Years ago, on vacation at the Oregon coast, I enviously watched a surfing lesson. An actual surf instructor drew a pretend surfboard on the sand, and a woman lay down on it and pretended to paddle. I thought, “Man! I want to try that!” Not the lying-in-the-sand part. The part where they get in the water! Play in the waves! At that time, I had no wet suit (they may surf in bikinis in Hawaii, but not in Oregon), no board, no money for an instructor.
But Chuck’s brother M. loves to surf. I have been pestering him and making little puppy-dog noises ever since I met him last summer. Everybody gathered in Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving, so we both brought our wet-suits. He keeps an old long-board at his parents’ house.
Here’s the main thing I didn’t know about surfing until I tried it: IT’S NOT THAT HARD! All you middle-aged ladies like me who think you are too old to start surfing? If I can do it despite my dubious balance and missing left pectoral, so can you. No more excuses! Mike took a minute to show me how to jump up to a standing position on the sand and tethered me to the board with a “leash”. Yes, surfing involves light bondage. Even more fun. Then we went out to about five feet. He showed me how to find my balance point on the board. How to plow over the top of a wave. Then we would wait for a good wave. When a good one came along, M. would shove the board into it and shout, “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” Sure enough! I paddled and caught the wave. What I learned really quickly was that, once the board is sort of locked in the wave, it is pretty stable. Surprisingly so. After a couple tries, I was popping up on my knees; once, I started to stand up, but I had dithered to long, and the wave crashed before I really got up.
A lot of my personal amusement was caused by my blindness. I couldn’t wear my contacts out there. I could sort of tell when a good wave was coming, by its shadow. But I had to keep an eye on the rocks up on the shore and ditch the ride before I crashed into them. After about the third time I did that, I paddled back out to Mike, who asked me why I didn’t finish the ride. “Well, I don’t want to run into those rocks.” ”What rocks?” “Those, right there.” “Those aren’t rocks. They’re just kelp piles.” Oh. After that, I ran into them with great enjoyment. I tried not to think of all the tiny things I was stepping on out there; tried not to think about how it would feel to step on a sea urchin.
So, it was perfect, thanks to M’s help. I did get pretty banged up on my very last ride. I went up to shore and crashed into the kelp pile, then tried to stand up. A good rule of thumb: near shore, always stay behind the surf board. If in front of it, you will get pulverized by the thing as the waves smash it into you. After a couple of bruising waves, I quickly stood up and snatched it out of the water, holding it over my head.
Chuck emerged out of the fog and blur, holding out my glasses to place them on my face. “You know who the best surfer in the world is?” “Uh-uh.” “The one who is having the most fun. So it has to be you.”