I love everything about surfing. The lifestyle. The serenity. The laid-back vibe and culture. The unique relationship with nature. The danger. Even the fashion (there may be nothing more comfortable than board shorts). But since I suck at surfing, all of this has escaped me. Except for the board shorts.
With surfing you're engaged with nature in a manner like nothing else. I've been camping a thousand times. I've woken up in a tent in the middle of a Colorado winter where it's so cold that the milk inside the cooler is frozen. I've hiked into the Grand Canyon and spent a week in its unforgiving basin. I've skied in gorgeous Tahoe and Vail. And while the environment in all these places is peaceful and beautiful, there is still the feeling that the relationship is platonic. We merely touch.
But with surfing, you're literally immersed. Sitting on a foam board in the ocean leaves little doubt to who is in control. And it's a unique perspective: just floating in place, watching the land sit in the distance.
The first time I went surfing was in Santa Cruz six years ago. In order to get to the good waves you had to paddle about a third of the way between Monterey Bay and Hawaii. The cold water required a thick and restrictive wetsuit. Returning to the beach, I can't ever remember being so exhausted. To add insult to injury, I had rented a huge and heavy practice board and had to return it to the rental shop located a half-mile away.
In anticipation of making surfing a hobby, over the last six years I have accumulated wetsuits and surfboards. But previous to this weekend I had only been three times, and had never stood up.
This past Saturday I went surfing with Amber. I'm a beginner, so for me, a good day surfing is measured by two things: 1.) I don't drown and 2.) I'm not attacked by a giant squid.
Because giant squid are quite scary, you know. They have all of those arms.
Plus, I've eaten a lot of calamari so revenge could be a factor.
The steps to surfing are this:
· Sit on your board and wait for a tasty wave
· Paddle like hell
· Pop up on your board
· Pick up girls
· Start a bonfire
· Smoke a bowl
I got out into the ocean. I saw a wave approach and paddled, only to see it roll by underneath me.
It happened again and again. I just couldn't catch one. Frustration entered and in my head I'm starting to think that maybe this just isn't my thing. This thought made me sad. Doubt is a difficult emotion to fight.
I asked Amber what I was doing wrong. "You stop too soon," she said. "You need to paddle hard and then after you think you've paddled enough, keep on paddling like hell."
And that made all the difference.
I followed her advice. With the next approaching wave I paddled, and when I was tempted to stop I continued. I paddled so hard that I had closed my eyes – like a singer trying to hit a high note. And when I opened my eyes I realized I was riding the wave.
And that's all it took to turn it all around. A small victory.
A few waves later and I found myself standing up on the board. I was officially a surfer.
One of the coolest things about surfing is returning to the beach with the board under your arm. The surfboard becomes a billboard advertising how cool you are. With it in hand, no one knows if I'm an amateur or pro. No one knows if I rode a monster or had to be rescued by a pod of benevolent dolphins.
I walked back to the beach and a bikini clad woman asked if I had caught any good waves.
"I caught some good ones. I may have grabbed a bigger one if I wasn't so busy fighting off that giant squid."