We release a crocodile, a tiger and a pachycephalosaurus into a sand pit, drawing a couple of boys over for drive-by play, but nothing lasting enough to allow me the long swim I am craving.
We eventually hit the water together — Kai hugging my head while I struggle to avoid drowning — before repairing to the lone on-site structure, a little lunch shack, where we chow empanadas at a communal picnic table.
Rincon is peppered with spots like this beach, natural beauty left largely natural, with a hint of a rough edge (theft from cars is a minor issue in many of the rutted dirt parking lots) and from what I can tell, locals and visitors are happy to leave the luxury to more snooty Caribbean destinations.
The exception is the far southern edge of town, where the hills flatten out and a string of larger resorts bulge onto the beach. We burn half a day here, playing on a thin, sloping strip of sand in front of the Villa Cofresi resort before poaching a swim in the hotel’s pools.
This isn’t my scene — wrist-banded tourists crowd the bar, hammering cocktails from plastic cups and chattering over blaring tunes — but Kai makes a quick friend of a 4-year-old Puerto Rican boy, and they entertain themselves while the kid’s single mom lofts pointed questions about my marital status and vacation ambitions.
I never get around to stocking our fridge, save for five beers and random leftovers, so we eat out. Our best dinners are at a street-side bar called La Cambija, the Spanish word for the old water tower that stands across the road. The seafood arrives daily and is listed on a chalkboard menu. The grouper kebabs, tuna seviche, beers and succulent fresh watermelon juice conspire with lively regulars, including a brick of a bulldog named Spartacus, to make this our favorite nightspot.
A quest realized
On Day 4 we finally link up with the surfing families on Maria’s Beach. Aside from a shelf of toe-stubbing rock at the water’s edge, it’s a sweet setup: ample shade, room for the kids to play, surfboard rentals and a bar/restaurant across the parking lot.
Shoulder-high rollers break over a reef about 100 yards offshore. The women are surfing and, after a few minutes of pleasantries, the other Kai’s dad, Cameron, offers to watch the kids while I head out.
This is the pinnacle of my quest, and yet when it comes time to leave my child with someone I’ve known only a few hours, I hesitate. I amble over to the board rental guy. Yes, he says, totally safe break, perfect conditions today. Take a board. Pay when you return. No stress, man.
I walk back. My Kai ignores my questions — Food? Drink? Pee? Okay if dad goes surfing? — so I shrug at Cameron, tell him to wave his arms like a maniac in case of emergency, and head out.
It’s a solid session, and between the swells, I can see Cam from the distance, his non-flailing arms suggesting that all is well. When I return, my Kai hardly notices.
“Your kid is pretty chill,” Cameron reports. “We never could have left ours at that age. He would have freaked out.”
As the kids climb in a tangle of branches, playfully chased by a surprisingly dexterous dog, I think, “Doubtful.” The scene before me — a mellow dad, a trio of shirtless, sandy boys and the sun reclining into its oceanic hammock — is the epitome of community. I’d wager that Cam’s Kai at age 3 would have found the same familiar ease that mine did on this day. This mushy musing is quickly nudged aside by another thought: “Why did I come back in? I could have milked another hour of surfing out of this.”
I head off to buy beers and ginger ales.
The next day, the other Kai and his family head home, and the swell fades. We run into Michelle, Jessica and the Roberts at the smooth-stone beach, but there’s no pressure to take shifts: We hang out, share stories, dip into the calm sea and play with our kids.
Briley is a freelance writer in Takoma Park.