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What was it like surfing for the very first time? Do you remember? How old you were? Which beach you were at? I have a few vivid memories, and even one I wish I could forget: trying a on a wetsuit for the very first time in the height of summer, sweating it up in some changing room thinking my surfing career was about to end before it even started. But besides that instance, the rest of the experience is filled with pretty fond memories.
When we were little kids, my family always camped at the beach in the summer and the routine was pretty epic: wake up to the sound of the ocean, breakfast, beach time, quesadillas at lunch, back to the beach, snow cones, back to the beach until sunset and then ride bikes at night and throw sticks at your friends until your parents told you to go to bed so you could do it all again the next day. I think I was somewhere around ten years old and I remember being down at the beach with my boogie board one day and paddling into a wave that had a bit of a shoulder to it, and I got up to my feet before it all closed out, standing on the board looking at the face of the wave thinking, I’M SURFING!
I ran straight in to claim it to my family, of course morphing this ankle high wind chop into overhead Pipeline in my version of the story. But what surfer, or fisherman, doesn’t stretch the truth a little when talking about their waves? I begged my parents to rent me a board from the nearby surf shop that week so I could ditch the boogie board and start surfing for real, because hey, by the sounds of my boogie board story, I was practically pro already.
When we arrived at the surf shop I had this feeling like I was being allowed into a secret club. Which board did I want? Was I a long boarder or a short boarder? Look at all the different graphics! The shop owner asked where we were surfing and suddenly my surfboard buffet was narrowed down to an old long board covered in duct tape. Probably a wise choice.
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Getting back to the beach, my dad began giving me some instruction as he had been surfing since he was little, explaining to me things like, “When you are paddling out, making sure your board is pointing straight at the wave = good, board parallel with the wave = bad!” And waxing my board up for the first time felt like something of a religious ceremony. I was so excited.
Trying to pick up my huge board with my tiny arms and take it down to the water probably looked similar to a construction worker swinging around a piece of lumber not knowing where he was going, but in my head, I might as well have been the third guy in the Endless Summer. I finally got down to the ocean and I was so relieved to get this log off my head and floating in the water.
Luckily, paddling the board was way easier than carrying it. It felt like I was skimming across the water every time I paddled, and mind you, I was only able to get half my fingertips in the water owing to how wide this board was.
And then came the first challenge, making it past the break. I remember thinking, step one, point the board at the wave, check! Step two, hold onto your board like it is a bull in a rodeo…uh check! Step three, lose rodeo battle with board and get tossed, check! Step four, get butt back on board, ignore stinging of water in nose and keep paddling, check! Oh great, another wave.
This little dance went on for a bit, but finally the sea subsided and I found myself in the place every new surfer looks for, out past the break. I was sitting there watching the waves roll past, going up and down with the movement of the ocean feeling like I had already accomplished something. I still crave that feeling of calmness sitting on my board staring out into the sea.
But back to surfing.
My dad started giving me some tips. “When you see a wave, sit back on your board and egg beater your feet to turn around.” This was easier said then done for the kid whose feet barely wrapped around the edges of the board, but I improvised, and eventually got it down.
And then it happened, a little three foot roller appeared with no one else paddling for it except me. I started paddling for the beach like my life depended on it, trying to get this Cadillac moving to match the speed of the wave.
I felt the wave pick me up and hopped to my feet. With a solid center of gravity and a death grip planted into the wax with my toes, I dropped in to my very first wave. What did it feel like? I remember watching the water splashing underneath my board, and the wave continuing to form and glide my board and me across the surface. I could see all the way to the bottom, floating past rocks, seaweed, reef and sand. I was stoked!
But my first wave did not go unnoticed. My mom was on the beach and she began to wave as a loyal family member would, but suddenly so did a lot of other people. Like, a lot of other people. Could I really be as good as I pictured I was? I took the wave all the way to the beach and hopped off into the shallow water. I high fived my mom and remarked how awesome it was that so many people were cheering for me. She acknowledged that I did a really great job, but then quickly pointed out that while my surf skills were something to cheer for, even more impressive was the huge rip down the back end of my board shorts which must have happened when I attempted to sit on my board and wrap my legs around the edges. So while I didn’t manage to hang ten on my first wave, I did manage to hang cheeks that day. Needless to say, I am still pretty popular at that particular beach ☺
And that is the beginning of my surf story.
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