“Let’s go surfing!”
My friend Melissa had eagerly been trying to get me to try surfing for a long time now. As a climber obsessed with the mountains i’d never been attuned to adventures on the ocean, strange for someone living in Miami. Surfing is a lifestyle in its own right. A sport that has spawned it’s own micro-culture in song, movies, dress, and slang. I had never truly thought about it till now, but I excitedly accepted her offer and we headed just an hour north to Deerfield Beach to take my first lesson.
With the sun having just barely risen over the seaside streets, we pulled up to Island Water Sports to find two dozen or so prospective surfers lingering in the parking lot. Every Saturday, the employees of the small store hold free surf and paddleboard lessons, a great way to provide an introduction to the sport. Yes the waves are molehills compared to anything serious, and a majority of the current was provided by instructors in the water pushing the board, but it would still take a personal effort to correctly stand up and ride the swells into the shallows.
After checking in our names at the front desk, we were handed our board. I’d never as much touched a surfboard before. I wrapped my arm around the plastic body while an employee applied a liberal coating of wax to keep us standing when we were in the water. In my board shorts and funky t-shirt I was beaming and excited as we made our way down to the shore.
Man, I felt cool.
Melissa and I walked down to the sand where everyone laid out their boards end to end. After a bit of introduction and self promotion from the instructors, we laid our bellies in the boards digging in the sand. I laid my hands out in front of me, finding the exact center line of the board to find balance. After “paddling” out, I pushed my hands downwards next to my side and pushed up, keeping my back foot facing outward and my front foot straight. Just like the snowboard, we twisted our shoulders and torsos to turn the board.
After about twenty minutes of laying over and jumping up and down in the sand, the instructors gave everyone the go ahead to to hit the water. I was pumped!
The waves were barely there. Some swells were bigger than others but there was nothing that was intensely breaking. Still, it was definitely enough to push towards the shore. While Melissa stayed on shore with the camera, I slid the board into the warm Atlantic water and jumped belly first onto the slick surface, paddling out to where twenty or so surfers had convened. With the small waves, the instructors grabbed the tail end and waiting for the right rise, pushed it towards the beach. When it was my turn, I faced my board towards the sand and I kept my hands out for the moment I start moving towards the shore. Just as I was having dreams of Hawaiian monsters and Balinese breaking waves, I heard my instructor.
Ok! Paddle! Paddle! PADDLE!
With a jolt my board pushed forward, I picked up speed as the board caught the hill just under, in an instant I pushed my my hands downward, kicked my feet towards the middle, felt my feet find their center and…
One moment I was in my moment of glory, now I was waist deep in the shallows watching the surfboard lazily and riderlessly glide towards the shore. Watching Melissa laughing at me from the shore, I raised my fists in triumph. For about half a second I ridden the current and i’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of it.
I handed over the board to my friend. She was a much more adept surfer than I was and she effortlessly paddled out to the instructor. Melissa caught a bigger swell and I watched the instructor push her out towards the shore. In about half the time it took me, she slid her feet towards the center and found her balance, riding for a good ten or fifteen seconds before collapsing on the board. Yeah, she knew how it was done.
We switched hands once again, and I swam out, following the procedure and going out to my favorite instructor. Once again he grabbed my board, and just as i’m finding my tranquility I hear:
“Oh this is a good one!”
He launches me out, I give two or three swift strokes and feel the floor rise. Just then I do half a pushup and jolt myself up, my feet standing farther apart and placed further on the board. Expecting the worst I put my arms out, find my balance, and this time I feel the board stay under me! I feel this moment of pure exhilaration and ride the swell all the way to the shore, even giving it a slight turn.
Kelly Slater I am not, but a surfer I am!
Everybody on the water was too occupied with their waves to take note of my joy, but Melissa happily clapped at my success. For the next forty minutes we switched off the board, taking turns with the instructor and pushing each other towards the shore before they called time, and we collected our surfboard, making our way to return it and spend some more time on the beach.
Dedicating myself to climbing, I don’t see myself becoming a serious surf fanatic. However it’s a sport that involves tranquility, balance, and concentration, utilizing many of the same characteristics that my own sport provides. My first outing as a surfer was a successful one, and definitely not the last. For the beginner it doesn’t need the huge blue Hawaiian behemoths that everyone fantasizes about, but a tiny swell, and a few seconds riding the current is more than enough to excite me.
Surfs up, everyone!