Thursday, October 8, 2009

Surfing update

If a picture is worth a thousand words, an experience must be worth a million. So I went surfing last weekend. In a word? Exhilirating. However, there is no way one word could capture the experience. Here are some of the ones that come to mind: fun, exciting, slightly terrifying, amazing, capture the power of the ocean, proud of myself, ugh-spandex, wow, love this, "I suck at this", I will figure this out, exhausting, addicting, adrenaline rush. I loved it. Totally worth donning spandex for.

I did not expect to love it as much as I did. Sure, I wanted to try it but I did not think I would get such a rush out of it. So how did I fare? OK (aside from this jacked up back -- but I think that I would even do it again knowing I'd get a jacked up back assuming this pain goes away soon); it's not like I'm a natural or anything, but I did OK.

Let me tell you about what I remember. I should really do this before I forget. First of all, they had only one wetsuit in my size. I am not sure if I wrote about that the first time, but I am glad to be at a point where at least something will fit, even though it is embarrassing that I'm such an outlier that they only carry one wetsuit in my size. I will get there though! I got there early, my friend Lisa helped me zip up the wetsuit, and then there was nothing to do but wait. That was pretty much a headgame -- waiting, with plenty of time to back out. "Do you really want to try this? You could get hurt. Do you really want to wear spandex in front of everyone? Are you sure about this?" I had basically 25 minutes with myself to sort this all out. I pressed ahead. I wanted to do this, and badly!

We then had to carry our surfboards to the ocean. The surf shop's website advertised that it was 500 steps to the ocean. Not bad, eh? Well it's not bad when you're not carrying an awkward surfboard. It's pretty unpleasant when you are. And it's even more tiring when it's uphill and you've spent 2 hours in the ocean getting battered around. Thankfully I did not realize this on the way down :)

I walked to the ocean with three of my surf classmates and our instructor, Ian. Three of the four of us had never surfed, and the other guy had taken several lessons but had never stood up on his board. This was actually pretty great, as I felt it gave me permission to lower my expectations. I realized that I did not need to feel pressure to stand up on the first time, or even by the end of the lesson. Now, while I didn't know what to expect exactly at the beach, I did not expect to get to a concrete ramp that led directly to the ocean, bordered by a concrete wall. There were also several boulders at the bottom of the ramp. I thought to myself "OMFG, are you serious?! I am so going to kill myself learning to surf" Fortunately, we just had to wade through the water and then get to the sandy part of the beach. I would not crash into a boulder and die. Also, fortunately there were a hill and 500 steps back to the surf shop, preventing me from backing out (easily) at this point.

We waded through the ocean and reached the sandy beach. We got a lesson on how to get up on the board, practiced on the sand, and then were about to go in the ocean. At this point, one of my classmates asked "Are there sharks around here?"

Ian said, "Um, yeah there are. Actually one of my buddies got bitten by one here 5 years ago."

I am sure all of us were visibly shaken. I know I was strangely a mix of shaken and like "I'm going through with this!" I figured that a sharkbites are like lightning strikes in that they are incredibly rare, but still knowing that you had been where that type of thing had occured is pretty sobering.

Ian paused and I am sure realized we were kind of terrified. He tried to reassure us, adding "But he's ok now, and he's surfing again!" I thought "Great, my instructor is friends with the crazies!" However, I now realize that surfing is so exhilarating that it would be tough to hang up the ol' surfboard...especially if you didn't suck at surfing -- but on with the story.

We paddled out to the ocean, and Ian tried to describe for us how to catch a wave. It's so so exhilirating if you are able to do it. He described for us what makes a "good wave", but actually you can start to predict it pretty easily just watching the waves for a half hour or hour. You get a good feeling for which ones will be big, where they will break, and so on. You want to catch a wave that is growing, and which as not broken yet so you can ride it in to the shore. We got to practice this for awhile. I had a goal that I wanted to learn to catch waves. That would be enough -- I didn't have to be able to stand by the end of the first lesson or anything. I did that, and I made it up to my knees once. I was really happy with my progress, and look forward to continuing to improve.

This improvement is made difficult by two factors. First, I have jacked up my back. This is extra sad because for the next week I will be in San Diego and could conceivably get a chance to surf!!! This is significant because, as you probably realize, I am from Arkansas and there are not many any surfing opportunities in our landlocked state. Nonetheless, I will persevere and will be able to surf at some point in my life. I also will be able to fit into a normal sized wetsuit too. Not committing to a timeline, but it will happen.

The next day I was sore. This was kind of strange because I don't get sore that often anymore. My muscles are used to being abused, I guess, and don't fight me on it anymore. Believe it or not, it is the shoulders and triceps that get sore mostly from pushing up on the board. My hamstrings were also tight the next day, though I'm not entirely sure why. It could be all the walking through the sand (though I would have thought that would work the calves more?).

When I got back to Arkansas, I googled "shark bolinas ca". Try it for yourself and you will realize that Bolinas, CA is on almost every top 10 list for sharks that exists. It feels that way at least -- apparently, great whites love to feed on the abundance of baby sea lions in the area. They are most plentiful in the late summer and early fall. I am so glad I didn't realize that before I went!!

There was a shark attack at Stinson Beach (where we actually stayed, a short distance from Bolinas). Here is a PSA for the day. Apparently the attackee grabbed and pulled at the shark's gills and was released. I have also read that you should go to the bottom of the ocean (they can attack you from fewer angles that way) and hit the shark on the nose. Try to use something other than your hand (e.g., a camera) as cameras are replaceable but hands are not. So, should you ever need to defend yourself from a shark attack, there are some places to start. Remember this post and use the info!!

So that was my surfing experience. I can't wait to try it again. I love it. If you catch a wave, the feeling is absolutely indescribable. It feels like you are harnessing the power of the ocean, which is SO SO strong. To be able to capture that and ride it out is so neat. Makes me wonder who figured out the idea of surfing, built the first surfboards, and tried that out. Certainly they had to struggle with it at first. Whoever it was, kudos to them. They stumbled on something absolutely amazing that I can't wait to try again and, eventually, master.

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