Surf’s Up

When in Oz, do as the Australians.  The alarm went off in the dark, and I wished I could have a bit of a lie-in after seven days straight of teaching.  But it’s my early morning surfing lesson.  Just across the street on the beach Mark was lifting the garage door on his surf shop in the little cement building under the palms. My “G’day” is getting less self-conscious.

Mark is about my age – at least he’s been hanging on this Cronulla beach for over forty years. Tan, but lined and a little gone to paunch, he looks more like an executive than an overgrown teenager (Masa, the guy I had the other disastrous day when I couldn’t even find a place to get a lesson, fit that bill).  Mark’s gone from surfer to surf board shop owner to surfboard designer to runner of surf programs for local schools, youth-at-risk – turning surfing into good works.  Doing a private lesson like this is a little money on the side – with a heart operation and an ear problem behind him, he’s semi-retired and has nothing to prove.

He kitted me out in a wet suit and a long board, and we walked in the dawn gloom across the sand to the break.  Time after time he set me in motion in front of the waves.  Patiently he got me to make haste slowly in turning getting up on the board into a single balanced motion.

I’m proud to say that after an hour, I was actually up on the board and, as Mark said, “You’re riding the board now – next comes riding the wave.”  Not much of an accomplishment for anyone who knows surfing, I know, but after falling off and wiping out any number of times in an hour, it was great to be up there, feeling the board as a boat.  The same moment happens when a wind-surfer stops being an enemy and starts becoming a tool, and I see the same relaxation when someone gets the ‘feel’ of my sailboat.  I would need a lot more time at it that I am not likely to find, but it was good to feel the wave under me.  I was muscle-tired by the end, and falling because of weakness and lack of neurotransmitters rather than ineptitude.

We stopped for a few minutes on the way back, squinting into the now-risen sun.  We watched the surfers already out in the green waves, and he analyzed their techniques.  But more fun was watching him read the water.  I prompted him on this, and soon I could see the rips and the rivers where the rip heads back to see (the easiest way to get out there), and the waves breaking on either side of these outgoing currents.  He can tell what will happen to a wave before I can even see it forming, and I felt as much awe of him as others feel when I start bodyreading.

I came back to the hotel and had that unheard of luxury, usually physiologically impossible for me – the mid-morning nap.

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