Sunday, March 7, 2010

Surfer Smile

Yesterday, at the surfboard swap, Mike suggested another lesson. The idea was welcoming to me. I could feel the fear about surfing building and I knew I was close to giving it up. I haven't really been since my first lesson. I go out with Dan and the intention of surfing, but I always find a reason not to. Plus, we only have one board.

Our first time out alone, we stood in the parking lot and watched the huge waves for about 45 minutes. That's how we met Sam. He seemed kinda kooky but, you can never tell about people around here, they may seem kooky but really have it together professionally. So, we never could decide about him. He, being a surf instructor,  suggested we try to stand on the board in about 2 feet of water, to get used to balancing. It seemed kind of weird to me but, thinking of paddle boarding, it made sense to Dan. That day, the size of the waves scared me, so Dan went out and I watched. 

The next time we went out, I tried Sam's suggestion and found it was ridiculously impossible. I couldn't do anything but fall off and laugh! Dan was getting a little frustrated but because I kept laughing (it is fun to fall in the water) he laughed too. Finally, I suggested he try it and soon, he understood how stupid it was. At the surfboard swap, Mike confirmed it. He laughed when we told him and said that you need the momentum of the wave to be able to stand up on a surfboard. Sam (who, we learned today,  lives in his car in the parking lot of Hanalei Bay so he can surf more) was at the surfboard swap. I asked him if he was looking for a board. He said yes, that two years ago he was surfing a 30 foot wave at night and he wiped out and lost his board to the sea. The story seemed silly to me but, I want to believe people. I told Dan and he cracked up and said he was full of poop. Mike confirmed that today when we told him. He laughed and said Sam only surfs in 3 to 4 foot waves. Anyway, after we tried Sam's suggestion, Dan went out to try and surf and I tried to swim back to shore. I got caught in a rip current plus, I couldn't touch the bottom. In a mild panic, I struggled with the current until I finally made it to shore. After that, I became really wary of big, wintertime waves. 

Yesterday, at the bay, Dan asked a girl who was getting out how the water was. When she said it was cold, that was all I needed to chicken out. Once again, Dan had fun trying to surf. At lunch, he suggested I take another lesson and I jumped on it, so he scheduled it for this morning. Not only was I aware that a fear of surfing was getting a firm grip on me but, I have been building up anxiety about our general situation. The best thing I can do to burn off anxiety is to do something physical. I am so glad I did. I can't express how great of a teacher Mike is. He melts away any anxiety and makes it fun. Part of why I like Mike being around is because he pushes me with the wave, helping me to catch it. Dan said he didn't need a push so he didn't need lessons. Mike says we all need a push sometimes, when he does big waves, he needs a push from the jet ski. We were amazed! That means he does waves that are so epic, it's impossible to paddle into them. They are between 30 and 100 feet high, the kind of surfing Laird pioneered. 

With Dan off doing his own thing, it was just Mike and I. Recalling our last session, he said that I was not committed to getting up, which meant I didn't want to fall. He explained that if I thought about it, I was always going to fall. Even if I caught a wave and rode it in, I would fall off when it was over. So, just know that every time you will fall. I said that I thought falling was fun, it was the coral and sharks that made me not want to fall. This is what I think makes him such a good teacher, he doesn't judge, laugh or correct (not that those are silly concerns), he acknowledges and validates your concern and slowly dissolves it away. He says sharks will get you when you are paddling to catch a wave because they see movement or, when you are riding your board. If you are up on your board moving away from them, they think you are prey and will jump out of the water to get you. No, that wasn't the part that made me feel better! What he said next was. Close to the shore, inside they bay is not where the sharks hang out. He has been living and surfing here for 7 years and has never seen a shark. They hang out further back where the bigger waves are, where I am not. When it comes to coral, I don't have to worry because the section we are surfing in, has a sandy bottom. Maybe, someday, I'll surf somewhere that has coral, but I can decide that once I get better. It's like skiing, you don't do a black diamond run every time, unless you want to. You learn what you are comfortable with and do that. 

He had me practice getting up, but on shore and notices that I am turning my left foot out when I should be turning it in. The next time I try, I get it. He claps and we head out to the water. Today, the surf is 4 to 6 feet, the air temperature is 69 degrees, and the water temperature is 73 degrees. He decides we aren't going to do the bunny slopes and upgrades me to the waves I've been intimidated by. I laugh, "you want me to try THOSE waves"? "Yea, come on"! Trusting him more than myself, I go out. 

In the thick of it, he pauses and takes a moment to acknowledge the big energy of the waves, getting me used to their power. He shows me how to duck under the wave if it's really big, instead of trying to go over it. He points out how much more calm and tranquil it is under the water. Already, the anxiety is melting away. The waves are so strong, my pony tail holder eventually gets lost to the ocean. My wetsuit top, which was looped and tied through my shorts so I wouldn't lose either, has come undone. My top kept coming up to my chest when I fell off the board. Don't worry, I didn't lose anything or flash anyone! 

I don't recall much. It seems like I was out there for 15 minutes, got pounded by a bunch of big waves  and tried to get up a lot of times. Dan, still tired from yesterday, mostly sat or laid on his board, learned to read the water, and watched me. He says I was out for a good hour, tried to get up about 30 times, and got up about 15 times. During my longest run, I stayed up for about 10 seconds. I remember Mike asking me what I did right when I kept getting up and staying up. Feeling silly, I said I didn't know. I said I thought I was reacting and maybe developing some kind of muscle memory. He delighted in that answer, saying, ask any surfer how to surf and they say, just stand up and surf. It's intuitive. There are things are are not intuitive, and when I fell, he would point out why. Either I was too far back causing the nose to lift or I was leaning back on my heals causing the board to turn, or, a thousand other reasons. Instead of focusing on surviving, I started paying attention to why I fell and putting it all together. 

The routine was; wade through the strong the current and dodge cresting waves (with Mike's help), walk out past where waves crashed and into the lull between sets. Jump on the board, lay down, get situated. Wait for him to tell me to paddle, paddle, and he'd push me with the wave. When I felt the wave catch my board I'd stand up and at the same time move forward (up) on the board to get centered for better balance. I'd ride for a few seconds trying to get my balance, lose my balance, and fall off. 

Finally, my body was done. I could tell because it was hard pulling myself out of the water to lay on my board. I told him and he suggested one more ride in. I said ok, and when I caught the wave (always with his help), I ended up sitting on my board, riding it in and laughing. I didn't even have the energy to get up! He laughed too and rode the board out to join Dan. I sat on the shore, water crashing up to my legs every now and then, and watched him and Dan for an hour. It was really fun watching Mike, he is like a seal or dolphin playing in the water, fearless and having a great time. Doing things like riding up the front of the wave and down the other side. At one point another girl went out and was getting lessons. Her and I are at the same level so it was great to watch her because I could see what Mike was telling me to do.

With my fear abated and my anxiety burned out, I was relaxed and happy. And amazed, amazed that I surfed on the waves that were intimidating me for the past 3 weeks. Mike, knowing that I don't have a board, suggested getting out there anyway. Swimming or body boarding. That was how he'd come to me after I caught a wave, he'd just turn his body into a board and head straight for me. 

Dan and I were high on the way home, we both had a surfer's smile! At home, we had lunch and landed on the couch.


  1. This story is fantastic Marta! So expressive, so amazing. What an experience! Dawn

  2. I absolutely LOVE this blog! I have been following for a while, and am on pins & needles waiting for the next entry. I too am trying to move to Kauai ( that is how I found your blog ) I adore kauai and want to move to Hanalei. I am really enjoying reading about your experiences.

  3. Thank you Dawn, I really appreciate it!

    aloha08 you just made my day! You are the FIRST person to have found me and decided to keep reading. I shamelessly sent my blog out to everyone I know, ha! If you make it over here, even if it's for vacation, look me up. We can talk story! Keep your dream alive!