Published in the Fall 2005 issue • Sporting Goods
Catching a Wave
I turn my head and look back over my shoulder at the frothy white wall of water rushing up behind me. I paddle harder, picking up speed and looking forward now, over the pink-and-blue nose of my surfboard. I feel the wave catch me and the surge of energy lift the board. The sound of water crashing into itself grows louder; the fizz of a million bursting bubbles fills my ears.
One. I straighten my arms, lifting my upper body off the board. Two. Turning my right hip to the sky, I bend my knee and plant my foot down, toes perpendicular to the nose. Three. I push off with my arms and put my left foot down in front, centred on the board, toes angled forward. Crouching down, I point my left arm towards the beach, keeping my right arm bent before my chest for balance in a kind of aquatic-warrior stance. Maintaining this posture, I ride smoothly to the sand.
At least, that was the idea. In practice, it was often more like this: splashing wildly and letting out a shrill yelp, I scrambled up using my right knee (where I sustained a large bruise), struggled to find my balance and briefly struck some inelegant version of the required pose before being launched off sideways, a mouthful of water stifling yelp number two.
“Concentrate, please,” said my instructor Rogerio, a short, stocky Brazilian man with a shaved head and a lot of eyelashes. “This,” he explained, with mild impatience, flopping his arms to his sides and drooping his neck like a dead puppet, “doesn’t work.”
After pausing momentarily to redistribute the fabric of my bikini, rid myself of the sand collection under my rash-guard T-shirt and wipe my stinging eyes, I fought my way back out. As waves smacked me in the face, at times yanking the board from my hands, and as sand slipped out from under my toes, the ocean reminded me that it was bigger, stronger, faster and meaner than I was, and that if I thought I could tame it with a laminated piece of styrofoam, I was a fool.
But my next attempt proved more successful; I found my balance and managed to stay up longer. Rogerio approved. “Like this, I can help you,” he said.
I had fantasized about learning to surf for years. As a teenager watching surfers from the couch in front of my TV in the Gatineau Hills, nowhere near a coastline, I thought they looked sleek and agile — a magical grace and some sort of animal instinct connecting them to the ocean and its moods. It looked exciting.
Six days of surfing lessons in Itacaré, Brazil, was pretty much a dream come true. I wanted to try it. But I wasn’t sure I was physically prepared.