For 30 days I made my life a surfing life. I filled my Instagram feed with the world’s surf & famous and only hung around with surfers. I watched surf movies, read surf books and talked everything-surf. I surfed as much as my body would let me, and when I wasn’t surfing, I watched other people surf or edited my surf videos and took notes of my surf sessions–one eye on my laptop screen, the other on the surf. Some of these notes and videos became the surf stories you’ll find below.
SURF DAY 1/30 · spot the difference
Ramed led me past the shore break, past the soup of broken waves, and was now bobbing next to me, on the look out for a green wave. Many rideable ones passed in my ever-humble beginners opinion, but Ramed stayed unmoved, his gaze fixated on the horizon.
I followed his stare and tried to see what he was seeing. I compared one slab of moving water to the next, but failed to spot the “different” in the “same same”. Just as I was about to conclude that someone must’ve tampered with this game, Ramed shrieked, “This one! Lay down on your board!”.
“What!? This one..? Why this one?”, I quietly protested, now searching for a clue in my last saved image of the sea surface.
“Paddle!”, Ramed instructed, and just as the wave was about to continue without me, he pushed my board forward and shouted a moment later, “Stand up!”.
I stood up, and I even rode the wave, but my heart sank.
If Ramed hadn’t picked this wave and pushed my board, I wouldn’t have caught it. It was exactly what I needed to learn, what I hoped Ramed would teach me today.
While hauling my surfboard, a bright, baby/sky blue giant, out of the water, I turned around, looking for Ramed. He was swimming towards me, towards the shore, throwing victory fists in the air.
He was proud. I could barely return a smile.
Back in the water I explained to Ramed, yet again, that I wanted to learn how to catch a wave on my own–no pushing allowed. And I demanded to know how he knew what wave to take.
“It’s just a feeling”, he said.
My heart anchored.
The one-hour class ended and I didn’t feel any closer to knowing how to catch a wave. Disappointed and discouraged, I sat down on the beach, watching the ocean.
It would take me days to realize that some steps in surfing aren’t teachable, and that being able to spot and catch a wave is a matter of experience. That, in fact, it is a matter of feeling.
SURF DAY 3/30 · wax on, wax off
My first surf session of the day involved a series of slip-offs before it dawned on me that I might need to wax up my board. Apparently, I was right.
My second session started with me hoovering over my board, seeing how a fresh coat of waxy beads had begun to disappear into a gooey mess of half-melted wax. I had left my board on the beach while going in to soak my face in sunscreen. Unfortunately, I had left it wax-side up.
After cooling down the deck in the sea, I was ready to paddle out. On my way to the line-up, however, I got trapped in a current. A surfer caught me floundering and signalled to follow. I paddled as hard as I could, but was unable to gain terrain. The current was strong. My technique weak. I had no choice but to let go and let the force carry me away, around a group of hungry-looking rocks, to a neighbouring beach.
As I tried to reach the road that would take me back to where I started, the board kept slipping from my grip. The board was wide and heavy. My arms short and tired. An old fisherman couple laughed as I stumbled along and then started carrying air surfboards in an attempt to show me what I was doing wrong. I nodded in agreement, but continued to carry the board, like a brown bag of groceries, in two arms.
On the road back, I tiptoed and jumped from shadow to shadow, looking for relief from the searing asphalt. A man walked in my direction, mumbling something about my leash. I looked down to my feet. My leash was still attached to my ankle. I could trip, he explained. I should take it off, he insisted.
I thanked him for the advice, trying to smile goodbye, all the while I repeated to myself: “You’re only a beginner once. You’re only a beginner once. You’re only a beginner once ..”
SURF DAY 17/30 · surf over matter
After 16 days of surfing, I broke my streak to take a rest day. The weather, which had been tiring the island with rain and storms, seemed in need of a break too, soaking us yet again in sunshine.
I lazed around the pool, hung at the beach and took photos of other surfers, making sure to distract myself from the merciless pull of surf-perfect waves. It would be a mistake to go surfing again; I needed to recover.
I took naps, stretched throughout the day and had a massage from “Big Momma”. I soothed my pains with muscle rub and replenished my body with protein, magnesium and electrolytes. Still, when I woke up the next day, it were my aching arms and shoulders that I first felt. I was exhausted–and not just today, but every day.
Yet, it was also this fight with my body that I couldn’t seem to give up, a weakness I didn’t want to accept, that kept me paddling out, again and again. It was addictive too, to watch myself grow stronger each day.
SURF DAY 18/30 · look mom, no hands
Surfing is for kicks, not crowds. It is for the individual neat it can bring. It is an all-grabbing, watery psychiatry in this over-organized world. To find the champion, you should hook them up with electrodes at all their vital points, take a reading, and find out who is having the most fun.” –Bob Ottum, foreword, “You Should Have Been Here an Hour Ago: The Stoked Side of Surfing or How to Hang Ten Through Life and Stay Happy” by Phil Edwards and Bob Ottum
After yesterday’s rest day, I was careful to not let my mind trick me into creating expectations about how today’s surf session was supposed to go. I didn’t need that kind of pressure, so I decided to go out in the water with no expectations whatsoever and to instead have fun.
Rather than fixating on catching and riding every possible wave, I relaxed. I smiled and said “hi” to every surfer in the water. I floated around more, analyzing the surf and watching other riders.
Whenever I would wash up on shore, instead of rushing back to the battlefield, I would walk back slowly, trying to balance my board on my head–no hands.
I practiced paddling myself in and out of position, and instead of going after every slab of water, only went after a handful of waves. I wiped out less, much less.
I managed to ride 2 waves. And not once did I plead Neptune for another.
I had gotten the same result in past sessions too. But this was different. These rides felt different. I was able to savour them, to remember them.
Two beautiful, green waves. Almost effortless.
I ended my session on a high. Still trying to balance my board on my head–no hands.
SURF DAY 19/30 · one for the road
Today, I broke my leash, twice.
I got hit by my own board, real hard.
I stood up in the shore break, for no good reason, then got dragged over the sandy bottom, and while I was at it, added a flesh wound to my already considerable collection of injuries.
I almost didn’t take a wave. And when I did, I would fall.
I would swear I was surfing yesterday, but these 5 gruelling hours in the water almost convinced me that I was not.
And then there was one.
It wasn’t my best, but it was one. And when days are this bad, all you need is one.
One wave to assure you that this is every other day in surfing. That it’s not you, and that yesterday wasn’t just “your lucky day”.
SURF DAY 20/30 · words as good as waves
Hands folded under my chin, I drifted. A bruise-colored cloud hung over Koko Head. A transistor radio twanged on a seawall where a Hawaiian family picnicked on the sand. The sun-warmed shallow water had a strange boiled-vegetable taste. The moment was immense, still, glittering, mundane. I tried to fix each of its parts in memory. I did not consider, even passingly, that I had a choice when it came to surfing. My enchantment would take me where it would. –William Finnegan, “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life“
When I woke up I felt terrible. My stomach was upset, the rest of my body in pain. Nevertheless, all I could think of was going out for a surf. One look across the ocean, however, eased my exhausted limbs. The waves weren’t here. The forecast said they weren’t coming later either.
I dragged my restless mind back to bed and pulled up William Finnegan’s memoir, “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life”. Caught in a web of words and waves, I spent the day reading, waiting to feel better, waiting for the waves.
The surf never came, and with every page I fell deeper into the rabbit hole until I could no longer imagine a life worth living other than a life lived chasing the swell.
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For my 9th spin-off, traveler, I shared 30 travel stories and 30 travel lessons from my month of traveling alone in Malaysia, Singapore and Spain.