Learning to Surf

On a recent trip to San Diego, I learned how to surf.

“Was it hard?” you ask. Yes. “Did you put in a lot of hours?” Yes. “Are you any good?” No.

My husband and I decided that we’d been putting it off for far too long. So, we booked our trip to the southern coast of California. Every day for the next two and a half months we were going to surf.

Week one proved to be a total disaster. Neither of us was having an easy time standing up on our new, floating planks. Many times did I fall off my board into inches-deep foam. My wrists were not happy with me.

Week two was hit and miss. I was now able to stand up but only if I didn’t think too hard about it. Our surf guru gave us pointers like, “Don’t look down! Straight ahead, point your eyes STRAIGHT AHEAD!” and “Paddle, paddle, paddle, NOW!” On the rare occasion that I did make it to my feet, I would quickly lose my balance and nosedive in the ugliest way.

During weeks three and four, Pete and I started noticing some improvements in our levels of performance. Instead of eating it 95% of the time we were now down around the 75% range. We were feeling good!

A swell came to town during the first week of month two. With it came the biggest waves Pete and I had seen since we’d actually started tracking things like wave heights and wind speeds. We sat on the sidelines and watched the real surfers take flight. Feelings of inspiration and jealousy jerked in our bellies. We wanted to do that, too. We decided that although we were newbies, it was time to see what it would be like to paddle out past eight-foot breaks. Well, as anyone with a brain would assume, we weren’t quite ready for that. Our asses were handed to us. A surfboard to my face resulted in a bloody lip, Pete gashed his foot on some rocks, and we did the walk of shame back to our car.

A week or so later, we rallied for a mellow day at Old Man’s, the bunny slope of San Onofre, an old, famous surf spot known for its views of the big, nuclear boobs. What started as nothing more than a cold, flat-water morning shifted into our best surf day yet! Pete and I both caught all the waves, one after another. We hollered and high-fived as we soared over leopard sharks and right past a green sea turtle. After a series of soul-crushing surf sessions, our moods were lifted back out of the mire and restoked.

A handful of good days followed by a handful of bad days were followed by another handful of good ones; this seemed to be the norm with this sport. You’d be hard-pressed to find a surfer who says every day in the water is perfect, but I realize that while wave conditions and my surfing abilities may ebb and flow, one thing is for sure. If I spend my mornings in the waves, chasing dolphins and watching the pelicans glide silently just millimeters above the shining sea, can I really say it was a bad day?

As Peter Heller wrote in his book Kook, “I felt honored and humbled to take my place among the fishes and the birds.”

I mean, what more can one ask for, really?

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