I don’t know about you, but surfing has always scared the shit out of me.
Surfing is Great White Sharks lunging out of the ocean and attacking surf boards because they look like delicious, chubby seals. Surfing is huge wipeouts, strong ocean currents, and drowning. It’s falling off your board into unseen rocks or coral and exiting the ocean in a pool of blood. It’s guys who use too many “bros, dudes, and rads.”
Oh, and did I mention sharks?
I’ve had opportunities to try surfing in places like Indonesia, Australia, and Brazil, but I never did it. I’ve always preferred to lounge on the beach with a good book, instead.
I think all board sports scare me thanks to the one experience I had with snowboarding when I was in university. That day on Mont Tremblant in Quebec was one of the top three worst days of my life. The hill was icy and hard packed. I didn’t wear a helmet and hit my head so many times I started going bald. I’m sure I was concussed at the end of the day. And to top of an already shitty experience, my friends and I had to drive 10 white-knuckled hours back to Ontario in a snowstorm.
I never went snowboarding again and surfing got categorized with it.
But here I am, in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, one of the biggest wave surf spots in the world. People come from all over the planet to surf here.
I couldn’t leave without giving it a go, especially after an attractive woman approached me at a bar and said, “I like your tattoos. Are you a surfer?”
“No,” I replied. “I’ve actually never even tried it before.”
“Oh,” she responded. Then walked away.
It was high time to face this fear.
I booked a lesson with Jose Ramirez—local professional surfer and crazy nut-job. Here he is:
To be fair, the big waves come in the wet season from April to August; those weren’t the waves I would be surfing. Still, the waves were big enough to give me a twisted stomach as I walked into the Pacific Ocean with a board under my arm at 8:00am. The water crashed into my legs sending a chill through my body. The air smelled like salt and dead fish.
I paddled out to the area where surfers sit on their boards and wait for the waves. People chatted and joked around. Jose yelled at other surfing instructors in Spanish and they laughed. He gave me a nudge every time a cute woman floated past but I was too busy concentrating on not flipping over while I balanced on my board.
The waves were coming.
Jose said, “OK. Let’s go.” He swam behind me and on his signal yelled, “Paddle, paddle, paddle!” I could feel the wave growing beneath me. Jose gave me a push and yelled, “Up! Up!” I jumped onto my board and was thrown off quicker than I could spit out a curse word.
“Ahhhhh! Fu……..” The “c” and “k” got lost in a mouthful of saltwater. I popped out of the water and heard Jose yelling at me.
“Get out of the way!”
With my board attached to a cord secured to my ankle, I tried swimming out of the way as I watched another wave coming at me with 10 surfers on top of it. Ten pointy surf boards aimed at me like torpedoes. I dove back under the water and hoped the torpedoes would pass over me without incident. Finally I got out of the way, slid back onto my board, and paddled to where Jose was waiting.
I tried again.
Jose yelled, “Paddle! Up!”
And again, I ate salt.
On my third try, I stood up on the board for a few seconds. Someone told me to bend my knees more.
On my fourth try, I bent my knees and rode the wave a little longer.
On my fifth try, I was surfing!
OK, I wasn’t Keanu Reeves high-fiving Patrick Swayze on top of a wave in Point Break, but I was standing up and riding a wave and it felt good.
The wave pushed me towards the right side of the beach. I had no control over the direction I was going. The wave was taking me where it wanted me to go.
As the wave died down and I got closer to shore I fell off my board. Unfortunately, there were some hidden rocks below the surface of the water that I didn’t see. I smacked my toe and knew it was bleeding. I thought back to Shark Week. How many kilometres away could a shark smell blood in the water?
I got back on the board and paddled out to Jose. My shoulders and arms were burning. All this paddling was working muscles I didn’t know I had.
I paddled but the waves kept pushing me towards the shore. Two boards forward and one board back. I knew my day was coming to an end.
Finally I got back to Jose, exhausted and bleeding.
“Don’t go to right side,” Jose instructed. “There are rocks over there.”
Overall, my surfing experience was a success. I faced my fear and actually wasn’t half bad at it.
Still, I think I’ll stick to lounging on the beach with a good book.