Updated: Feb 14
Each year Warrior Surf takes a group of Veterans on a surf retreat to Guatemala. Having been welcomed by the local community, enmeshing and rejoicing in their success, we often teach and train lifeguarding and first aid skills. But always, we represent the core values of the branches of the military we come from. Below is a recounting of one such moment by Jesse Miller. This is the first of many thoughts and experiences we hope to bring to you through the voices of our Veterans.
It was a regular day. The entire group settled well into the groove of life in El Paredòn. Up with the sun, meditation, surf, breakfast, wellness & yoga, nap, sunset, dinner, repeat. This day was no different. We made it as usual to sunset, which is like going to the movies in Guatemala. Everyone in the Village takes a spot on the beach, grabs a few beers some snacks, and settles in for the show. A handful of us were in the water surfing, and the rest found themselves perched at the top of a dune, sunk into a familiar spot waiting for the show.
The sun was still hanging high up on the horizon when a few of us turned and saw a giant cloud of thick black smoke climbing from the direction of the Village. Smoke isn't an uncommon thing around the sleepy beach town. Sugar cane fields are burned daily, trash is burned throughout the day, and at any given time, there are 15 or 20 different restaurants and street vendors burning fires and grills in the kitchen. To us, though, it immediately looked different. The amount of smoke was alarming, and the location it was coming from began to raise suspicions. I, Josh, Jake, Schuey, Matt, Mikey, and Elan rose to our feet and started walking away from the beach toward the main road. As soon as we made it 50 meters, I heard Elan say, "Fuck! That's Tarra's house!" And our unhurried walk turned into a full-on run.
Tarra is Elan's Executive Chef at Swell and a good friend of ours. As we came up to her front gate, the sound of the flames was intense. They howled and roared like a tornado, as loud as a freight train coming straight at us. Then we felt the heat. The heat was equally daunting, so much so the ground surrounding her property was difficult to stand on. Stopping to assess the situation, we thought for what seemed like minutes but was mere seconds before we turned to look for hoses. Thankfully, a quick-thinking local shut off the electricity as a precaution, which also meant no pumps were working. Finally, someone yelled, "the Pool!!" Fortunately, we realized Tarra had a small in-ground pool full of water.
The fire brigade began.
We tore through the fence, barefoot from the beach, and commenced using anything that could hold water to bail from the pool onto the burning structures around us. Buckets, pots and pans, cups, frisbees. Anything. The inside of the main building burned
bigger and bigger, flames suddenly overtaking the palm roof. It's hard now in the aftermath to remember who took the daring act of busting the windows in, but we ran through the broken glass and began to save anything we could. Half of us remained in the pool, handing buckets through the broken windows to the men inside working to dowse the flames. Repeatedly, I squatted, filled the same bucket, and heaved the water as high as I could. I did this over and over, aiming for the roof for what seemed like 1,000 times. Often, one spot would be extinguished, and another area would ignite. Eventually, we soaked the roof of the main building, subdued the flames, and stopped the fire from burning any further. Then began the work on the rest of the property. Still barefoot, we ran back and forth to the pool over shattered glass, hot coals, and burning embers. Eventually, after an hour of continuous effort, the 20 or so combined forces of WSF and local men and women managed to tame the inferno.
The main building of her house was a concrete structure, but the roof, the supports, and the palapa assemblies were all made from mangrove wood and fronds. Like much of Central America, winter is the dry season, and all that is needed to engulf a town block is a tiny spark. So, after the flames went out, we shifted our focus to soaking everything around the house to prevent her neighbor's fence, backed directly behind the still smoldering main structure, from catching fire.
Even then, the ground continued to give off intense heat as flames sporadically popped up here and there. When it was all said and done, we were each soaking wet, covered in ash, dehydrated, and flat out depleted from the effort. Although our feet were burned, cut, and scraped, we walked away thankful for being relatively unharmed. Except for the roof, the main concrete house remained standing, though the rest of her home was charred beyond repair. Her cats, Larry David and George Constanza, made it out safely, as did a few pieces of furniture and a handful of clothes and other essential items. Tarra was more than grateful and showed resilience beyond comprehension. So much so she found the fortitude to head directly into the kitchen, putting out dinner for 27 people.
Running into the fire.
That phrase has become kind of a cliché saying in today's vernacular. But then, when you see it in practice, the profoundness of action leaves you changed. To know and remember, some men and women actually run into the fire- not away, but toward danger. Since that day, I gained a new sense of pride and security amongst these savage humans. People I knew had it in them but reminded me at that moment that dedication to service above self is forever. A group that I am humbled to be a part of.
Warrior Surf- Veterans, lifeguards, firemen.