Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning to surf part 2 - West Cork Surf School

So where was I - oh yes - struggling to paddle back on to the beach in Santa Cruz, California. First time in the water, almost no waves around, and a 5-8 minute paddle clear across the bay in front of Cowell's Beach to get to the only area where small waves were breaking. Still, I had stood up on one.

Back in Ireland and the agonising pain in my arms subsiding, there was no way I was going to let the lack of a surfboard, a wetsuit, any fitness whatsoever, and living in Dublin (on the East coast of Ireland - the only completely wrong coast to be on) put me off.

As it turned out, my now brother-in-law (living in West Cork) had been interested in giving it a bash for some considerable time, so on the next trip down to the rebel county, we booked ourselves in with West Cork Surf School for a lesson.

It was here we learned the sacred art of struggling into a cold, damp wetsuit in the middle of winter, discovering halfway on that the knee pads are on the back of your knees. Swearing quietly, glancing around hoping no-one has noticed, then struggling back out of a cold, damp wetsuit. Turning it around, and then struggling back into a cold, damp wetsuit again. By the time the wetsuit is on, you've nearly had enough exercise for one day.

That done, the WCSS guys take you down to the beach with their super-safe foam-topped boards, and give you a long run through on the beach of what is involved once in the water. Starting off easy, the basic aim is to lie on the board in the whitewater (long after the wave has broken), and either paddle or be pushed into a wave, while lying down, just to get the feel for it. The first thing that strikes you as you start doing this for the first time, is the power of a seemingly small wave. When you don't 'catch' the wave, you get a nudge from behind, and then a torrent of whitewater burbles under you and the board, and the wave is gone. And you generally fall off the board in excitement/panic/stupidity. When you paddle fast enough at the right time, or the correct push is administered as the whitewater comes to you, then you catch the wave properly - that is to say, the wave catches you, and administers the most astonishing burst of forward speed. I defy you to try it and not get a huge grin on your face.

The rest of the first hour is spent doing that - walking the board out in the shallows through incoming waves (and boy does that sound like less work than it is!), turning around, lying on the board, and getting pushed, or trying to paddle at the right time to be caught by onrushing lines of whitewater.

Halftime sees the surf school lads haul everyone back to the beach to regroup, and go over the next part. The standing up part. Ha ha. So the idea is, that you want to be lying on the board, and then at the right moment, be pushed (or preferably paddle yourself) beachwards to be 'caught' by the incoming whitewater. And then, when you feel that rush of speed from the wave catching you, you then quickly and smoothly push up (like, uh, a push-up) on the board, and quickly and smoothly jump from lying down, to standing up crouched on the board. This ninja-like maneuver is the pop-up.

You practise a good few times on the beach, just to make sure that you have it right. And then it's back out in to the water to give it a go.

And in your first lesson, you can take it as read that you're going to get it wrong, a lot! Doing a pop-up on a board in the beach seems so easy. When your board has just been hit by whitewater, and you're shooting across the surface of it on your board at a speed you couldn't have imagined, the thought of doing anything as stupid as trying to stand up couldn't be further from your mind (holding on tight and enjoying the ride lying down seems like a much better option). But you give it a go a few times. And hopefully, with a bit of luck, a bit of timing, and a bit of what-the-hell attitude, you jump up once at the right moment, you don't lose the wave - and suddenly, you're standing on the board as it is driven smoothly forward across the water by the wave.

Nothing beats that. And once you've got your first one (and if you persevere, you will get it) - you will be back...

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