Surfing part 2

Part 2 of 2: Surfing. Click here for part 1 

My experience:

The first time I touched a surfboard, I was on vacation in Phuket, Thailand. I found an instructor on the beach named, Jimmy. A handsome import with an Australian accent. For $30 I was able to get a one-hour private lesson and gear rental (insanely low price. Thank you Thailand). It was the dry season, so the waves were infrequent and very small. Jimmy kept apologizing for the lack of waves. Personally, I thought it was perfect for a beginner. I was able to stand up several times on the board. The water was warm like bathwater. The waves were gentle and far apart. I only needed a rash guard. I was in Thailand during the dry season. I have heard, but not seen, during the wet season the waves are much more aggressive.

I loved surfing the moment I put my board in the water. I wasn’t just sitting on the beach and sticking my toes in the sand. I was finally an active participant in connecting to the ocean.

My second time taking lessons was in Pacifica, with Adventure Out. This time, I took group lessons. Though the instructors were knowledgeable, Pacifica was unrelenting and determined to show me waves aren’t always so gentle. I spent more time paddling to the instructor than surfing. I wore a wetsuit and surf shoes. It helped in the frigid water. The ocean only had to tell me once, do not put your board to the side (i.e., you do not want your board parallel to the waves. You want it perpendicular). I went in like a perfect amateur, board to the side. The waves pushed the board back into me hard.

I enjoyed my surf experience in Pacifica. It is close to where I call home. I will go back, but I need to regroup before I feel ready to brave the unrelenting waves of the northern California coast.

Most recently, I took a lesson in Tel-Aviv. An adorable teenage girl, who had been surfing since she could stand, fought through the language barrier to help me try to stand up. Early in the lesson, I felt a slight pain in my calf. I assumed when I fell off my board, and I had gotten a bit of road rash from scraping against the sand. I shrugged it off and continued surfing. After about an hour of falling on my face, a man in a red rash guard came up to me and said, “I am going to give you lessons until you stand up consistently.” I gratefully accepted. (Side note: I have said my greatest weakness is my own hubris. I pray to God to grace me with grace and a bit of humility. God answered my prayers. There are few things more humbling than falling over and over while next to a class of seven-year-old kids standing up like Kelly Slater.)

As the man in the red shirt helped me consistently stand on the board, we started talking. He told me to stop looking at my feet and start looking at a focal point. Instantly, I saw a vast improvement. He smiled at me and flirtatiously asked, “How old are you?”

“I’m 36, I’m too old for you,” I replied.

He looked at me proudly and said, “I am 22, I am old enough to be your husband.”

I laughed and asked, “So, how long have you been teaching surf lessons.”

He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Oh, I’m not an instructor.”

Thus, ended my surf lesson in Tel-Aviv.

Walking back to the beach I saw a woman crying hysterically as everyone crowded around her, she had a mark on her leg with a distinctive ring, saying a jellyfish had stung her. I looked down at my leg, which had not stopped aching from early in my lesson. I had the same ring. Excited I pointed my sting, and sounding both stupid and excited I said, “Hey I got stung too!!!” The ocean had finally initiated me.  The woman looked at me like I was an idiot and I sheepishly walked off.

One of the hardest things for me, living in NorCal is how people born and raised here, take it for granted. I despised Kansas before I entered into Kindergarten (once again, many people love the changes in seasons and the Midwestern charm. I didn’t). I couldn’t find a stretch of nice weather long enough for me to enjoy the outdoors. I didn’t have access to the ocean or mountains. Now, I live in the most beautiful place in the world. I love the pines of Tahoe; I love the splendor of Napa and the salt smell that rises from the ocean. When I meet people, California born and raised, they often tell me they have forgotten how lucky they are to live in such an awe-inspiring landscape.

I have been on a surfboard in Pacifica. There is nothing between the water and me but a piece of foam. I lay on the board in a paddle position, looking at the shore from a different vantage point. I love the taste of the salt water and the feel of waves.  In that moment on the board, waiting for the wave to come up behind me, I look at the people on the beach. I feel as if I am granted access to some special moment in life. A moment, too special and pure to articulate.  If you are not coastal, I suggest taking a few lessons on vacation. If for no other reason than to try something new. If you are coastal, born and raised, I suggest you go out on your surfboard. If it is for the first time or for the 100th time, look out at the horizon, look out at the beach and inhale. Breathe in your good fortune in living in the most beautiful place in the world.





Part 1 of 2

My story:

I always felt displaced in Kansas. I was born and raised in the sunflower state. I woke up at home, yet I never felt at home. Since I was four years old, I wanted to leave Kansas. Nothing within me loved my home state. I am not saying Kansas is a bad place. I know several people who love and embrace the beauty the Midwest has to offer. But, as no two states are the same, no two people are the same. I just wanted out. I would periodically ask my parents, “Why do we have to live here?” I didn’t know anything else; I just knew this didn’t feel right.

I went to an in-state college. I love my alma mater, but I wanted to go to school by the ocean, this was something I could not afford. I met my (ex) husband, fell in love and got married.  Eventually, he was offered a promotion in California. I couldn’t pack fast enough. After 34 years of feeling displaced, 34 years of dreading the ice storms of the winter, the humidity of the summer, the storms of the spring and fall—I was going to move to a state that would give me at least one solid season of beautiful weather.

My friends and family always told me, moving won’t change who you are or solve your problems. They were wrong. I wake up every day in love with California. I love that my child is living in the most beautiful place on earth.

Being from Kansas, I have always felt uninitiated to the ways of the ocean. Throughout my life, I went to the ocean on vacation. I knew when I returned home; I was leaving the crashing waves I loved and replacing them with endless fields of wheat and corn. I watched surfing on TV and never saw it in real life until I moved to California. It seemed like the most unattainable feat I had ever encountered—needless to say, I was on a board the first opportunity I could find.

I started surfing as a way of embracing my new home. It was the most ‘California’ thing I could thing I could imagine doing. And every time I get off my surfboard, I can only think, I can’t wait to do this again.


Talk with a master:

Joey Evans is an instructor with Adventure Out, a surf school in Pacifica. He teaches group lessons and estimates he has taught about 40,000 people how to surf. “My dad put me on a surfboard at the age of one. Sometimes I think I’ve been on the water more than I’ve been on land if you don’t count sleeping.” Joey went on to tell me, he first taught surfing when he was 16 and in college did competitive surfing.

Joey puts a big emphasis on safety. He states each surfer needs to know where the rip current is located, as well as the longshore drift.  He goes on to say, “Certain beaches have certain patterns. You want to study your beach. Reading the waves is like learning another language.”

“Surfing is about riding a wave, not standing up on a surfboard,” Joey said. “There is no pause button on the ocean. People get distracted. Choose a landmark and pay attention to how other surfers drift down the beach.” Joey goes on to advise, “Don’t line up where the pros go.” Beginners need to stay out of their way. They also never want to go to whitewater, and never hold the board sideways.

“When you fall, you want to fall like a starfish. Don’t dive. If you nose dive, you can fly off the board. After people fall a few times, they realize it doesn’t hurt to fall in the water. Cover your head when you come up from under the water because the board could hit you,” He said.

During our conversation, I told Joey, “Being from Kansas, I envision the ocean is teaming with sharks just waiting to grab surfers.” Joey laughed at me and said, “Vending machines kill more people than sharks. If you see a shark, it won’t necessarily attack you. Great whites like really deep water. So, beginners don’t need to worry as much.”

He ended our conversation with a cool story. He told me, “I lived out of my car for eight months traveling the California coast while taking online classes. I was able to take down waves all along the coast. I was doing grad school, so I was doing my papers. I typed my papers on an iPad. It was a fun adventure. You wake up the next day, and you just look at the surf report and decide where you are going to go next. I just went to where the waves are going.”

What do you need:

Lessons: Don’t rent or buy gear. You need lessons not just learn the basics of surfing but to also learn safety, currents, and wave heights. Joey notes most people do not know what they are looking for when it comes to safe versus dangerous ocean conditions.  Use this time with the instructor to learn surf etiquette. A good coach will teach weight distribution. The positioning is the more important part of being on a surfboard. Once you stay in the right spot, it is easier to stay on your feet.

Surfboard: After you take a few lessons, Joey suggests a 9ft longboard with a soft top.

Attire: Do you need a wetsuit or just a rash guard? Even the most favorable surf conditions need a rash guard. The wetsuit will not just protect from the sun but will also save you from getting scratched up as you move around on the board. Joey notes in conditions like the bay area; you will need a 4/3 wetsuit. Be sure to know the temperature of the water in which you are swimming.

Beaches: Look up beginner beaches. You don’t want to start where you can get injured. Check if the beach is rocky or sandy underwater. Research, know your potential to get thrown into the water. A good starter beach has a 1-3-foot beach break and a sandy bottom.

Click here for Part 2: My experience