From all the study-abroaders and euro-tripers, everyone and their mothers now knows that Spain rules. The land of late nights, jamón, and fútbol seems to slowly but surely capture the heart of nearly every traveler that ventures there. Why does Spain, more than any other nation, get such a good rep? 2 words: la gente. The people. And nobody embodies the soul of Spain more perfectly than Rafa Gilabert, a surfing golfer from Cádiz.
Rafa’s a real dynamic character. The word to describe his demeanor has yet to be invented, but I suppose “mellow” will suffice to describe this cool cat. With zero qualms, Rafa follows the things that excite him and quickly eludes those that do not. For example, he enjoyed playing golf as a boy so he continued to play, progress, and master the sport, and now, he currently teaches at a PGA course and makes a solid income by means of his childhood hobby. In like manner, he pursues prime waves, good vibes, and sunny days, so naturally, he picked up the phone when Southern California was calling.
He eagerly broke away from everything familiar and decided to move half way across the globe for a year to live at the beach in sunny San Diego. For a guy whose theme song has been proclaimed to be, “Today I don’t feel like doing anything”, Pacific Beach was heaven.
As luck would have it, Rafa lived next door to my buddy Johnny and we happened to meet at one of Johnny’s renowned rooftop BBQs during Rafa’s final week before heading back to Spain. I started explaining about my upcoming move to Madrid where I’d complete my collegiate victory lap. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday:
Rafa asked me, “Where is your school in Madrid?”
“Here” I replied as I pointed to a map, “Where do you live?”
“Here” he indicated on the map as we both fell silent for the following few seconds. “We have a bedroom opening up in August…” he suggested.
Doves soared across the sky, Andrea Bocelli’s music began to fade in, and champagne fell from the sky. This was one of those moments that would completely change the course of my life.
As Rafa would say, we were estoked!
In Spanish, no word starts with an “s + consonant”, there is always an “e” before the “s”. Therefore, Spaniards don’t say “stoked” and “smart”, but “estoked” and “esmart” instead. Listen for it next time you’re in the company of a Spaniard. It’s guaranteed for a good chuckle.
From day 1 in Madrid, Rafa treated me like family. He brought me into his social group with no hesitation and provided me with extraordinary support. As a ridiculous capitalist, born and bred in the US of A, I wondered what his angle was and what he wanted from me.
During my first week in Spain I chilled at the beach with his group of friends from 1pm till 8pm as we simply enjoyed each others company, had a 7 course meal with his extended family and friends that spanned from 3pm till 3am, and chatted NON-STOP in the light-hearted yet passionate manner in which Spaniards converse. After observing Rafa and the people closest to him during this string of events, I finally realized what Rafa lives for; just what we had been doing – being friendly and connecting with others over dinners, tapas, and rum y colas.
Rafa cherishes all the little aspects of life that most people don’t take the time to appreciate. Whether it be food, a new t-shirt, or a picture, Rafa finds something to be grateful for. Whenever I talk with Rafa, I always gain a refreshed perspective of how badass my own life due to his kindness and genuine appreciation. You’d think that someone composed of these character traits would be a total softy, but in reality, my amigo Johnny and I have both agreed that Rafa is the coolest guy we know.
As I sit here writing under a gloomy grey sky, Rafa is currently adventuring through Rio de Janeiro . . . meeting up with Johnny . . . and celebrating Carnival.