Nothing I can conjure better describes the feeling of being a learner surfer than “a fish out of water”.
The combined feelings of uselessness and exhaustion that come from flapping around on a surfboard in pristine Pacific Ocean are only multiplied by the nearby local surfers.
One summer at home I convinced myself to do “that surfing thing”. If I was going to get surfing I had to commit to it. One of those summer days I found myself in a state familiar to new surfers; eyes red and a belly full of saltwater and found myself reading the Surfers Code of Conduct.
I’d spent plenty of time turning to jump into broken waves, riding straight in to the beach, which gave me valuable time to practice my pop up and balance best I could, but it wasn’t enough. Something told me it was time to step it up. I was ready for my first green wave.
I struggled for what felt like an hour (couple of minutes), jumping off my board and shoving it ahead of me when the sets came in too big, paddling hard when they softened up. Eventually I punched through the line of breaking waves to get out the back.
I’d sat in open water before; on boats, kayaks, even surfboards on flat days, but never like this. The contrast of the disorienting, knackering battle to get out against the serenity of sitting out beyond the breaking waves was like nothing I could put into words.
After a quiet spell, lying prone on, I paddled back inside, blood pumping. Over my shoulder I saw a wave approaching. Paddling for all I was worth, I felt the wave take control with a powerful surge. I did everything I could to stand up in a controlled manner, drawing on my countless white water pop ups, pieces of advice from surf pals and hours of Typical Youtube surf lessons;
Hands on the deck, thumbs facing in towards the bottom of my ribs. Push hard. Swing my left leg to drag my foot up through my arms so the right foot follows. Stand.
Shortly after hands on the deck I lost my balance and hit the water. To bring a long story short I had many failed attempts, but on what could have been anywhere between my 15th and 50th, I got to my feet.
The rolling wave ushered me down the line, breaking to my left. Crouched low and angling my board along the wave, I tucked in front of the crystal clear lump and cruised. My board chattered along the water. My stomach leapt. My brain fizzed. Pumping on adrenaline and sheer excitement (wait a minute, was I feeling “stoke”?!), I stared at the scattering sunlight playing on my wave and for the next 10 or 15 seconds there was nothing else in the world.
Riding a wave is like the “Perfect Storm”. A simultaneous occurrence of events that provide an opportunity to become “One with Nature” while experiencing the magical feeling of “flying” we imagined as kids along with the sense of achievement that we crave as adults. Total fulfillment on all levels; hence the addiction.
In the moment it felt like a powerful wave. If I’m completely honest I’d guess the wave to be little more than 2ft, if that, but it was a rush like I’d never felt.
I used to be in love with the idea of surfing. It was this wave that turned me around. And now I’m in. NOW I’m in love with surfing itself. There’s still a massive place in my heart for the romance of the surfing lifestyle, but nothing comes close to the physical act, the graceful “dancing on water”.
First Taste Of “Stoke”
Do you remember that feeling of driving without an instructor for the first time? Or riding a bike, landing a job, your first kiss, getting a HD? First catching a green wave gives you that profound sensation of achieving something new, but it’s amplified by a million things. For a start…
The fish out of water evolves! The transition alone feels incredible. From the useless, flailing ragdoll struggling to even move in the water moments before, you turn into a super hero, metamorphosed, driving along the line of a wave with all the ease in the world.
Kelly Slater himself mentions in “Surfwise” – a documentary I highly recommend about the Paskowitz’s, one of most famous families in surfing – that he sees the same look on the faces of brand new surfers catching their first wave as he does on the faces of his pro surf buddies pulling in to overhead barrels or stomping massive aerials.
It’s nothing else but you and mother nature, just for that one moment in time. A lot of surf commentary talks about the magic and spirituality of surfing, which is hard to swallow until you’ve reached out and touched it for yourself, but it’s true. It gives you a feeling of being grounded, feeling alive, being “present”. Big or small, that wave will never come again. However you want to try and understand it, the fact remains that surfing allows you to very easily detach from every day life. A feeling which is becoming more and more rare in our modern age of “always on” technology.
There’s a lot more to it than that and it’s going to take a lot more than one blog post to do it justice, but hopefully it gives you a sense of the raw enjoyment even the first level of success in surfing can be.
Catch me on