Posted by: smithdavid | March 4, 2012

Waves viewed from the shore are larger than they appear – Part 2

It’s raining – not heavily, but enough to take shelter. Except we don’t need to – the wetsuits are keeping us dry.  We’re carrying heavy swell boards – twenty of us or more, brimming with enthusiasm. Or nerves. No nerves for me though – I’m from SA, I’m used to the sea.

A few vague instructions on the shore for the genuine virgins – feel the wave pull – spring up to your feet. Easy. Or if you’re finding it hard, on your knees first and then on your feet. No problem.

At last I’m in the water – I’m waiting for a lull in the waves so I can drop my belly onto the board and paddle out. The perfect time will come – I know the sea. Around me others are heading out, they paddle fifty yards and then turn their boards. The white-water pulls, pulls, pulls and then they are free, moving with the wave. Even girls – for goodness sake – are bourne by the waves, while I, who knows the sea, wait for that gap to paddle out.

'...twenty of us, maybe more..'

The waves are smaller today – much smaller. And thank goodness they’re smaller – I’d wouldn’t get past waist deep otherwise. I say this to no-one of course – I can run a marathon – this should be easy. I stop waiting eventually and fall onto the board. But it wobbles and immediately I spill over the other side. Salt water in sinuses, breaths short and fast. Again I’m on it, still wobbling but I make a few strokes. Then the first rush of white-water and into the drink once more. The pattern continues until an instructor turns me and gifts me a broken wave.

Now I feel it pull and it is like when, as a kid, I caught one right in the sweet spot and hurtled to the shore. I can feel the rush of the board and the sea and I know I should stand but the board is unsteady – this immense, 9’ long, foam, beginner’s board is unsteady. The next wave I catch then fall as soon as I try and stand. And the next. And the next. More salt water, some of it in my lungs. More gasping for breath.

And then there is one. One of these small, broken, white-water babies and it pulls hard and true and I feel a surge like no other. I’ll stand – if it’s the last thing I do – I will stand, I’ve seen some of the girls do it – I can too. And I am ready to spring, just a second more. But damn you! Someone is beside me and if I waver we will smash into each other. So on I go, belly bound, still enthralled by the rush despite not getting up.

'...gush and recede.'

I half get up one time. And then fall in. I’m on my knees another. Then the wave is spent. And then we are called in, panting and wheezing – two hours have passed. ‘You were holding back, you should have caught every bit of white water there was, just to get the feel, you didn’t need to wait for the perfect break…’ says Emmet, amused, on the shore.

I don’t know the sea at all, I think as we make the slow, exhausted walk back to the school, boards leaden beneath quivering arms. But I turn my head one last time as we leave and cast my eyes on those gentle, innocuous waves. I want to feel that rush I felt on that one true wave – I want to feel it over and over again. And I want to stand. But our time is up and my energy is spent and I’ll have to wait. I turn my head slowly back to shore. Behind me the waves continue to gush and then recede, gush and recede.


  1. This is really lovely Dave! It describes the effort and frustration and exhilaration of learning to surf so well. And by the way, I started learning to surf (there is always more to learn) when I was 34, so you’re not the only one to take it up later in life. I will forever marvel at and be envious of the little groms that rip it up. I think, “I’ll never be that good or even close.” And then I remind myself that what matters is that I’m out there doing it regardless of life’s capriciousness!!

  2. thanks dawn. glad you relate. it can be so frustrating. but unbeleivably rewarding when you get it right. like most things i guess…

  3. I am probably a million miles on the other end of the spectrum. I started as a grom and have been at it forever with the middle part of the ride being far more incredible than one could imagine.

    Cool to read the perspective of the newer ones from time to time. I do some coaching and I try to not take my experience for granted. We all learned the same way. In the white water pulling one leg up at a time!

    Keep at it. Even if you end up far from the sea on occasions.

    • i’m still at it, not easy being a beginner at 40 but surfing is the best sport i’ve tried so i’ll keep at it.

      thanks for reading.

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