I grew up on the northwest panhandle of Florida, about 20 minutes from the beach. As a kid, I loved the water and often tried to convince my parents to allow me to sleep in my swimsuit. Yet, I never learned how to surf.
I tried once as a 17-year-old but I can’t really call that a success. After what I can only imagine was an arm flailing of a paddle, I miraculously stood up on the board long enough to let out a screech of delight before falling back into the water.
About 10 years later, I found myself once again on a board off the coast of Massachusetts. I was visiting a friend who had a board and, thankfully, a wetsuit and she was willing to let me take both for a spin one day. After she showed me how to affix the leash and demonstrated a pop up in her backyard, I took her board down to the beach for what I imagined was going resemble a scene from Blue Crush. It wasn’t. The waves were sloppy and blown out so even if I knew what the “outside” was, I don’t know that it existed that day. But there was a dad teaching his 10-year-old son how to surf so I figured it was doable…right?
I could barely walk the board down to the water because the wind kept trying to rip from my clutch. However, the lack of funds to replace her board strengthened my will to keep her board tucked under my arm. I waded out into the white water until I was about waist deep. At that point, I figured it was safe to get on the board and start paddling. Okay, so that’s a little harder than it looks. “Maybe I should just swim out and pull the board along side of me,” I thought. Yeah, not only did that not look cool, that wasn’t without exhausting consequences either. So I did a mix of the two and finally got to where I thought I should be to catch a wave.
After some pretty sad attempts to spot a wave, paddle for the length of time that seemed correct, stand up on the board, then actually ride a wave—all of which were failures—the father of the 10-year-old felt sorry enough to come over and give me a few pushes. He had some very helpful tips, like stand up when you feel the board being pushed by the wave (duh Maureen).
After several tries, my feet hit the board for one brief, shining moment, but just as quickly as I stood up, I tumbled back into the cold Atlantic. Still, I was delighted by what I thought was a raving success and was ready for another.
Amazingly, I didn’t have another, and after a few more tries the man wisely resumed working with his son (where the return on investment was a little higher—read, the kid actually rode the occasional wave). I tried for a while longer but after a shockingly short amount of time, I was spent. 100 percent spent.
I’ve been active my entire life and an “athlete” for a portion of that time. I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail several times (carrying on my back, the food I ate and the tent I slept in), competed in a sprint triathlon, ran a half marathon, but my God — I don’t know that I’ve ever been as exhausted as I was after this short stint in the Atlantic!
My arms and legs were jelly as I was trying to take off the wetsuit, and don’t even get me started on the booties. I thought about cutting them off at one point but that would have led me back to the whole replacing surf gear thing for my friend.
As I fell asleep that night — at the ripe old hour of 9 p.m., I seem to recall — I dreamt of waves and I knew I had to get back on a board.
Flash forward to a year later, I finally got the chance to learn. My boyfriend Ted got into surfing when he lived in California but he hadn’t done much wave riding after he moved to the smaller, less frequent waves of the GulfCoast five years ago. After talking about it for months, we finally loaded up his 8’6” 3-stringer and headed to the state park.
Being the 4th of July weekend, it was like the patriotic angels were smiling down on us. We were greeted by clean, slow rolling, shin-high waves that were absolutely meant for learning how to surf. After 2-3 attempts with Ted pushing the board right as a wave came to give me a little extra speed, I stood up and rode one all the way into the beach.
I couldn’t believe my luck! But more importantly, I couldn’t believe how naturally it came to me! “Maybe this is my destiny,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll get sponsored and travel to beautiful beaches all around the world to surf.
It turns out, I’m not some Poseidon-blessed wahine. I’ve been going down a road of bruises, cuts, and board rash ever since that first day and Ted has seen a side of me I didn’t know I had. We’ll call it, “surf (or inability to) rage,” but my surf stoke hasn’t faded so I’ve decided to record my experiences in a blog.
Shaka to the mada, bra.