Every time I lift my left shoulder, I grimace. Same when I step out of the car. Or if I touch my ribs where they pressed against the surfboard when I paddled. Or the front of my right shin where the leash wrapped around and yanked on one of my spectacular falls. My toenail polish is chipped and needs to come off. The second toe on my left foot has a red blister on top of it from rubbing the board.
My body is beat up, and each ache reminds me of the fun we had taking surf lessons at Cocoa Beach earlier this week.
When we arrived on Tuesday, the lifeguard stands flew red flags. The wind blew 10-15 miles per hour from the Atlantic Ocean straight onto shore. It made a mess of the waves. It looked kind of scary out there, not really the easy baby waves I was hoping for. We weren’t sure if our lessons would be canceled. They were not.
We practiced popping up on a demo board in the parking lot: hands under your chest, fingers facing forward; push up, get your feet underneath you, shoulder width-ish apart, perpendicular to the long line of the board. We carried the surf school’s 9′ and 10′ beginner boards on our heads the two blocks to the beach. The waves were white water, and they roared so that we had to yell over them. The surf wasn’t huge, necessarily, just powerful. It looked like a washing machine on agitate.
Getting out through the crashing waves wore me out that first day, especially after I wiped out a couple dozen times, got tumbled underwater with salt water blasting up my nostrils, and then toted a giant foam board through surf that wanted to carry it and my body the opposite direction from where I wanted to go each time I needed to get out to the swells to try again. My eyes burned. In the space behind my eyes, I felt the pressure of the entire Atlantic Ocean; it stung and pounded in my sinuses from all the salt water I’d inhaled.
After an hour of “surfing,” I couldn’t see through my puffy, bloodshot eyes, and my body felt jiggly like gelatin. Any semblance of upright balance was purely accidental on that first day. I managed to get up and stay up a few times, but it was pure luck and I never felt like I had anything in hand. How many times had our instructor Calvin told me, “Eyes up!” “Don’t grab the rails or you’ll tip!” “Plant your feet!” “Bend your knees!” “More weight on your front foot!” “Your arms are windmilling!”
And still. Afterward I was filled with a sort of glee. I couldn’t wait to get back out Wednesday to go again. We checked the weather forecast over and over. Was the wind was still predicted to be slightly lower tomorrow? Yes? Awesome.
Wednesday morning I woke early and walked on the beach at sunrise. I saw surfers in the water a few blocks down from our Airbnb and I watched them pop up. They did it in one motion rather than a sequence of steps like warrior pose in yoga, which is what I was doing. I went back to our room and practiced popping up on the floor.
When we arrived for our second lesson, the wind was 5-10mph instead of 10-15, and there was still chop, but the swells more parallel, the space between them more chill, and getting out through them was easy; I slid onto my sore ribs on the board and paddled out instead of getting whacked in the face every 2 seconds. I wouldn’t have had the arm strength to paddle through the washing machine the first day — I had to trudge through on foot lifting the nose or tail over each wave and then hanging onto the board to keep it from getting ripped away from me.
I spent the first 15 minutes falling, over and over again, just like the day before. After one particular nosedive, Calvin told me “You popped up great on that, and then your eyes went straight to your feet.” On my next push, he said “Keep your eyes up” for the billionth time, and I did. No matter what was happening below me, I kept my eyes on the clouds above the horizon, and I popped up, and the board wiggled, and I adjusted my feet, and I stabilized, and I rode the wave all the way in. Before I stepped off the board, I threw my hands up and yelled “Woohoo!”
I paddled back to our instructor with a huge grin plastered across my face, and I said, “I did something on that one! That one felt right!”
“Yeaah, that was killer!”, he said. “You were surfing!”
Now I understand why surfers chase waves. It is So. Much. Fun. The rest of the hour went by too fast. After the killer wave, I managed a few more, though still with the instructor’s help. When we got the boards back to the School of Surf parking lot, we wanted to sign up for another lesson before we left town. I still have so much to learn and so much practicing to do! I didn’t choose or paddle into waves on my own. None of the instructors had any openings left before we left town, though. It was probably for the best anyway because I think our bodies might need to recover a bit. As Wednesday progressed, we each discovered new and deeper aches and pains.
As we drove away from Cocoa Beach this morning, my eyes stung with emotion rather than salt water. I didn’t like leaving.