Every time it came up my partner would patiently explain that the joy of getting pummeled repeatedly by waves was not worth the cost of a potential shark attack. After years of badgering she finally gave in and decided to organize a lesson to see what the hype was all about.
In my mind, I always had a very romantic idea of surfing. In many ways it was a symbol of what it meant to live in California. The very first time I went I drove down from Davis to Santa Cruz with a friend to ride the waves at Cowell Beach. To keep things as cheap as possible we rented all our equipment miles away from the beach, lugged all of it in a beat up jeep, and then walked another mile until we finally reached the sand.
I was exhausted before we even started, and things just went downhill from there. We were too prideful (and poor) to get an actual lesson. Besides, my friend had gone one time when he was a kid so he felt like he could coach us. We put our wetsuits on, swam out, and were immediately destroyed.
For the first two hours I went through a process of swimming out to catch a wave, missing the wave, then getting pummeled by waves until I reached the shore. I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t really get a better idea as time went by. I think I got up one time only to be tossed immediately just as I raised my hands in triumph.
There was one silver lining. In between the swells were moments of calm. In these moments I would sit up on the surfboard and just soak in the beautiful weather. There’s something about repeatedly being dragged underwater and spitting up gallons of seawater that gives you an appreciation for the still moments.
The next few times I went surfing I finally coughed up the dough for lessons. Before meeting my partner I went with my buddies down to Pacfica. The beach was much worse, the surfing was much better, and the Taco Bell was the best part. It’s actually known as the most beautiful Taco Bell in the world and I agree.
Another time I went as part of a work offsite event before the pandemic. This experience was the best one yet. I actually got up a few times and started to feel like I might just be the indian Kelly Slater.
After that last outing I obsessively researched wetsuits and surfboards but couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger. Unless you live down in the peninsula or near Pacifica it just isn’t feasible to make surfing an every day, or even an every week thing. I put my surfing dreams out of my head and started focusing on something more practical, like quitting my job and running for Mayor.
When I was finally able to go with my partner and our friends, it was an amazing experience. We met up with our surf instructors, put our wetsuits on, and walked our surfboards down a flight of stairs to the beach. We then walked alongside a precarious coastline while being slammed with waves until we found a cove to rest our boards.
The surf instructor taught us about the rules of the surf. For the first time I learned surfing etiquette, and understood why I was yelled at constantly for getting in people’s way in my prior excursions.
We swam out and we were all able to catch a few waves. Every time one of us caught a wave we would all cheer them on. When they fell we would just cheer harder to make sure they heard us underneath the waves.
Afterwards we grabbed a beer at a bar which was celebrating Octoberfest. We drank a liter of lager while a full band played classic Bavarian songs. Where they found this band in the middle of California is anybody’s guess.
One of the big reasons I like surfing is that it helps you realize how small you are. When it is you against a wave, the wave will win one hundred percent of the time. You can only be at peace if you seek to understand it and react to its actions. It’s a crash course in what nature has to offer.