So I stripped down to my mankini, reversed the suit to ‘right side out’ and struggled back in to it. The Elusive Donna and made me promise to wear the mankini under the wetsuit after my last experience with a rented wetsuit and the unmistakable smell when it got wet. I wanted to say something funny or clever about my inside out mistake but there was just no recovery possible. To Josh’s credit, he didn’t laugh out loud at me.
With the suit back on we started our lesson on the beach. Big blue boards, black wet suits, hot sun. Our instructor showed us how to get up on the board, when to get up on the board, when not to get up on the board, where to put our feet, how to put our feet, how not to put our feet and reminded us that “standing” on the board always meant with knees bent. Then he showed us a cheater way to get up but told us to never do it that way. A few more practice pop ups and he decided we were ready. As we stood up to head to the water my head started swimming on its own. I realized I was getting cooked inside that black wetsuit under that hot, California sun. I couldn’t get in the water fast enough.
As we pulled our boards behind us we marched into the surf intent to see our instructor make good on the promise that we’d get up on our boards today. Wading in, our instructor casually mentions to us, “The surf isn’t usually as high as it is today when we do lessons.” I take that as a good sign, bigger waves must equal easier surfing, more push, longer rides, that’s got to be good. That’s what I was thinking as the first wave of a set of three pounds me in my face. My board is ripped out of my hands and is carried by the wave right into Josh’s head about 8 feet behind me. I check to see if he’s o.k. just as another wave pounds me with my back turned to it. Tasted salty with a hint of Santa Monica sand.
We get out a little further and try to get ourselves ready to catch a wave. My foam board didn’t hurt Josh too badly, no blood, no concussion, so he was ready too. Before we can even crawl up onto our boards we’re hit by another set of waves. I’m struggling to get back to my board while I hear our instructor saying, “Get ready, here comes a good one, start paddling, start paddling…” and I’m just trying to figure out if my board is pointed toward the shore or out to see. Josh, on the other hand, has climbed up on his board and he’s paddling fast and furiously to match the cresting wave. I watch him go, I can tell right when the wave grabs his board and propels the board. I watch as he starts to get up and I watch as he goes right into the water. 0 for 1. “Get ready, Get ready! Paddle, paddle…” The instructor is yelling at me and I do what he says and I paddle and paddle and the wave grabs the back of my board and I can feel it, I feel the energy transfer from the wave to my board and I start pushing myself up (and there’s a considerable amount of self for me to push).
I think there’s a technical name in yoga for the position I found myself in but it’s not called “standing up”. In half second or less I was in the water, wave pounding me down to the sandy bottom. I stood up, looked for my board, looked for Josh and just reeled my board back in when another wave pushed me down to my knees.
And I was laughing. I was getting the crap beat out of me by water and I was having the time of my life.
We repeated this for a solid hour and a half. In that time Josh actually got up a couple times. Not for long but he did get up on his board. I got up once. On my second to last run I caught a wave, pushed myself up, stood with my knees bent but feet to close together. And I thought, for reasons I can’t explain, “Oh no! I’m up! What do I do now?” And with that I lost balance and somersaulted right into the water.
Our time was up and we got the o.k. to head out for one last attempt. Actually we were over time but having so much fun that I think the instructor was being generous. We headed out into the water and out to where the waves started. That meant, for the umpteenth time, we got pounded trying to get out past the surf. I was spent. Unfortunately I was in deep water when I realized this. I was swimming out to surf in and realized I had nothing left, not even enough to swim. I turned around and started to swim to shore but the action of the current and the waves was keeping me stuck where I was. I’d stroke and stroke and make absolutely no progress toward shore.
And I got a little nervous. “So this,” I thought, “is how it ends. I’m going to drown surfing Santa Monica.” I called out to Josh and told him I was having some trouble but he couldn’t really hear me and even if he could he couldn’t get to where I was with the surf pounding in wave after wave. Turned out the big waves weren’t so ideal for learning how to surf. But it had been incredibly fun. And that was going through my head at that moment – how much fun I’d had, what a beautiful day it was, how cool it was to be there learning to surf with my son and how o.k. it would be to die. And then this little voice, I kid you not, was inside my head saying kindly and not mockingly, “You’re attached to a surfboard Brian.” Oh, right, the surfboard. I crawled up onto the board, well, most of the way onto the board and turned it to catch the waves instead of letting them roll past. Within ten seconds I was pushed back to where my feet could touch the sand beneath me. I drug myself up, getting pounded all the way, over to where Josh was and then took a rest on the beach before crawling back to the spot we started from.