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Final Lessons from Surf Camp

July 17, 2015


1. Skudin Surf School is awesome. We had the same main instructor every day, but our secondary instructor changed a few times. Every instructor we had was friendly, patient, encouraging, and knowledgeable. I can’t say that I’m a very good surfer, but I can legitimately say I can surf. On Monday I was excited every time I managed to stand up; by Friday I was catching most of the waves I attempted and I was annoyed at myself anytime I didn’t stand up. And on Friday I made the biggest step of all, which was that I was catching waves without any help from the instructors. When we started they would hold our boards, put us in position, and give us a push. Today they did none of that for me; the only help they gave me was to sometimes tell me when a good wave was coming, but several times I was able to read the ocean well enough to choose a wave, figure out the timing, and build up the momentum I needed all by myself. I really feel like I can go surfing all by myself now, which was my main goal for the week. Thank you, Skudin. This was money and time  well spent.

Here I am paddling to build momentum so that I can ride the wave that's building behind me.

Here I am paddling to build momentum so that I can ride the wave that’s building behind me

Here I am timing my pop-up just right.

Timing my pop-up just right

Getting into position

Getting into position

Ride, Sally, Ride!

Ride, Sally, Ride!

2. Surfing is really hard. There are so many things you need to be good at in order be any good at surfing: paddling, popping up, balance, body control, timing, technique, reading the waves, anticipation, and much more. Even the pros misread the swells sometimes, pick the wrong wave sometimes, and wipe out sometimes.



3. At the same time, just about anyone can do it. This week is Surf Week in Long Beach, with various competitions and events throughout the week. Yesterday there was adaptive surfing, and both kids and adults with various paralyses and muscle disorders were surfing with different kinds of help. Today there’s blind surfing: pros tell the kids where to position themselves and when the waves are coming, but then these blind kids do a better job than I did riding the waves. It’s pretty inspiring.

4. Surfing is exhausting. Every day this week I was barely able to move by the time I got home. Tuesday through Friday I woke up with deep soreness in various muscles. Yes, there are some fat surfers, but not many–it’s a serious workout.

5. Fatigue makes you suck at surfing. Every day this week I was significantly worse after lunch than I was before lunch, mainly because fatigue causes bad form and makes balancing much harder. And today,when I was doing all the work myself, I wasn’t able to generate the speed I needed to really get into most of the waves I attempted.

6. Surfing is dangerous. My final inventory of minor injuries is comprehensive. Cuts: left big toe, left knee (2), right knee, right ankle, right heel. Bruises: Left forearm (2), right forearm (3), chest, right shin (2). Soreness: shoulders, lats, triceps, lower back, hips, groin, ankles, toes. A girl in my group today got a bad rope burn when her leash wrapped around her knee and wouldn’t let go. Also, a pretty experienced kid paralyzed himself this week by foolishly diving headfirst off his board into very shallow water. And, you know, sharks.

7. Sometimes you do everything right and it still doesn’t work out. The wave can crash too early or can lose steam, or other surfers can get in your way, or any of a multitude of other mishaps.

Traffic jam

This time a traffic jam prevented me from getting up

8. For hours after you leave the beach, and even when you close your eyes in bed at night, you will feel phantom waves gently rocking you back and forth.

9. One shower is not enough. One shower will wash off the sand, the salt, and some (but not all) of the sunscreen. It will make you feel like a person again and it will make your hair feel like hair. It will also help you find any cuts and scrapes you didn’t notice throughout the day, and it will let you know exactly where they are by making those spots sting like hell when the water hits them. But after one shower you will still smell like the beach and your skin will still have a slight hint of stickiness where traces of sunscreen remain. A second shower a couple of hours later is not absolutely necessary, but it feels better than you think it will.

10. Surfing with a friend is more fun that surfing alone. I’m excited to go surfing on my own in the coming weeks, but it would be better if I had someone to go with who’s not too much better or worse than me. Perhaps the annoying loudmouth is available?

11. The annoying loudmouth turned out to not be as annoying as the week went on. He was probably the best surfer among us campers, and he got friendlier and more humble. He even embraced the mocking nickname that the instructors gave him (Shivers, because he was always shivering even when the water wasn’t very cold). I’m going to miss Shivers and the rest of the gang.

12. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. I don’t enjoy being bad at things (who does?), and it’s not always easy to get better. This week was incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally, but it was so rewarding. I could feel myself improving at all aspects of surfing, and it felt great. Riding big wave after big wave on Thursday was such a thrill, both because it was physically exhilarating and because it was emotionally validating. And having some success on my own today filled me with the same kind of confidence and pride I felt when I was first able to ride a two-wheeler without falling. It was far from easy, but few things in life are. Allow me to speak metaphorically for a moment: when you want to achieve something, big waves will always come along and threaten to knock you off course. If you don’t know what you’re doing or if you try to run away, you’re going to get pummeled. The key is to meet the oncoming trouble head on and start paddling; it won’t be long before you come out on the other side with your head held high, ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

13. It takes a surprisingly long time to get that last bit of water out of your ears. That’s not a metaphor–there’s just water in my ears.

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