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Surf Lessons

I've been on a surfboard. I haven't actually surfed, if you want to get technical, but I've come close.

While down in Southern California for my brother's wedding, Ocho took me out for a surf lesson. I don't go surfing with him in Half Moon Bay. The water on that length of coast averages 40 degrees, which, for a delicate Southern girl like me, is just too frickin' cold. To surf in water that cold, you have to wear a wetsuit.

Now I've been in every surf shop from here to Santa Cruz, and I've taken notice of the posters they hang inside: dudes in board shorts, chicks in tiny swimsuits. But, not once have I seen a poster of a menopausal woman with a little gut and a big 'fro in an O'Neill wetsuit hanging on a wall. I'm guessing there is a good reason for that.

In SoCal, however, you don't have to wear a wetsuit, as the water is deliciously warm. On the day of my lesson with Ocho, I wore a swimsuit and a pair of his board shorts. (Now I know why they call them board shorts; you actually do need to wear shorts that long when you ride a board, otherwise you get a hideous rash on your thighs). Still, I got a hideous rash. In fact, I got little blisters on both my inner thighs and upper arms from paddling and trying to "pop up." But I hadn't had that much fun in months.

The next morning, while Ocho and my son surfed the warm waves of San Clemente beach, I took another surf lesson, this one arranged by my brother and his fiancee for their out-of-town guests. The instructors looked like the dudes and chicks on the surf shop posters with their sun-bleached hair, surf logo tees, long shorts and flip flops. There were 20 of us students, most of us middle aged. After we'd all squeezed into our tight, red, rental rash-guards, we huddled together in a group on the sand while one of the surf dudes demonstrated the art of the pop-up on one of the rental longboards. I was the second to try.

"What's your name?" the surf dude asked. "Jill," I said. "But today I'd like to be called Chill."

Surf dude, smiling and flashing stunningly white teeth: "Ok, Chill, show us how to pop up."

Chill [lying face-down on a 9-foot longboard--the surfboard equivalent of a Chevy Suburban]: "Ok! I look behind me. I see a big wave coming. I paddle, paddle, paddle, kick, kick, kick. Then I pop up!"

Only, I didn't exactly "pop" up. Instead, I struggled to my knees, thrust my left foot in front of me, and began the slow, agonizing ascent to vertical. Once there, I bent my legs and stretched my trembling arms out to either side.

Surf dude: "No worries! It's all good!"

Only it wasn't. I was like a Pop-Tart stuck in a toaster. I tried to pop up, the real way, three times before giving the board to the next student.

"Here you go, Max," I said, lurching off the board. I placed my hand on my hips and arched one brow to affect a superior attitude. "It's harder than it looks."

Max popped up instantly.

I later told my brother that I couldn't pop up because of my tissue expanders. My reconstruction wasn't for two more weeks. "These expanders feel like river rocks in my chest," I complained. But the more likely reason I couldn't pop up, and I say this with lots of self love (no worries! it's all good), is the newly acquired poundage on my chemo-soaked, radiation-burned, estrogen-free body.

And, hey, Max, not to take anything away from you...but out in the water, where it actually counts, dude, it really is harder than it looks.

To catch a wave, you have to paddle out to where the waves break, then straddle your board and look out to sea. When you see a good wave coming, you lie down and whip the board around quickly. Then you paddle and kick like hell to get some momentum going. Next comes the adrenaline-pumping pop up, followed by the ride.

Because I'm feeling all sorts of existential these days, the instructions for how to surf remind me of instructions for how to live life in the bigger sense:

1. Sit tight and wait for a nice, clean wave.

2. When that wave comes, acknowledge the adrenaline, but paddle and kick hard; focus on getting your momentum going. Then pop up with as much grace as you have available.

3. Be satisfied in the knowledge that your technique is good because you've worked long and hard on it.

4. Take in the incredible beauty and power of your surroundings.

5. Ride that wave as long as you can.

I watched Ocho, my son and his buddy surf today. It was a rare gorgeous day on the coast. Ocho caught wave after wave. M was on one of Ocho's faster boards and caught a couple good ones, as did his buddy. My heart was full, except for one small thing: I wished I had been out there, too.

While driving back over the hill to Belmont, I decided to plan a weekend surf trip to SoCal this winter. And this time, I'm going to learn how to get up on a board for real, bra.


Hedgie said…
Chilly Babe, I love this. Never been surfing but I know it's harder than it looks, and it looks mighty hard to me. If anyone ever convinced me to get on a surf board, out in the waves with all those SHARKS prowling underneath, I'd never be able to pop up. The body would be willing but your words would come to mind and I'd collapse in laughter and roll my sorry tush right off into the deep dark depths, never to be seen again.

Jill Aldrich said…

So nice to hear from you on a Sunday evening during dinner prep , which I know isn't your strong suit :) Thank you!

Surfing, apparently, isn't my strong suit. My son just read the Surf Lessons post and almost imploded with laughter. And not because it was so richly written; because it was so wrongly written.

"Hey Mom, looks like you kicked while trying to pop up, huh?"

I told him that's exactly what I'd done.

"Ok. Just for a demo," he said, lying on the kitchen hardwood floor. "A wave is coming, and you paddle, paddle, paddle, kick, kick, kick. Why would you kick?"

I rolled my eyes. "To get more mo-mentum. Hello?"

"Right," he said. "But your legs and feet are flat on the board, poised to to pop up, not dangling on the sides." He kicked his feet wildly, then tried to pop up on the imaginary board. The demonstration clearly illustrating why I didn't catch a single wave in San Clemente.

Phew. And I thought it was just because I was fat. Turns out, it was because I was fat--and--had bad technique.

I sit corrected. I've got the technique down. All we have to worry about now are the sharks.


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