You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
Though I spent many years living in Florida, surfing never crossed my mind … aside from the time that I sat on the couch with popcorn and watched the documentary Surfwise. Now, that is only almost completely true, but surfing never did seem like a sport for me. I suppose I always thought that surfers were more tan, more free-spirited and, honestly, more male than me.
That narrow attitude shifted when we decided to come to Australia. Something about the promise of these shores opened a part of my mind that said: You can learn to stand up on an impossibly skinny wooden stick! You can share the water with teenage boys whose middle name is “Danger.” You can wear a wetsuit in public!
I do have a few things going against me:
1. I am so far from coordinated that I used to play backup to the right-fielder in softball
2. At 31, I’m well over the approved age for learning new motor skills
3. I don’t have a tan
But, I can make excuses all day. Instead, I found Let’s Go Surfing school at North Bondi (incidentally, conveniently located next to the delicious Speedo’s Café).
Their website screamed out for a frightened newbie like me:
You’ll be amazed at how easy, safe and enjoyable it can be to learn to surf.
I signed up for three classes and prepared to be amazed.
At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, these guys and gals really are as friendly and patient as they promise. In each one of my classes, two instructors split groups of about 10 people up into two smaller groups. I was pleasantly surprised to see that none of the other students had “Surfer Dude In Training” metaphorically stamped on six-pack abs. Instead, most of the classes were primarily full of tourists and recent transplants of ages 18 – 50+. (I guess the Australians are born with surfing skills and don’t need classes). There were Americans on working holiday, Germans on vacation, a girl celebrating her 23rd birthday with her reluctant pal, and a pack of British businessmen taking a break from their previous experience of “surfing the web.” When asked our goals, most were modest, like learning to stand up, understanding the basic rules, and there was one person whose singular mission was to “not end up on Bondi Rescue” TV show. The dudes were definitely in the majority, but each class had a handful of aspiring surfer-chicks, too.
Soft, long beginner boards and wetsuits were provided. Once I had that suit on and a board under my arm, I did begin to feel like I was standing a little taller and had been granted access to the Surfer Club.
We started with a safety lesson, where we learned how to spot a rip-tide (now that I’m a bona fide surfer, I just call it a “rip”), that we should stay out of the other surfers’ way (happy to oblige), and that we should try not to get knocked over by our own board (easily manageable by carrying the board on your side, not in front of you). We didn’t talk about sharks.
Then, we hit the water to practice paddling in. I aced paddling!
Finally, it was time for the real action – learning how to stand up. Well, in theory, learning how to stand up. On land, standing up is a cinch. In my mind, the script is some combination of surfer dude and yoga that goes like this: “Toes at the end of the board. Cobra. Downward facing dog. Right foot forward. Left foot forward. Pointbreak pose!”
From here, we get in the water, and the story gets a bit repetitive. I’ll spare you the details of the following five hours of classes, which essentially involve me hauling my board into the surf, being pushed out by a kindly instructor, trying to stand up, falling, hauling my board back out, getting some encouraging words from the instructor (“put your hands closer to your body,” “take a bigger first step,” “don’t look down.”…), and repeat.
The good news is that I really did get better every time I tried. I even got to some semblance of standing up by the last day, which was 3 – 5 seconds of pure glory.
I was much slower than many of the people in my class, but about equal with a couple of the third-timers in my last class, which was encouraging. I am never going to be Taj Burrow (Yes, I had to Google “Best Surfboarder” to come up with any surfboarder name reference). On the other hand, I now have a foundation to base a hobby upon. Even better, I’ve broken a lot of my stereotypes about who a surfer is, and that picture now even encompasses me.
Still, I might have my name changed to Danger, just in case.