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