Sunday, January 10, 2016

Actual Surfing Class

My six awesome surfing runs probably totaled about 4 seconds of upright time, but I learned a few things.  The best run was laying down at the end of the session and catching a wave that had me going about 28 knots into the channel or safe zone. 

That I tried at all was something. It was an ordeal; a transformative one. The experience was also one of those that if you really knew, you’d just find a ukulele and sit on the beach crooning to your sweetie instead.

My first mistake among many, perhaps my second mistake after signing up, was that I forgot shoes. By the time we’d walked down the scorching tar road and ouchy, rocky path carrying surf boards and gotten the final “site specific” advisories about currents, channels and scary places, it was the time to “paddle, Paddle, PADDLE!”

"See that channel there? You can rest there, and see out past the breaking waves? You can rest there. In between, you MUST NOT STOP." Had herding instinct not impelled me forward, I would have just taken a walk on the beach, but I hopped aboard and tried to get a feel for paddling, while promptly regretting the 3 beers worth of fortification I’d taken in prior to the class orientation.

Our group got as far as the inside stretch of calm water a or so hundred feet off the shore. The instructors watched the waves and the channel out to the outer safe zone where there was a gap in the big curling breakers. They then gave the signal to charge. I was awed by the noise and the bounciness of the ocean, but tried to get a good rhythm going and to take advantage of my stringy arms to get good long strokes. It didn’t really happen until the end of the session, but I did get the feel for that part at least.

I could see the reef looking like it was about a foot under water as the waves started plowing toward us and the time had come to contend with a real wave on a real reef that would just as soon peel me off the board like a post-it. I dug into the water as hard as my 53 year old 3 beer self could manage and did the push-up maneuver as that wave bore down on us.  Even with the clear instruction back at orientation to do the snap push-up move and to hold on tight to the edge of the board, the force and noise of the wave yanking me in five directions and blasting my ears and head was much more than I expected. Somewhere from the water balance and movement cortex (thank you Charlie, John, Clayton and Steve Ross once again), I felt what I had to do, and never got flung off or flipped over. There were several more to get through, over and under before reaching safety.

The waves kept coming and we desperate baby sea turtles paddled until the instructors told us two things. First, we could sit up on the boards and rest, and second, to have a look back to the now distant shore to see how far we’d come.

As much satisfaction as it gave me to get out there without dumping myself, it was as good as my performance got for the day. 

Humility and reality came into play. I was overwhelmed and had just enough common sense to know it.  I decided I’d just sit on my board out past the breakers and wait for class to be over and hope that no one noticed. No f-ing way was I getting in the middle of that churning mess again.

There were two intervening circumstances. First was that being out past the breakers is not really the same as being out past the big breakers. There were a couple of oh F moments where I had to do a quick turn and a panicked wave survival move through an extra big wave. 

The other circumstance was my baby sitter, B. She knew I was in over my head and stayed very close by the whole time. We talked about the Outer Banks where she lived, Prince Edward Island where she had relatives and had lived and my humbling experience- feeling like a fairly tough person who has taken up lobster gear in January 20 miles off the Maine coast, but who suddenly feels like a total wuss. She probably kept me talking to avoid having me lock up and become a major management issue. That wasn't going to happen, but I appreciated the attention and concern.

Eventually, the nagging voice came back and I decided I needed to try a wave. I got in position, paddled when they said, stood up when they said, and fell off immediately. The white water rushed over me and I found my way back to the board with some help from B. This was not a problematic fail because the run was so short that I only had to paddle a little way back to the outer resting zone.

Try number two was a different story, and was the worst/best/most brilliant/scariest thing I’ve done in a good long while. Even though it was a complete and extended failure, it’s what I kept coming back to, feeling later in the evening, and what dazzled in my mind’s eye as I got sleepy.  Fail or no fail, it’s all playing in the ocean, which I like, especially in such warm water.

I paddled when they said. I tried to stand up and maybe made it for a half or possibly a whole second before dumping myself. This time, however, I couldn’t get back on the board and got rolled and tumbled and thrashed by the next wave. I could feel the coral at about knee level. B came to the rescue and said not to worry about the board. Another wave was coming like a Viking battle charge and we went flailing about and trying not to touch bottom on the reef. B then told me to swim under the last wave in the set. This was surprisingly easy. It was not, however, the last wave in the set. Nor was the next or the next after that.

At some point, I told B I felt stuck. Pounded down, trying to paddle out, pounded down, rolled around, trying not to stick my feet down into the corals, swim under the wave. After what seemed like a very long time, there was a calm period and I got paddled back out and rested again, this time with a wary eye to the west’ard. She asked me how I felt. “Salty,” I said.  

As much as I’ve never been a real water person, I managed not to get water in my nose or a mouthful, or a lungful. All the same, everything tasted very salty when she asked.

The nagging voice came back and I offered myself a third swing (“Hey batta batta, hey batta batta swing! … Whiffah”).  Strike three actually saw me upright for a moment and then falling off the back of the wave.

I tried a couple more times with comparable results. The last run, when it was time to quit, was the best. I could have laid down the whole way in, but got up, went for maybe a foot and a half this time, fell again, got back on my board, followed B’s instruction to get toward the stern of the board to avoid going nose under (and ass-over-teakettle as my mother would say) and screamed into the tranquil spot in what felt like a rocket thrust of surf.

Somebody has to be the worst in the class, and today was my turn. All the same, it was about action and play-time in the water, and felt safe because of the Rincon Paddleboards professionals that were looking out for me.

The rest of the day and evening, I had visions going on behind whatever I was doing at the moment. Visions of blue water, white water, motion, loud charging wave sounds, and most of all, the sense of connection, the pleasure and fear and respect that come from interacting with an all-powerful environment.

In my sleep, I saw giant waves, and had some idea what to do.
Somewhere around the corner to the left was where they took us for the initiation...

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