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To surf ... is to paddle?

PERU | Thursday, 31 October 2013 | Views [470]

Many people I meet on my travels are surprised when I tell them I’m Australian and I don’t surf. I grew up in Canberra which is inland, a two and a half hour drive from the coast. Instead of surfing, being able to play an instrument is very common in Canberra. I can play the guitar, the bass, the piano … and the triangle. Until recently, my surfing experience consisted solely of two lessons, two years ago in Costa Rica. That and watching the movie Point Break a hundred times. I once heard the quote, ‘You can’t learn to surf by reading about it,’ meaning no amount of theory is going to be enough to make you good at surfing. First time you  get on the board you are going to fall off. You need to physically practice surfing to become good at it.  

And so when I stayed for five weeks in Mancora, a popular surfing spot on the north coast of Peru, in August of this year, my plan was to rectify my ‘un-Australianess’ by taking lessons and becoming competent at surfing.

Most of the action on the beach in Mancora happens on a small stretch of the beach about 200 metres at the south end of town. There are many activities available, such as: horse-riding, jet ski riding, kayaking, kite surfing, riding a pontoon whilst being pulled by a jet ski, standing on a surfboard with paddle and, of course, surfing. My plan was to surf three times a week: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and to do yoga classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and to rest on Sunday. I would have a few surf lessons and then once I was confident I knew what I was doing I’d hire a board and practise on my own.

The day of my first lesson I woke early as I prefer the beach first thing in the morning. There are many surf schools on the beach in Mancora. I went to Surf Point as it was the only one that had some sign of life at 8:30 in the morning. There were quite a few people standing round the hut of the surf school – cool surfer chicks - and I was quite nervous. I asked the sexy blonde Argentinian behind the counter for a lesson. Five minutes and 50 soles later I was squeezed in to a wetsuit and on the beach doing some stretches with my instructor, Alex.

50 soles ($20) included ten minutes of theory and practice on the beach and one hour in the water. Alex, a local lad in his early 30’s, took me through the three steps to standing on the board. I practiced using a long board resting on the sand. First step was to place the hands on the board beside my chest; second step was to bring, in my case, the right leg up on the board towards my body; and third step was to lift myself using my arms and then stand with my right leg and quickly bring my left foot out in front. Easy. Well, it was on a motionless board anyway.

I was quite excited at this point and keen to get out on the water. Alex on the other hand had a serious demeanour about him and said very little. I thought that maybe this was just another day at the ‘office’ for him and so therefore nothing special. It was time for the real thing. I fastened the rope around my ankle, placed the board under my arm and strode out to the water.

The water felt quite funky as it rushed in to all the gaps of the wetsuit. I was expecting the water to be cold but it was quite comfortable. It was high tide. Alex explained, ‘Surfing during high tide is better to avoid the rocks.’ At this end of the beach there are a lot of rocks and during low tide they’re fully out of the water. I looked out at the people already on the waves. There were toddlers having lessons and standing up successfully on the board. I hoped that I’d be able to do it too.

Alex and I waited for the first appropriate wave to come along. ‘OK, this next wave is yours. Get ready.’

I paddled like crazy whilst Alex swam by holding on to the back of the board and kicking with his feet. Alex counted out the steps for me.

‘One.’ My hands were in position.

‘Two.’ I brought my leg up ready to stand.

‘Three.’ The wave was propelling me now and Alex let go of the board giving it a push to help me along. I lifted myself up, brought my left leg out in front and … I didn’t fall. I was upright and I was on a wave riding the board back towards the shore. I was well pleased with myself. I told you it would be easy hehehe.

The next few attempts weren’t so successful. When trying to stand up I would lose my balance for one reason or another – I was too far back on the board; my arms slipped whilst trying to lift myself; or I couldn’t get my left foot in position – and I’d tumble in to the water.

Surfers are very passionate about surfing and I saw this in Alex. He came alive when we were out on the water, amongst ‘his people’, smiling and talking to the other surfers in-between sets. I, on the other hand, was too focused to find the experience exhilarating. My success rate at standing up on the board was slowly getting worse because I was exhausted from all the paddling. If I managed to catch a wave and ride it to shore I would have to then paddle for about three minutes back out to where the waves started breaking. My arms weren’t used to it. At least when I fell off the board I didn’t have to paddle back so far. I kept thinking about how sore my shoulders were going to be. And I had a yoga class to go to the next day as well. I wasn’t wrong. My shoulders were very stiff.

The second lesson was a few days later.  Once again it was in the morning.  It was another beautiful day in Mancora – the sun shining and the sea sparkling.  This time my instructor’s name was Marco. He was from Mancora in his early 20’s a bit chubby and very jolly as well. He told me he liked surfing first thing in the morning, ‘The morning has a better vibe.’

My wetsuit this time round had the same colour scheme as superman’s costume. I wondered if it would help but on my first attempt I fell and scratched my foot on the rocks. Marco told me to relax, not to be so stiff. I started to get the hang of it and managed to stand up on the board more often than not. As a result Marco taught me how to move my weight around so I could turn whilst riding the wave. Being able to turn made things a bit more interesting and I was enjoying myself. But once again, the killer was the paddling. I would have to paddle for three to four minutes back out to the waves just so I could experience 10 – 15 seconds of pleasure when riding the wave. Who said surfing was better than sex?

After 50 minutes I was so tired and rode the board all the way back in to shore, calling an end to the lesson early. Marco said if I kept practising I would get accustomed to it. That was my intention but that was my last lesson. The waves disappeared. The sea was very calm after that and it stayed that way for the remaining four weeks I was in Mancora.

I did improve a lot at Yoga though.


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