Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Surf Diaries

#1 If you don't surf don't start - if you surf, never stop

A dirty brown kelp gull, a juvenile plopped down in the water next to me, and the thought bubble above its head said the following: "I won't laugh."  I've paddled out nervously on a gorgeous morning in the Eastern Cape; the board, wetsuit, leash, roofrack, board bag - all bought late yesterday afternoon.  Now the money's on me.

Nobody's here - no surfers, no beach bums.  It's just me.  Show me the money.

The last time I surfed I was about half the man I am today [have you ever seen a fat surfer?] but the board was a quarter of the size of this thing I'm on.  I should say the last time I tried to surf.  Being even ten times fitter, half as light and a million times braver didn't get me to stand up on that borrowed board.  What made me think I could now?  What the bejesus had gotten into me?

Well, truth be told I have a strategy.  I've bought a longish board, known as a mini-mal [short for mini Malibu].  It's supposed to be good for beginners and pros.  So I've done my research and what is obvious is a big fat man standing on a board is easier in the unstable environment of the sea if the board is also big and fat.  The caveat is that the bigger and fatter the board the less maneuverable it is, and also the more boring your ride.
Of course, you can always buy one of those cute curved banana skins the pros use and laugh at yourself falling off your board every day for a year - so choose your poison wisely.

I thought I had been wise until I paddled out.  A large flock of gulls had their chests in the sand and were  sitting on a section of the beach, making absolutely no sound,  in the quiet of the early morning.  Vividly black and white, they were an editors collection of extraneous commas discarded here on the way to a deadline. But as I paddle out my confidence evaporates.  Even though this board is almost as long as my car, if I move far enough forward, it sinks in the water under me - something I didn't expect.

My frame of reference you see - this is going back one or two decades - was a MACKSKI.  You can sit on a MACKI paddleski - you're supposed to - and have your legs completely on the board and you're still floating.   You can even strap your feet in, and there's a nice little bucket depression for your bum and slots for your feet.  You get a oar and you ride out to meet the surf.  It's fun, but it's not really surfing.

Surfing is hard.  I realise that paddling out on my board that suddenly seems half the size of the thing I've taken off my car's roof.
Suck it up.  I feel the sets lifting me, and turn inevitably towards the beach.  I paddle - I'm a strong swimmer - and feel the board move.  On my first wave I miss the crucial moment to stand and deliver - I knew I would, but a moment later, cruising on its foamy forth I try again and for just a fraction of a second I got onto the board.  I manage to repeat this half a dozen times.  I didn't really surf, but for the first time in my life I have walked, nay, stood on water, whilst moving at .0001km/h.

There is a very easy way to surf if you want to kid yourself.  Catch foamies all day and then as you start snagging a sand bar, get on the board.  You can find a little podium on the beach, beat your chest, but if anyone else is there, seeing you acting like a lunatic, standing on your board stuck in the sand they're going to tell you, snap out of it, it ain't surfing.

After about two hours I am spent - and for the rest of the day I feel like I've swum 2 kilometres worth of butterfly.  And I know how that feels.
But there's a saying, and it goes like this.  If you don't surf, don't start.  It's too tough, and you're probably too old.  If you do surf, never stop.  I've now graduated to the second category, I have to keep trying.  Tomorrow I'll try to stand up whilst on the sweet spot.  Yes I know I'll be gargling with the Indian Ocean.

Read # 2 here

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