Surfing 101

Today at Higgins Beach in Scarborough, on a foggy cool Maine morning, I received an introductory surfing lesson from my friend Mike.  Mike opened the lesson with sand diagrams showing proper foot placement on the board and a demonstration of how to pop up from prone–think of a brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tart leaping from the toaster–to what Mike called the “stupid surfer stance” (legs bent, body low, arms outstretched)  once one catches a wave.  Then we strapped the board leash to my ankle and entered the surf.  The first 30 minutes were spent repeating these steps:

  • I lie on the board
  • I paddle the board around to face the beach
  • Mike holds the board from behind and waits for a catchable wave
  • After a short wait Mike says “start paddling!”
  • I start paddling towards shore
  • The wave catches the board, which accelerates
  • Mike gives the board a mighty push to reach critical speed
  • I pop from prone to “standing” (loosely defined, it covers any position other than prone)
  • I fall into the ocean
  • I cover my head to prevent a board-beaning
  • I retrieve the board and paddle out to Mike
  • Mike patiently offers suggestions
  • I lie on the board, etc.

It’s the same technique used to teach kids to ride two-wheeled bikes.   The waves were entry-level, about 1.5 feet.  1.5 foot waves are bigger than I thought they would be (but still small) because wave height is measured from level surface to wave crest, not from the base to the crest of the breaking wave.  Because the waves were small we were the only ones in the water.  I haven’t fallen so often since I learned to downhill ski.  It was a pleasure to learn that I can still have lots of fun falling down.  Take that, age.

Mike took a few runs while I watched how to do it, and then he surfed with a borrowed board while I tried surfing without his guiding hands.  I managed to catch a few waves, and actually stood on the board for two of them in what you could call the “really stupid surfer stance.”   After another hour my pop drooped, I fell back on what I think of as the “leaving the confessional “stance–one knee on the board, the other leg bent, preparing to rise and walk to the alter to say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys–and I thoroughly lavaged my nasal passages with brine.  I called it a day when I could paddle no more.  Mike surfed for a while longer, catching wave after wave.  He moved to Santa Monica last year and clearly has used his time well.  We topped off the morning with coffee and a great diner breakfast.  When I returned to the house I collapsed in a reclining deck chair, read two pages of my book, and fell into a deep sleep for an hour.

I’m hooked

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