I have just discovered the most fun a human can possibly have: surfing.
This morning I had the first of a two-morning weekend surfing clinic, and it was great. For women only, the participants (7 of us) ranged from 47 to a sophomore in high school. Most had no experience, two had some but wanted to take lessons from someone other than their boyfriend/husband who had no patience or skill in teaching (apparently “Just stand up already!!” is not helpful).
We had two instructors, fun girls with what seems to be the stereotypical surfer personality–in other words, they were disgustingly happy and perky. One gave up her job as a tax accountant (she was about to take her CPA exams) to teach surfing, the other works with autistic kids on the side. Happily, neither was built like Elle MacPherson so I didn’t feel completely intimidated, but they both had (and yes, this will sound weird) amazing feet. I think that you must use all sorts of teeny muscles in your feet doing this so theirs were perfectly tanned and toned, with cute toenail polish and the occasional toe ring, and they looked (again, this is weird) like happy feet that could snap small branches with their toes. The toenail polish seemed to be the one nod to make-up either bothered with. One of them told me, “I started surfing and now I never wear make-up, my hair is always fried on the ends, and I’ve never been happier.”
After signing our releases (a bit unnerving since one item listed was about beasties that will eat you) and getting to know each other a bit, we sat in the sand and they taught us about rip currents, the difference between inside and outside (before the break zone, after the break), and the parts of the board. Then they demonstrated how to pop up–which is how you get to the standing position on the board. Then we moved over to our own boards (these were heavy foam beginner boards, long, forgiving, and less likely to injure us if they hit us), in the sand, and pretended to paddle, and popped up on command.
Popping up is supposed to be a fluid movement that kind of works like this: on your belly with your feet very near the tail of the board, you paddle to try to match speed with the oncoming wave; at the right time you put your hands under your chest and push up your torso and hips (like a push up, but with some arch) while you simultaneously draw your feet up under you, to that the front one (either) is between your hands or in front of them even; then, you stand (but keep your knees bent for balance and control–deeper bend is better). If you’ve taken yoga, you have a much better chance at popping up successfully quickly–it’s sort of cobra/upward-facing dog to crescent to warrior pose (but with bent back knee).
So we practiced there in the sand. You want to land with your feet on the spine, front foot near the center of the board or a smidge back, feet about shoulder-width apart or a bit more and perpendicular to the boards axis–arm in front pointing at the beach (as a beginner), back arm back and bent for balance. I surprised myself by getting it pretty right immediately.
Then we put on our wetsuits and rash guards (to protect the suit). I have never worn a wetsuit and I have to say, there is no way to gracefully put one on (or take it off for that matter). The water was probably warm enough to skip it, but we all decided not to risk it and put them on. They do conveniently hide cellulite and they are warm, but they are a pain to get on/off.
Anyway, once dressed, we grabbed our boards and headed down the beach to the water. Surf boards weigh more than they look. My arms were just a hair too short to be able to carry mine under my arm like the cool kids, so I hoisted it onto my head for the trek. Even there, it was heavy by the time we got to our spot. As I walked to the edge of the water, I thought about all the things that could go wrong–sharks, stingrays (you must shuffle your feet on the sand under the water here to scare them off), broken limbs, drowning, god-only-knows-what-bacteria in the water (Tijuana often spills sewage and it’s too close for comfort)–then I took a deep breath, said something akin to “screw it,” put the leash on my right ankle, and headed into the water.
To start, the instructors held the back of our boards (one at a time), told us when to paddle, then gave a good shove and told up to pop. This was all being done “inside” where the waves had already broken–that foamy smaller wave-ish stuff nearer the shore. I was first.
I tried to pop at the right time, but I made the cardinal error of holding the rails (edges) of the board rather than putting my hands in push-up position. When you do that, you push harder with one side than the other and pretty much flip that board before you get half-way up. Sploosh, I went in, and came out laughing.
Some of the other girls got it right on the first try–especially the two who had done it before. Others looked like me. Then I got another turn. This time I sucked again. More girls got it right and stood for at least a second or two. I couldn’t seem to get close. Feet under me, yes, but right off the side, every time. This time I drank a bunch of sea water, but I listened to the advice of the instructor, and tried to correct.
I sucked a third time, but that time I got closer and when I came up, I heard my father’s voice in my head from when he taught me to ski: bend zee knees! The instructor said the same (without the “zee”) and I went back out to wait for my next try.
On my fourth, I got up and stayed up for a bit! My chest was still burning a bit from the saltwater drink earlier and my nose was running from the gallons of saltwater already flushed through my sinuses, but I had a HUGE smile on my face as the other girls applauded or said encouraging things.
I was (barely) surfing!
I kept at it–taking my turns and getting up more and more, though not consistently. Soon the instructors let us start trying without their physical help. They’d still help us spot the wave, time when to start paddling, and maybe they even yelled to pop, but I never heard. I could feel when I had a chance and when not, more and more.
Finally, I had a great chance. Lovely wave, plenty of speed, knew I had it, popped just right, and immediately got tossed ass-over-head in a rolling sploosh worthy of film. I flipped and rolled under water, came up, and wondered what I had done so spectacularly wrong. Nothing–it seems that the wave changed directions at the very last moment and it just spanked me, according tot he instructor who saw the whole thing.
As I untangled the leash, I was giggling like an idiot. I was getting tired, but I went back out again and again. I had a couple of good rides, and one that would have been but my arms went on strike at that moment so popping became out of the question (I did ride all the way in on my belly though)–right after me the 47-year old did the same and we laughed about it.
It was glorious. I had even seen a seal not 20 feet from me in the water at one point–how cool! I couldn’t remember having a better time doing anything.
We finally headed in, all of us smiling and laughing and thrilled. I had drunk a ton of the sea and had it flush through my sinuses, my ears, and probably everywhere else; my wetsuit’s crotch was sagging in an uncomfortable way (had been for a while); my chest was still burning from all the inhaled saltwater; I had painfully bent back several nails and one toe in an awkward way, and my hair was in one Gordian knot, but I was never happier.
And tomorrow, I get to do it again. We’ll go to the “outside” tomorrow (the ones with experience did today). I can hardly wait.
I’ve taken some Advil to help ward off sore muscles. I’m drinking loads of water to re-hydrate and I plan on doing stretches throughout the afternoon and evening to help avoid whatever my body thinks of throwing at me for such pleasure, but I will be back out there in the morning, even if I have to crawl to get there.