What were your first steps like?

What were your first steps like? Your mom probably was circling you like a hawk with the video camera, your dad practically begging you to ‘come here buddy’ as if you were a dog, and you, confused why you were being attacked by paparazzi at the wee age of 1, stumble and bumble your way about ten feet into your dad’s arms. Precious. It’s a once in a lifetime event. Your parents probably shed a tear when you made it to daddy (or high-fived or something). But what if you were left alone? On February 18, 2013, I saw something that gave me a new perspective.

Around ten baby sea turtles, leatherbacks specifically, were waddling their way out to the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, with no parental help of any kind, left only to the mercy of the waves and the birds that morning at around 7:30am. They would make their way into the water, let it pull them back out to see, only to be swept back to shore again if a big wave came. It was as if they were taking ten steps forward and eleven back. I watched one little guy for thirty minutes, with his all black body, soft, undeveloped shell with his head poking out the smallest bit, struggle to find the perfect wave to take him to the promise land of the sea. He was a good five feet from where the water could take him, but five feet for a person who’s 5 inches long, is like the length of a football field. Flipper by flipper he pulled his little body creating these beautiful tracks, but it would all be worthless if that one perfect wave didn’t snag him and push him past a big wave. Plus, add footprints to fall into, crabs and birds to eat you, and dopey humans to step on you and you’ve got hell on sand. But even in the ocean he’s not safe. Big fish will gobble him up whole if his shell is still soft and undeveloped.

Baby leatherback turtle almost reaching the ocean

My brother and I were cheering them on and yelling at the ocean to help them out, but really what could we do? These turtles had no protection whatsoever! If you would’ve fallen, your dad would’ve ran over and sang you a lullaby until you stopped crying. The turtles didn’t make a sound going out to see, and their mothers are somewhere else in the ocean entirely finding food or another mate. Their first steps are when they’re most vulnerable, not when they’re most protected. You could just tell, just pick up that vibe, that the turtles, these turtles that grow to be seven feet long, have to work harder than any of us ever worked in our lives to not be the size of your palm for the rest of their lives.

This was a once in a lifetime experience. I didn’t pay hundreds of dollars and wake up at 4:00am to see the turtles with twenty other people. I just walked down to the beach after breakfast and almost stepped on one! It just goes to show you how the little things, the things that don’t announce themselves to the world, can be experiences that can change a life.

Special Thanks to Hotel Sugar Beach in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
¡Pura Vida!

Baby leatherback turtles at Hotel Sugar Beach, Playa Pan de Azúcar, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Hi, I’m Sam Schatmeyer. I’m 13 and live in Buffalo, New York, otherwise known as the frozen tundra over 1,000 miles north of sunny Sugar Beach.


I have a brother named Charlie, he’s the photographer, and a mom and dad (Kristy and Harry, respectively). I have a cooking blog at cook-or-die.tumblr.com, and play baseball, football, basketball, and volleyball, so there’s never a dull day. I hope to be a journalists when I’m older, but what I really want to do is ride these waves and sip smoothies in Costa Rica forever. ¡Pura Vida!

Pictures by Charlie Schatmeyer