Thursday, July 16, 2009

Learning to surf part 1 - Santa Cruz surf school

I’m not sure what started my surfing bug, but most likely, it was the succession of January work trips to California. Every year, I would be across to Los Angeles with work for the NAMM tradeshow, and most years I would end up spending a couple of days up in Scotts Valley where my company was based. As luck would have it, Scotts Valley is five miles up the road from Santa Cruz, and staying in Santa Cruz it can only be so long before you stumble across the surf.

On the trip out to LA in 2005, I ended up bagging a nice Canon camera at Samy’s Camera in Santa Ana – highly recommended if you are looking for a camera in Southern California. A year later I was back in CA, and in Santa Cruz alone one cool and sunny winter Sunday I decided to take the camera down to the shoreline and take some snaps. As fate would have it my walking trip coincided with a decent swell, and what was to be a curious photo-expedition turned in to a 5 hour odyssey along the Santa Cruz shoreline.

Starting at the point at the mouth of the San Lorenzo river, I sat up on the point for a long time and watched these beautiful tubing waves erupting off the point, while surfers paddled around (and sometimes through) the waves to get out behind them, and then came sliding back in on the next waves coming through. I’m not sure I had ever seen surfing in person before, and it was completely transfixing.

After a long time up on the point, I started the walk across to the other side of town, to West Cliff above the world-famous “Steamer Lane” surf spot, and it was here where the swell was really hitting. I spend another 2/3 hours on the cliffs, watching and shooting pictures, and one of the pick of the bunch is this pic – a nice meaty “Middle Peak” wave coming through, with some surfers paddling out to give some sense of scale. It turned in to to one of my favourite pictures I’ve ever taken – the offshore wind driving the spray backwards off the top of the wave, the lip, suspended and about to crack down like a jackhammer, all three surfers paddling out having turned to watch the wave do its stuff…

After that afternoon, I couldn't put the idea down. Life being what it is, it took the full year until I got back to Santa Cruz in 2007 for me to take solid action, and book myself in for a surfing lesson. The people who were unlucky enough to have to take me out my first day, were the utterly brilliant Santa Cruz Surf School. It was pretty quiet – another couple were supposed to be having a lesson as well, but they cancelled, so it was just me – and so the guy from the school (who was several years younger and vastly fitter than me) had the unenviable task of trying to get me on my feet.

The day in question (and from consulting the calendar, it was probably Sunday 21st January 2007) was, typically, nearly completely swell-free. On walking down to the beach, the guy from the school expressed some surprise that it would be that flat in January. The normal beginners surfing spot – Cowell’s beach had hardly even a ripple. I was determined to do it though, so he agreed to take me out to “Indicators” (the most protected and least intimidating part of the Steamer Lane surf corridor), which was catching a tiny bit of swell and did have some small waves rolling through occasionally. Unfortunately, that meant 4-5 minutes of paddling the surfboard across the bay in front of Cowells – which as an absolute beginner, was crucifying on the arms. Nevertheless, I did get there in the end, and managed despite myself, to paddle for and stand up on a wave as it rolled in. I guess I stood up for about 3 or 4 seconds, which was hailed (somewhat generously perhaps) as a great achievement for a rank beginner on their first time out. It was the only time I stood up in over an hour of attempts, but if I wasn’t completely taken with surfing before, the amazing magic-carpet feeling of gliding in pushed by the wave was more than enough to do it.

The paddle back in to the beach, however, was nearly fatal - I was so tired by this point that I could hardly lift an arm, let alone paddle a 9-foot board through the water. In any case, after the longest time, with the surf school guy watching me carefully the whole way in, I did get back in to the beach.

Notwithstanding the fact that my arms ached so badly I couldn’t cross them without being in agony the next 2 days, I was hooked...

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