Learning to Surf

My position wasn’t quite right and instead of the long run to the beach that I’d been doing all morning, I came off the surfboard less than 5 metres from where I’d started. The water was chest deep, but knowing that one good wave is often followed by another I stood and looked back to see if I should dive under, jump over, or get back on my board.

I saw the curling wave bearing down, and on it, two surfers, riding close and parallel, heading right at me. In that instant I could see the local guy on the right steering away, but the less experienced man beside him kept coming. I saw the frozen shock on his face at the same moment that I threw my board behind me and dived down.

Freight’s bay before the lockdown. What it’s supposed to look like.

I flung my right arm up, I suppose to protect my head, and touched something smooth. In slow motion, my fingers slid along the bottom of his surfboard. I had time to think, the fin is coming soon, and move my hand slightly to the left to avoid it.

When I came up, I could see the guy who ran me over in the water not far past me. His instructor was paddling back towards us. They were both shouting, I’m sorry! Are you OK? We shouldn’t have gone! 

I think I replied, but I don’t remember what. There was no adrenaline shock, no fear. I was full of the wonder of our ballet. When I was last in Hawaii, I swam with the manta rays. It felt like that.

In Hawaii, there’s a real surfers’ etiquette. After your run you circle around on your way back out, line up for the best spots on the break. There’s none of that here at Freight’s Bay in Barbados. Too many beginners, and the instructors don’t seem to give them instruction on anything besides catching a wave and standing up. It’s ten times worse now, with lockdown limiting surfing, like all exercise, to a three-hour morning window.

Way too crowded for me at Freight’s Bay

Yet I still keep going out. My friends say, “Good for you!” But I suspect some wonder why I am taking up the sport at my age.

I’ve surfed before. At 18, in Hawaii for the first time, I remember it being not at all difficult. A few decades later when I tried it again, as the teacher chaperone to teenage girls on the Wild West Coast of Vancouver Island, it seemed impossible. Then in Hawaii with my 18-year-old daughter, she took to it with ease and I never stood up once. Another decade later, in Hawaii again for the last pre-Covid holiday with my daughter and son, it finally clicked. I may not have been graceful, but I was standing up and riding the waves.

That’s why, here in Barbados, I was delighted when Scott tried surfing for the first time and wanted to learn. We can’t ski this year, so why not? When we needed to find a longer term rental, we chose a location right opposite Freight’s Bay. We took lessons and I was working on turning and catching my own waves. We bought boards.

Poor form, but I’m up! November 2020, Barbados.

It got hard again. On a “real” board instead of the surf school beginner boards, I struggle. With lockdown there are no lessons, no choice of going when the tides are right, no space. I get up before 6 to get a little bit of time before it is dangerously crowded, and the surf has been so high, over two metres, that getting out past the break can involve multiple tumbling rolls or dives, and slow, slow progress. Sometimes I catch a wave, sometimes it catches me, but more often I miss it and need to paddle out again. I might only ride a wave standing up once every couple of days. I am covered in bruises.

Some of the ones that show. The bruises on the ribs and hip bones are deeper.

And still I go out. It’s not what you do when it’s easy that counts, it’s what you do when it gets hard. Sometimes you need to put in frustrating hours. Sometimes you don’t see progress for a long time. If I don’t catch a wave, at least the paddling is building my upper body strength. If I’m exhausted after half an hour, well maybe the next day I can make it 45 minutes.

Scott fighting his way past the break last week.

I could have chosen something that was easy and safe. I could have paddle boarded in the quiet waters, or lay in a lounger on the beach. A few years ago, I could have chosen to stay, alone, in my comfortable house in my familiar community, instead of selling most everything and travelling for a year. I could have kept my heart safe and given up on relationships, instead of taking chances and being vulnerable. I could have stayed in Canada instead of moving to Barbados.

There will always be setbacks, but I keep trying. My heart is mostly healed. I am mostly happy. And someday soon, I’ll know how to surf.

5 thoughts on “Learning to Surf

  1. There is defiantly surfers etiquette at freights, Barbados has some of the best surf schools in the world. Sounds like you need some lessons….

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    1. There are definitely considerate, skilled surfers at Freight’s. But the big swells lately have brought out some locals who seem to think they can do whatever they want because it’s “their” surf, and there are new surfers who don’t seem to know things like someone to your right on the wave has the right-of-way (or maybe are too busy trying to catch the wave to even look.) And with only 3 hours a day open it gets really crowded.

      And I did take 6 lessons here in Barbados, with two different surf schools, if that’s what you meant.

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