I always like to try new things when I travel and surfing was high up on my list of things to do. The first time was in Australia in the Town of 1770, pretty much the smallest place I’ve ever been. They offer the cheapest 3-hour surf class in Australia, but because of that they regularly have upwards of 15 people trying to surf. In a group that big it’s difficult to get into any kind of rhythm or receive any help from the instructor. Having said that I’ve never had so much fun doing something I was so bad at. I was eager to give it another go and on my recent trip to southern Africa I got my second chance.
I’d heard from a friend I was travelling with that it was possible to take a surf class at Coffee Bay on South Africa’s Wild Coast. Again, it was the cheapest in the country. Just R70 (less than £4) for a two-hour class with no more than five people in each group though the Coffee Shack hostel. I was looking forward to seeing if I could improve on my abysmal performance from Australia and maybe actually stand on the board. Unfortunately, my preparation didn’t quite go according to plan.
The night before I was due to leave I still hadn’t done any surfing and this was going to be my last chance. So, when my roommate signed up to the next morning’s class I hesitantly decided to join her. 7am starts are never my favourite no matter what the activity, but the prospect of diving into the cold Indian Ocean at that time didn’t appeal too much. Later on my preparation took a further step in the wrong direction as I chatted to some of the other guests at the hostel.
Over the previous two months in southern Africa I hadn’t met any other British people. Now suddenly there were a large group at the same hostel in a tiny village. Among others were a couple of Scottish girls who were working in a nearby school, and two English guys who were towards the end of a ridiculous trip as they cycled from the UK to the Cape of Good Hope. Africa’s most South-Western point. Having not met other British people for some time we did what we tend to do when on holiday and I didn’t return to my bed until about 4am. Three hours later I fell out of bed for my surf class. The taste of Jägermeister still strong on my tongue.
There were three of us taking the class. My roommate and a German guy I’d met the day before. Once we were squeezed into our wetsuits, we grabbed our boards and made the ten-minute walk to Coffee Bay Beach ready for our class. The other two had recent surf experience, while I could remember very little from my lesson four years earlier.
However, the instructor was very experienced and explained everything really simply. After perfecting my technique on the sand, I waded out into the water to try it for real. Soon, after a lot of failures, I was starting to get the hang of it. At least to the point of getting one foot planted on the board.
Earlier on in my trip I’d stopped in the popular surf spot of Jeffreys Bay, one of the best surfing locations in not only South Africa but the world. I spent a morning watching the surfers as they danced through the waves. There was a clear difference between the professionals and the beginners. The guys who did it for a living were so fluid. Every time they rode the wave they were up on the board in one movement. It was this technique I hoped to imitate now, but it just wasn’t to be.
The instructor had a lot of patience and spent more time helping me than the other two. The key was not thinking too far ahead and just focusing on each step as they came. Taking my time to ensure I did each one rather than rushing it and falling into the waves. You actually have more time than you realise. This includes waiting for the right wave. I was advised by the instructor to avoid any double or triple waves and instead wait for waves that were heading straight for the beach. Once I saw one suitable, I had to get my board in place and climb on top. Despite the imagined urgency to get onto the wave before it’s gone, doing each step steadily is much more beneficial.
The first step is to get a good base on the board, lying down facing towards the beach with my toes off the edge. Then I had to place my hands firmly at the side of my ribs and push upwards, similar to a push-up position. Next, I had to place my right foot (my stronger leg) near the back of the board with my toes pointing to the right. Then, something which proved much more difficult and my downfall multiple times, I had to move my left foot between my hands, pointing in the same direction as my right one. Finally, with my feet shoulder width apart I could slowly rise, keeping my arms stretched outwards for support.
Putting all the steps into practice, focusing on each one as they came, I was able to spectacularly fail at trying to surf. No sooner would I get both feet planted on the board, if I even made it that far, than I would be diving back among the waves. I was determined to ride at least one wave and no matter how many times I crashed and burned I was quickly back up ready to try again.
With our class almost finished the instructor signalled for us to return to the beach. I waited for one more wave. Hoping that I could successfully put everything I’d learnt into practice. First my arms were placed at my side and then I planted my feet. The right followed carefully by the left. Then I rose. Slowly, cautiously. Not wanting any wobble to throw me off until I was upright. And then it happened. I rode that wave. Probably only for five seconds or so, but I still rode it. I was ecstatic! It made getting up after barely 3 hours sleep all worth it.
The moral of this is probably something like never give up. To keep going until you achieve your goals. But I just know I’ve never had more fun doing something I’m so terrible at than surfing.