As a young African-American male, I never had much exposure to water sports. Sure, I’d go to the beach or a friend’s pool party, but I never participated in activities such as water skiing, riding jet skis, or surfing. I recently had the opportunity to Hang Ten (or attempt to) in the Pacific Ocean with an amazing surf instructor.
Learning how to surf takes time, dedication, and patience. However, I only had two hours at Santa Monica beach and those two hours would prove that surfing is not for the faint at heart. Facing the raging waters of the Pacific Ocean, I knew I was in for a fight.
We started the day by selecting a surfboard and getting fitted for a wetsuit (which is an adventure within itself). Being in a wetsuit for the first time felt weird. Everything was sticking to me… and I mean everything. The moisture from sweating combined with the suit’s material made for a sticky situation. Running was difficult, actually moving at all was a bit complicated. But I learned to adjust and proceeded with the lesson.
Before heading into the water, Peter, the instructor, took our group to the burning sand to give us our initial instructions. He knew we would be facing a tough undercurrent and some rough waves and cautioned us to be careful. As he demonstrated how to balance your board and what heel side meant versus toe side, my confidence grew. These movements were similar to skateboarding, something I’m comfortable doing.
“Everyone, lay down on your board, belly to the board,” Peter yelled out.
As we lay down, boards still in the sand, we all started our own rendition of paddling. I felt the sun burning down on me as the Santa Monica breeze blew through my wetsuit, providing some relief.
“Lift your head, and get into a pushup position,” Peter said.
Step by step we replicated everything Peter told us to do. In the sand, we were masters and our confidence was high. However, our confidence wavered a bit when Peter said, “Grab your boards and let’s hit the water.”
Peter took one student per wave and I grew concerned as I watched everyone before me wipe-out. When Peter called my name, I was a ball of nervous energy.
Before jumping into the water, I gave the ocean a glance to see what I was up against. The first wave was a nice size and looked great, but when it crashed and made a thundering sound, I begin to have second thoughts. But I knew that I had to overcome my fear and do this. I’d come this far and I wasn’t about to let anything keep me from catching a wave. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and entered the water.
Fighting the waves with a board was exhilarating. The adrenaline charges through your body as the waves come crashing towards you. After 10 minutes of paddling, pushing and getting knocked off my board, I finally reached Peter who was standing in the ocean. He grabbed the board, told me to hop on and begin paddling. I felt the powerful wave behind me and paddled with all of my might.
“Paddle, paddle, paddle… now pop up!!” Peter yelled.
I tried to stand to my feet, but I only managed to crouch slightly. It felt as if I were trying to pick up a heavy box of bricks.
“Adjust!” Peter yelled. “Adjust!”
I wanted to, but I didn’t know how. All of a sudden… BOOM!! I wiped-out. The waves rushed over me like I was a rag doll. However, something about the crash was satisfying and I enjoyed it. I was pleased with myself because I stood on the board for a few seconds, which meant I technically surfed before crashing. When I popped up and grabbed my board, the class cheered and Peter called me back out because he felt I could go longer.
After another hour of crashing, paddling, fighting and squatting, I was beat. I did not realize the type of energy and stamina needed for surfing. My body was like jelly. My legs felt like they would give out at any moment. This experience gave me a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into surfing. Mental focus, physical strength, and patience are characteristics of successful surfers. The ocean is unforgiving and you will take a pounding as you develop your skills, but the more you hone your craft, the easier it will become.
If you enjoy water sports (or any sports for that matter), I recommend giving surfing a shot. It’s fun, rewarding, and a great way to challenge yourself.