Sunday, April 15, 2012
Tonight I'm going to tell you all about the surfing.
As you can see on the schedule boards, there are two sessions of surfing per day. The morning is a more structured lesson and the afternoon is "free surf." Las Olas sessions usually have about 15 women, and this session, for whatever reason has only 7. This has meant a lot of lovely things for us, like that we all got to know each other more quickly, and most notably, that we get a lot more time with our surf coaches.
Yesterday we got a ton of information about what to do and what not to do before we even got out there, and I was kind of overwhelmed by all that I was supposed to think about at once.
But then we paddled out for our first deep water lesson and it felt much better to put the directions into immediate practice, to learn how to lie on a board and paddle, how to cobra (push up onto your arms to let a wave crash between you and the board), how to turtle roll (roll off the board and pull the board on top of you and ride through a wave and then roll back on), how to sit on the board, how to sit-and-spin when it's time to turn around and ride a wave in. We practiced these things as a group until it was time to catch some waves.
How to "pop up" or go from lying to standing on a board is one thing when you are hearing about it and watching other people do it and an altogether different thing when it's time to make it happen yourself. The first wave I tried, I got up onto my feet and immediately tipped forwards and back into the water. Take two: This time I got up on my feet, but before I knew it was happening, I was back down. Take three: I somehow got up on my feet and rode the wave all the way in. Wow. When you feel it, and you have it, it's an amazing feeling.
Now, I will say that we have a lot of factors helping us out here in Mexico. The water temperature is completely comfortable, the bottom is sandy and soft, and we have three coaches, one of whom is with us at all times.
In the afternoon yesterday, the waves were a little different, bigger and a little steeper, so when I'd get up on my board, several times in a row the nose of the board would go under water right when I stood up and then I would pitch forward and fall; two times this happened and it sent me crashing into the wave with my board flying up over my head and then landing right on my head as I came up. Ouch. Graceful? Not so much. The instructors referred to this feeling as the washing machine and I know exactly why. But still, despite getting pummeled a few times, I was getting the hang of it, standing up most of the time, and sometimes getting that glorious ride all the way into the beach.
Today I had two one-on-one sessions with one of our coaches, Brittany. Here is how it goes.
Brittany swims out with me (she is not on a surf board) and we float around together and get our bearings. I sit on my board and watch for waves. In the morning, she would pick waves for me but by the afternoon I was learning to spot the good ones coming by myself. When we'd spot a good one, Brittany hangs onto my board with me and sets me up to go.
"Here is your wave. Turn around. Okay. Get ready. Ready? Start paddling... now. Paddle! Paddle! Paddle harder. PADDLE! GO! DIG! DIG! DIG! Okay... now 1, 2, 3 POP UP! UP! UP!"
And I get up. Hands go down on the board, hips pivot, and then I plant my feet, and then raise my arms and hold them out to my sides for balance. Over the course of the day we were able to work on tweaking my stance. I'd paddle back out and Brittany would say: "Okay, let's try to not lean forward so much." Or, "you need to squat and find your center a little lower." "If your board starts to tip forward, arch your back." "If you want to get a little longer ride out of a wave, put your weight forward to the front of the board." After each wave, I'd adjust something slightly. Then the next wave, it would be better. When I would hop off and grab my board to head back out into the waves, I'd see Brittany pumping her fists in the air for me. "NICE!"
My first mark of progress was when Brittany stopped giving my board a push into the wave because I'm a strong enough paddler to do it myself. And I also can feel when it's time to pop up now without anyone shouting it at me. Our other surf instructor Aynsley said: "You'll know it's time to pop up when you feel that whooosh in your belly that tells you that the wave has you." Yes. I get that now. I can feel the whoosh and know when the wave has got me. It's such a specific and powerful thrill. Tomorrow I graduate to an epoxy (lighter) board and leave the big, blue beast behind.
Women teaching women to surf is the Las Olas model and is incredibly important to the ideals of the program. I totally get this. I don't feel like I have anything to prove to anyone here, but the girls celebrate every step alongside of us in a way I think only women can do with each other. The coaches are total cheerleaders for us and their love for surfing and their comfort in the water is contagious and inspiring.
In my afternoon session with Brittany, I caught wave after wave after wave. I rode in on my feet on probably 15 or 20 waves, each time feeling more and more sure of what I was doing. After one especially long and steady ride, I paddled back out to Brittany, and sat up on my board and said something like: "You know, I'm really getting the hang of this. I think I'm getting kind of good." And at that exact moment I lost my balance and tipped over into the water, and my board flipped over on top of me. I came up laughing. Hello over-confidence! The ocean is in charge, not me.
My body is getting worked hard here; I'm using up so much energy each day between the hour of yoga in the morning and 2 sessions in the water. I have bruises on my hips from carrying my board, and on my ribs from lying on my board, and my back and shoulders are sore from paddling, but I still feel good and strong all over. And it actually feels good to be taking a break from running.
I also learned today that I can successfully surf with my baseball hat on which protects my head and shades my eyes a bit. Jessie and I both had awesome afternoon surf sessions, can't you tell? Big smiles.
And at Las Olas, after a day of being covered in salt water and when your muscles are all maxed out and tingly, you rinse off in the outdoor shower outside our doors. I mean come on.