Monday, July 20, 2009

Learn To Surf (or) How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Kook

There is a long tradition and proud tradition of local surfers swelling their cash flow by teaching the landlocked how to surf. And while there is no shame in earning a little out of the whole deal (try telling a true beach boy they are off their moral high perch) when I see the classic lesson learning motions I always chuckle a little. It's just funny. Then again, some people say I plain walk funny, so there you go.
There is always that moment when someone finds out you are a "surfer" where they say something like "I've always wanted to learn!" or "I just bought a board after my trip to Costa Rica!" Then they ask, if not beg, for you to take them out. It's an uncomfortable moment, really. I always say, "Ok, yeah sure, let's do that," only to be thinking oh man, there is no way I am going to take you out with me. I don't surf enough myself (let alone have enough alone time) to actually want to drag another person out into the water with me. There are notable exceptions of course, but this is generally how it goes. However, I'd feel a lot more amenable to taking along a learner if I knew they took some serious time with the following list:

A. Go watch a Thomas Campbell film or another similarly smallish-wave, longish board sort of film that includes plenty of paddling and catching footage. Watch how they stand up. Watch where they are on the wave. Watch where their feet are on the board. Repeat.
B. Go to local "famous" break and do the same. Watch the movements and how people take off, how they move, etc. Next, watch the etiquette. Notice how many surfers are really catching the waves. You'll be surprised at how a few surfers actually bag a majority of waves and how the people bobbing up and down move within the pack. Take two things from this: 1) a better idea of how to actually manage yourself in a lineup, and 2) a more realistic set of expectations as to how many waves you'll actually catch during any subsequent session at any good spot for the next long while.
C. Buy some fins and go bodysurfing. Learn how to bodysurf down the line, not just womping straight down, waiting for your back to break. Bodysurf whenever you can. Get so good at bodysurfing you start to think you might actually rather do that on any given day, even after you learn to surf.


When you paddle for a wave, look behind you at the wave. I've seen a ton of people who see the wave coming, turn their head to shore and paddle like crazy. They miss the wave or get slammed. Paddling like crazy is not a bad idea, but while you're doing that, look behind you, see how you need to position the board while you're paddling. Odds are you aren't where you think you are.
B. Kneeboard. I still kneeboard some waves because sometimes a cruddy wave just calls for a little goofy kneeboarding. But for a learner, not putting pressure on themselves to stand up can be a big piece of the conceptual puzzle. Concentrate on feeling the push of the wave, the moment of acceleration, how to not pearl the board, how to turn on your knees into trim. Learn how to ride the wave. Then concentrate on standing up. Surfing isn't standing, it's riding. No shame in kneeling when you're learning, and it will give you the right understanding quicker.
C. Stay out of the way. And don't get me into a fight.

And really, you want to learn how to surf? Do it as much as you can. Alone and afraid, but consistent. Don't wait around for perfect conditions or for people to keep showing you.


Mr. Lentini said...

I think learning to bodysurf is key to learning how to surf and no one understands that when they start out--reading the ocean and what it does with an object is #!

BJ said...

I should've read this before my previous post. But now you've got me thinking "did I get in anyone's way?" haha...Maybe only Johnnys.

Toddy said...

You seemed to have the "stay out of the way, keep the stoke on your face" vibe down like a pro, BJ.

The post may or may not be pricklier than I really feel about it, and learning to surf shouldn't be all too serious in some respects.

But you seemed to have the right idea. Now, type in bodysurfing into YouTube or something.

rebeccajane said...

What a lovely, thoughtful post!

And what a wonderful and interesting choice of photo to go with it. The way their bodies are, and their faces, I would never, ever have picked them as learning to surf! Maybe playing a game of football or a performance or something... Ha! Maybe they're all the same thing anyway.

BJ said...

So, I went out again last night after work, it was small and all shore break, there were about 8 of us out there, I spent a lot of the time watching the others, there were only two other long boarders, so I mostly watched them. After about 5 unsuccessful attempts to catch a wave, I finally got to feel the push of a wave, I got up on my knees about 25 yards from the shore. The board started to rock left to right and I just watched the base of the wave. After a couple of seconds I fell, but the couple of seconds was a great feeling and I am looking forward to the next time I get out there. Progress.

Toddy said...


Jeff DiNunzio said...

agreed--right thoughtful. enough so, that i will now send it to two friends of mine who have asked me to teach them--both of whom seem to be fine neglecting my lack of expertise and available time in the water.

you explain it much better. good work.

Chris said...

Kneeboarding... I witnessed it this morning.