although my neck and torso hurt, I was swimming and this was an acceptable outcome, except for my ego. I wasn't embarrassed, just disappointed in myself. I felt silly, foolish for over-rotating this jump. I wanted another chance.

The wife was solidly in her anxiety. She pleaded with me not to try it again. I wasn't making any promises. I know I am loved. I also know that I have to do some things that seem downright foolish to her. I had to let my neck and back settle. After about thirty minutes, I decided that I wouldn't be making a second attempt. If, by chance, I over-rotated again, I wasn't sure my neck would enjoy a redundant mistake. I told the wife and she stood atop the rock she was perched and with a smile on her face, fell backwards into the blue-green water. She may have uttered, a louder than necessary 'Hallelujah!' I remained disappointed.

We stayed a bit longer. We no longer had the pool to ourselves; three other couples joined us. They jumped in, but were hesitant to go down the slide. I decided to show them the way down, just as I had been shown. All the boys went down, while the girls wondered just how terrible it was and why we were lying about it.

My neck is stiff. My brain wants a do-over. This splat will echo in my brain until I get another chance to stand atop that generous ledge. I may have to wait a long while, but if I get another chance at this, I will be ready - face the rock, inhale, exhale, lean back, and push, only a bit more suave next time.

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