I grew up in the landlocked state of Missouri. Other than the not-at-all trusty worthy Mississippi river that outlines the border between Missouri and Illinois, my only experiences with water were of the chlorinated pool variety. At the age of 22, I finally changed that.

After a week in Guadalajara, Mexico, I booked a ticket to the nearby beach town, Barra de Navidad. I knew it wasn’t a highly trafficked tourist destination and that it certainly wouldn’t be making any top 10 lists for beautiful beaches any time soon, but I was thrilled all the same. I arrived at sunset and couldn’t wait to run out onto the sand. My then-boyfriend was exhausted from the bus ride and ready to lie down on our hotel bed, but I dragged him to the beach.

I kicked off my shoes and sprinted out into the sand. The sprinting didn’t last long, after I realized how incredibly difficult it is to run in sand, but the excitement didn’t fizzle out when my cardio abilities did. I squished my toes into the sand, took deep breaths, and just stared.

I repeatedly annoyed my boyfriend by pointing to the sunset, then looking at him for affirmation that it was, in fact, beautiful. I made completely useless comments like “look at the waves!” and “Watch the water soak up the sand!” I was 22 years old, and this was my first time seeing, touching, and tasting salt water.

My first swim in the ocean was rough. I leapt in with all the enthusiasm of a child who had just been freed of their water wings. Much like that overly-confident child, I sputtered and flapped around awkwardly, trying to get my bearings in the current. I swallowed more than my fair share of salt water that day, and completely obliterated my contact lenses. Once, I got caught in the current and nearly panicked, as the waves continually pulled and shoved me underwater. Luckily, Missouri still has nature shows, and I had seen one that warned you to swim parallel to the shore instead of towards it should you get stuck in a current. Thank you, nature channel!

I may not have mastered the art of swimming in the ocean, and perhaps I was overly excited about mundane things, such as finding seashells in the water – but this was a completely new experience for me. Those who grow up near water may have been too young to form vivid memories of their first ocean experience, but I will treasure my very first ocean encounter forever.