Two things you should know about me: I live in San Diego, California. I do NOT surf.
Some people are surprised when they find out these two facts about me. I have lived in Southern California my entire life. I’m a beach bum who has a permanent layer of sand carpeting the floorboards of my car. I live in flip flops and “dressing up” is something I do only in the most extreme of circumstances. I’m pretty outdoorsy and very into fitness activities. By all accounts, I should be a surfer. But…I’m not.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I even own two surfboards (that are mostly used to decorate my apartment and make it look more “beachy”). I’ve gone out and attempted to surf on several occasions. I’ve even taken surf lessons from local instructors. There are a few problems, however, that have kept me from becoming a stereotypical Southern California girl. The first being that the water here is stupidly cold. It flows down from Alaska here, so it’s pretty chilling, even on the warmest of days. This means wearing a wet suit, and if you’ve ever seen the amount of struggle it takes me to stuff myself into a full wet suit, you’ll understand why I’m not really all that into the idea. The other, perhaps more significant problem, is that the waves are scary here. They can be big and rough and all local attempts I’ve made at surfing have usually resulted in my face planting in the sand and then getting hit in the head with my surfboard, at which point I crawl back to shore, half blind from sand in the eyes, and definitely defeated.
It was on a trip to Oahu, however, that I figured I would give surfing another shot. Somebody had told me that Waikiki was the best place to learn to surf because the waves were consistent and “perfect for beginners”.So, we booked ourselves a surf lesson at one of the local surf lesson providers at Waikiki Beach.
The lesson involves first watching a demonstration on how to stand up while on the beach, then practicing the maneuver yourself on the beach before paddling out to catch your first waves. They show you how to paddle out and how to stand up on the wave. They provide boards for you, which are enormous and therefore easy to catch waves on but difficult to paddle out with, especially for puny, pre-Crossfit arms me.
So there I found myself with the task of paddling out to where the waves were breaking at Waikiki. My husband and I had booked a private lesson together, so it was just the two of us and our surf instructor, an older gentleman who looked as though he had done nothing but surf for the past 50 years.
The surf instructor paddled out. My husband paddled out. Me? I paddled and paddled as hard as my poor little arms could carry me but made absurdly slow progress. As I worked hard to gain ground, waves would come and push me back farther than I had been before. One step forward, two steps back. I huffed and puffed as I worked hard to make forward progress. Japanese tourists standing in chest high water right next to me stared and giggled. Still, I huffed and puffed.
After what took about twenty minutes of some of the most strenuous working out I had done in a long time, I finally reached the instructor. I should note my husband had already caught a couple waves by this point, but it is what it is.
Exhausted but happy to have finally made it out to the instructor, I heaved a sigh of relief and prepared to catch my first wave. The nice thing about surfing with an instructor is that they will usually push you into the wave, so it does make it a little bit easier.
A wave approached and the instructor told me to start paddling as hard as I could. I obeyed. He pushed me out into the wave, and I caught it!
The board caught the wave. I mostly screamed and flailed as the instructor and my husband yelled, “Stand up! Stand up!”
I tried to stand up. I succeeded at getting up onto one foot and one knee before I got nervous and immediately fell into the water. Lame.
The instructor waved and called to me to paddle back out. Of course, at this point I was possibly the most exhausted I had ever been in my entire life. To paddle back out to where he was again was a task as daunting as scaling Everest, but I tried. Once again, I huffed and puffed as I struggled to gain ground. Once again, the Japanese tourists (by now old friends of mine) giggled as they watched me paddle hard to stay in one place.
I never did make it out there a second time, but my husband caught a couple more waves, so I’m sure he enjoyed his mostly private surf lesson.
Despite my utter failure, I did have a good time.
Having worked off an absurd amount of calories, I arrived back at the beach ravenous and ready to eat a huge lunch, so off I went to devour all food in sight.
And thus concluded my time surfing in Hawaii.