Learning to surf was something that I thought would be a great way to see in turning 40. I don’t do birthdays (unless they are someone elses) but for my 40th birthday in 2018 I decided a surf retreat would be a good way to get started.
I had always wanted to learn to surf since I started bodyboarding for fun in my late teens. Surfing always looked so hard (unreachable really) to me – I thought it was only for people way more blonde, athletic, fearless and skilful than me. I also thought I had to grow up where the waves were, where a daily surf was the same as me going for a daily jog. I lacked strength, courage and maybe a decent set of blonde dreadlocks to convince people that I might be able to surf one day.
I guess I should also mention too that I wasn’t the most ocean confident person either after getting caught in a rip in my teens and seriously dodged a near drowning. Couple that with a fear of seaweed and other unexplainable/embarrassing sensory difficulties with sea creatures and well, despite overcoming all that, I have still always loved the beach, sandy connections and all that, but I just never had the guts to try surfing.
Fast forward to 3 years ago, I started ocean swimming with my triathlon club. This really helped me overcome the fears of being in the open ocean – of sharks, stingrays and my imagined enemy – seaweed. These fears now make me laugh when I think about them as I now just get in the water and go for it, telling myself I have more chance of having a road accident than being eaten at dawn while paddling. I even managed a few rough surf seasons where I would get motion sickness in the swell but kept going. I still jump over the seaweedy bits and look for the cleanest entry and exit point each time 😉 So with the ocean fear out of the way I thought maybe I could do this?
While our body boards had gathered dust for 15 years, I decided enough was enough, it was now or never. May as well do this before my knees need replacing and I kept telling myself, you only get one life. Regrets are not part of my life goals.
So hubby and I booked a 5 night stay at a surf resort in Fiji (Matanivusi) where we learned the best surf is often on reef. I was a bit surprised by this and in my naivety, thought, well, does it matter that I do my first lesson knowing I will be smashed onto a sharp coral reef? Or that I would have to paddle all the way back to a boat? Oh that was another thing, we were surfing from a boat – here was me thinking it would all be on some sandy beach somewhere but what felt like the middle of the ocean, and some considerable motion to get there (that required I take motion sickness tablets before I even got in the boat) with a moment of no thinking, we just dived in.
Thanks to Emori our surf coach, we had picked a good day at Pipes and despite the fear of reef death, and the fact that I had jumped into open ocean with a long board that I had never paddled on before, I felt reckless and alive. We watched on longingly at a couple of pros who were nailing every wave. I was exhausted just paddling to the break and some serious self-doubt and anxiety arrived. Emori stood on the reef and held my board until a wave arrived and he pushed the board and yelled, “paddle, paddle, paddle! Stand up, stand up, stand up!” in the coolest Fijian accent. After a big dump, I clumsily jumped back on the board, and paddled against the current. This surfing thing was hard work. My arms had not had a work out like this since 1994. But the reality of where I was and what I was doing kicked in – I think I surprised myself by not wimping out and getting back in the boat. Truth be told, I was worried that sitting in the rocking boat would make me seasick so I figured I was better off moving around in the water!
I lost my bandana on the second wave as it was sucked from my head with another huge wipeout. The power of the waves was not to be underestimated. Rookie mistake wearing a bandana (what was I thinking?!).
On my third wave, I managed to stand up. I couldn’t believe it! The wave had immense power and my flimsy foam board rushed me forward at speed that was both exhilarating and fast – I was standing up! I let out a “woohoo!” and put my arms in the air, then I realised I was travelling faster and further away from the others, straight toward the exposed reef!
I thought shit, how do I stop this thing? Realising I couldn’t, I jumped off the board to stop myself, realised my feet could touch the reef (thank goodness for booties) and I started the even longer paddle back. The adrenalin had kicked in. That was amazing. And I wanted more.
For a first day out on the waves, it was incredible. The fear, the rush, the power of the waves, the fact that I was 100% focussed on everything going on around me (a presence, I struggle to achieve on dry land) was so mind shifting, I felt like a different person afterwards.
I also couldn’t wait to head out again tomorrow if the conditions were right.
Given the fact when I woke up the next day, I could barely move, this severely hampered my efforts to get back out there. My muscles were so sore I couldn’t raise my arms up to dress myself, wash my hair – even turning over in bed was painful. I had used muscles and parts of my upper body that had gathered dust for a long time. Being a long-distance runner meant that my upper body had pretty much been neglected since high school PE classes. I looked at my spaghetti arms and thought to myself, I have to do something about that.
We still headed out in less than ideal conditions to try an easier break but the current was so strong between the boat and the waves and my arms so sore, I couldn’t actually paddle to the break. I tried for 10 mins, I was so exhausted I couldn’t fight it any longer. The strong current pushed me back in to the boat with force and nearly sucked me under it. I needed help to actually get out of the water (scratching my foot on coral in the process – ouch) and resigned to the fact to that I might not get a chance to go back out on this trip as we were flying home the next day.
As soon as I had WIFI again I was googling surf schools and board hire back home….oh and I signed up for a weights class……
To be continued…….