Man, yesterday’s surf lesson was crazy! I was part of a group of 6 other people who had done surfing lessons before which was cool so we didn’t have to go over theory and safety for too long. There were two teenagers who were siblings and two sets of couples in their 30s from London.
We briefly went over the basics on the sand so our instructor (a different one from my first lesson) could see how our technique was before hitting the waves. I stood on the water’s edge and looked out at the swell, trying to compare it to what the swell was like on Monday and gauging whether I should go thigh-high, belly button-high or chest-high into the water. While I was debating, I watched everyone eagerly wade in to the deeper water with the bigger waves and thought to myself, “It’ll be great to watch someone who has progressed a few steps in front of me to see how it’s done” and settled for about thigh-height to see if I remembered what I had learned from my first lesson.
As my first lesson was meant to be a group lesson but the others rescheduled, I didn’t have to worry about collisions. However, with six other learners in the same vicinity as I was (within shouting range of our instructor), you really had to keep your wits about you. Wading back into the water, these guys catching waves became like missiles and I had to quickly get out of the way or risk getting hit.
The teenagers who were on their 3rd lesson were doing really well; no ego, no pride, just trying hard and not getting upset when they fell off trying to stand up. I wish I could say the same for the couple who bragged about learning to surf in Mexico and one half of the other couple, who looked infuriated when they fell off, barely cracking a smile. You can’t take learning a new skill seriously – you’re meant to make mistakes and you’ll make learning harder for yourself if you don’t laugh it off!
Just like my first lesson, I was with the teens on this one; hoping for the best, setting myself up as well as I could and laughing a lot when it wasn’t going well. The first 20 minutes where I was about thigh height, I caught every wave well and stood up each time. I was having a problem riding the board to the end of the wave though. The end of the wave is at the water’s edge, about ankle height and roughly 20 metres from where I started, but I just couldn’t get my board to carry on moving. It started at a decent speed, I’d maybe wobble about a bit until I remembered to bend my knees more, but then it slowed down to the point where I stepped off of it like you would calmly step off a bus when you reached your stop. A few times I had my instructor in fits of laughter as I was pretending to row my surfboard to get it closer to the beach; the class clown, there’s always one. 😉
I called over my instructor for advice, he said when I felt the board slowing down, I should shuffle my front foot forwards and learn forwards from the waist a bit to help. I tried that four times without falling off and it took me to the water’s edge once. The first time I tried to move my foot on the board, I wobbled and my back foot slid off the back. My front foot didn’t follow suit and stayed on the board, leaving me to do a very comical and painful splits, hurting my groin muscles as I fumbled about. I was laughing away to myself as my front foot eventually joined the party, putting me underwater. Ladies and gentleman, a word of advice, try to avoid laughing underwater unless you have gills.
My instructor was very happy to have turned his attention to me at the precise moment I was playing gymnastics on the board and I could hear him calling while laughing, “Lucy, that’s not how it’s done!”. As I waded back out, he suggested I go out a little deeper to try and catch the wave as it broke, getting more power from it. Easier said than done.
As my regular readers will know, I wear glasses all the time. I can wear contacts but they irritate my eyes so I didn’t bring them on holiday with me. So while I’m out surfing, I have to leave my glasses at the surf school shack which is very disorientating as I can only see up to about a metre in front of me in focus, everything else becomes blurry shapes and colours. This made trying to catch the waves as they broke very interesting.
I would get my board facing the beach ready to climb aboard when I saw a good wave coming and as I looked back out, I would spot a wave and hop on. I’ve been taught you’re only meant to paddle about 5 metres before the wave hits your feet, if you do it sooner you will tire yourself out much quicker and if you don’t paddle at all, you can often get knocked under the wave and wipe out before you even think about bringing your knees up.
As I laid on my board, looking over my shoulder, I struggled to gauge how far away my wave was. When the tip of the wave is breaking (with a little foam forming right on the top), you’ll know that’s a good wave to catch. Spotting them without my glasses was quite tricky and I kept getting knocked off my board because I didn’t notice the wave breaking right behind me. If the wave isn’t breaking, you can usually just float over it and it won’t take you out of your spot, but if it is breaking and you haven’t been paddling, you have two choices; go anyway and hope for the best or jump off. Or in my case with no glasses; go anyway or get pulled underwater.
This wave-just-breaking malarkey presented a whole new challenge for me. I could stand on the board fine, my technique was good and my confidence was growing but now I had to catch waves on my own which meant picking the right ones and timing it correctly. It’s hard enough doing that when you’ve got good vision, let alone mole-vision. Once again, many laughs were had at my expense and my instructor helped out when he could by shouting the distance and when to start paddling which was really useful. The waves I did manage to catch, I stood up on the board but because they were bigger, I wobbled about and fell off without a shred of grace. Standing up, laughing like a demented sealion, fumbling to get my board, dropping it, spitting out water and long dribbles snot hanging from my nose ring is probably not an attractive look for me but I was having too much fun to care.
Then it went from pretty tough going to hard going within the space of 5 minutes. The waves got higher and stronger, with many breaking above my head which was very intimidating. We also had a cross current which was forcing us over out of the designated surfing area, so we were having to fight out way back out to where we were supposed to be. No word of a lie, the waves were so rough I got winded walking back out when a wave right at its most powerful point of breaking crashed into my chest, knocking me off my feet. Gasping for air, I sat down at the water’s edge for 10 minutes to sort myself out, watching everyone struggle to even get off their knees before falling off their boards.
One of the guys with an obvious ego kept smacking the water shouting “Fuck!” multiple times after falling off trying to get up off his knees. The ‘surfing in Mexico’ couple were trying to hold their emotions together but had faces like thunder. The teenagers were nose-diving or wiping out by getting knocked off balance while trying to stand up but just kept laughing so I shouted encouragement at them when I could talk again.
I fought my way back out into the water and while I was waiting for the wave I had scoped out to come, I would be clinging on to my board for dear life with my feet tucked under the back, hence why I have bruised and friction-burned feet today. Instead of trying to gauge the distance and still get knocked off the board when it arrived early, I looked across to the seasoned surfers and when they started paddling, I started paddling and caught some pretty big waves!
With the waves much stronger and bigger, I found it more of a challenge to stand up. I nose-dived once and panicked at how big the waves were and jumped off last minute many times. But the waves I did catch, trying to get up on the board was tricky and my hands would be wobbling like mad holding on to the board as I slid my knees and feet up in position to stand. If I rode the wave successfully, the sea quickly reminded me I was an unbalanced doofus by sending another crashing wave to hit the back of my board, adding a surge of power I wasn’t expecting and getting knocked off. It was damn hard work but it was still incredibly funny.
With 10 minutes left to go, a sore chest and arm muscles so fatigued I couldn’t persuade them to lift me off the board any more, I asked my instructor if I could wait on the sand for the group because I was absolutely shattered and wiped out 6 times in a row. He said, “Sure, just hop on your board and I’ll catch a wave for you” as casually as him saying he’d hail a taxi for me outside a hotel. I replied, “Okay, but I can’t stand up anymore, I’ve used up all my energy”, to which he said just as the wave was coming, “Nah, you’re the star of our lesson so you’re gonna stand up and make this last wave count okay? So paddle like hell… NOW!” and let go of the board. I rode that huge, scary wave all the way to the water’s edge, standing up like an absolute badass. But instead of stepping off gracefully in the calm ankle-deep waves like I’ve been surfing all my life, I collapsed in a heap in the sand as my body had to get the last word in.
I had so much fun and was grinning ear to ear as I asked everybody else how they got on. I told the teenagers they were being way too hard on themselves as they put themselves down and reminded them that the waves were really rough today and we’ve all been doing excellently. We also had a good laugh about one of them flying into me and knocking me off my board, joking that for a split second I thought it was a shark.
The ‘surfing in Mexico’ couple told me they simply weren’t cut out for surfing in Britain because in Mexico the water was warm and they had someone else on-hand to fetch their board when they fell off. I wanted to say, “that’s not surfing, the whole point is to be cold and wear yourself out fighting to get back in the water, knowing you’re doing it all yourself!” but they looked so aggravated that I simply agreed it was tough-going and replied in the most convincing sympathetic voice I could that Cornwall surfing and Cancun surfing sound like they’re worlds apart. We’re in Britain, it was 15 degrees celcius so the water was less than 10 degrees, but they were British so why the hell were they surprised the water was cold?
After the lesson, my instructor congratulated me for doing so well and said he was impressed I managed to cope and stand up a lot. He said not to worry about missing waves because my technique is great, it’s just about developing feeling and timing, which is something that can only be learned through practise and mistakes. So more practise and many more wipeouts is just what I need when I go again over the next couple of days. I seriously thought I was pretty fit until I hit the water, but the ocean is a very humbling force of nature. 😀