My Surf Story
When I began Googling surfing earlier this year, there wasn’t much information available using the search terms “my age” and “surf lessons”, thus I had serious concerns about the wisdom of pursuing it. Frankly, why punish myself? But as with most of life’s adventures in learning, timing is everything. This visit to the Hawaiian Islands would follow my ski guide season not precede it, thus the risk of injury would not mean losing a guide season. While boogie boarding had entertained me on previous visits, surfing was slowly sliding to my other tick list, the tick list of things not to do.
I had my first lesson with a randomly selected surf guide along the urban strip of sand called Waikiki, Hawaii. I had staggered away from that challenge not really sure of my future of riding waves and sunset sessions. Something didn’t click. The only thing that worked well had been a rash guard which, by the way, gave me abs I never knew I had.
My daughter Ashley (Valdez High School 2004) who lives and works on Oahu, had been encouraging me to learn
surfing with one particular guide. Thus, as
timing would have it, I was actually on my
way to snorkel some beaches on the North
Shore with Tabitha when Ashley called.
“Hi Daddy. Savage will meet you at the
Duke statue at noon. Have fun.” After a
back and forth discussion with myself, I
nervously turned the rental car back towards
Waikiki, parked at the condo and hustled to
Savage was easy to spot based
on Ashley’s description. Dark skinned,
barrel-chested, and with large arms
poking out of a sea-dyed red tank top, he towered over everyone. A patch of natural bleached hair topped the six foot native surfer’s head. The tattoo on his right bicep read “Made in Hawaii”. We shook hands one way and then another under swaying palms and then I followed him two blocks to a perfectly laid-back surf shop tucked into the ground under a burrito bar. A hundred boards packed the small shop to the point where I could hardly move. The guy running the joint was at least my age, but 100 percent more tan. It’s hard to chill a nervous ski guide from Alaska, but eventually I was put to work waxing my board in a spot between the curb and the cafe while Savage attended to some other shop business and prepped for our lesson. I wondered how many surf days he had this season.
On the way to the beach I carried the lighter of two boards balanced on my head, grasping it with both hands, while following the specimen of hulking Hawaiian ahead of me. Savage carried the larger board with one hand held high over his head as if carrying a tray. The crowd parted for him. Meanwhile, my bare feet burned at every step as I scampered from shade spot to shade spot through throngs of people wandering the paved paradise with a pink hotel. We stopped at a people-packed crosswalk and waited for the light to change. I stepped back from the curb worried that a speeding auto would clip my board sticking out from the crowded corner. I looked so gaper, but hey, anonymity has its advantages. Finally the light changed, giving me fifteen seconds to get past what felt like an elementary school crosswalk. “I hope I don’t hurt anyone”, I kept thinking to myself as my board narrowly missed everyone in my way. Children were safe as the board’s nose swept ahead of me at eye level, but people behind me were on there own.
“You will be on this smaller board tonight”, Savage said as we broke through a crowd that was focused on the sea and waves.
“ Err…hope so,” I mumbled, hiding my doubtful tone What about fun? I shuffled through the sand towards the sea.
I stopped next to a large beached yellowish ‘partymaran’, lowered the tip of my board to the sand and dragged the board through a sea of people, most of whom would likely become my spectators. My guide paddled beside me and then disappeared like a ghost after having pointed to an exact spot where he wanted me to meet him. The location seemed oddly placed on the fall-line of a lifeguard shack sticking up from ancient sands soaked with SPF 30. I paddled away from the shore breaks toward some nice white waves further off shore. After a few minutes of paddling, my arms slowed and I felt the warmth of the sun, barely hidden by the edge of a cloud hugging the lush, green inland mountains. I heard, then saw, Savage standing on a reef waving me towards him.
“Paddle left, now right, BOTH, come to me man. Quick, get ready, hands forward. Relax and listen. Center, get your knees over…”
Once on station, he reminded
me of the instructional video we had
watched back at the Moku Surf Shop.
He wanted me to literally jump up and
plant my feet on the board in one motion.
This was much different than the “5-step”
method taught by my guide a few days
earlier. Savage’s approach was a more
aggressive one-step deal. You just nail
the one move and then, as Savage said,
“Don’t think, just do.” He instructed me
to stay low in a wide stance. A surf
guide shoving me off and down the
wave allowed me many more attempts
than if I had risked learning on my own. Like skiing, it’s all about laps when learning. “Nail this and we’ll get you on this smaller board.” Savage prodded.
“You can do this Alaska man. I know you can,” he repeated with every lap.
Surfers bobbed and bounced like awkward sea ducks as wave after wave flowed toward shore cresting in “irregularity”, a term I picked up scanning the local surf reports. The projected two to four footers gave me every reason to feel I could “survivor man” a second session with Savage.
He yanked my surfboard up beside him. I hugged the rough waxed surface applied an hour ago to give my feet grip. My hands were placed out front to wait for the next wave. I relaxed partially. My legs and knees were stuck together on a line down the precise center of the board.
“Really good wave coming,” Savage warned. Anything he told me I did. He kept telling me to keep my eyes up and quit looking down. This was a strange world for a skier used to a lifetime of being pulled by gravity instead of pushed by a wave.
“You can do this man. I know you can. Ready, swim. Now—Up, Up.”
I paddled with both arms hard and with effort, I was on my feet once again and embracing the learning curve of trying a new sport.
Every time I finished a wave, I would hustle back to Savage, bashing through wave after wave only to be seriously berated for the mistake we both knew I had made. “I know, I know. I can do this,” I grunted. He slapped the board to emphasize the importance of centering every part of the body on the board before swimming after a wave.
“Nail the hop, just do it. Quit farting around.” (I should be more like this when ski guiding!). He reminded me to look ahead and above the tide line, not at the board. “Head up, don’t over think it.”
“I was born right over there,” Savage told me, but before I could look he shoved me into the next wave commanding, “HOP-HOP!”
As I prepped for another lap, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a person surfing, carrying another person over their head.
“This is easy for you. One more wave dude. See you at the beach.”
I had taken the late session and the sun was setting perfectly along with my drooping shoulders. I washed ashore alone. I unhooked my leash and with a few wraps around the fins finally looked up at a nearly empty beach. Savage was gone. I looked out toward the waves and only a handful of diehards refused to fade with the sun. Back at the street crossing, a woman asked me for directions. I smiled and told her I was lost also. Then the light changed and I carried my board into the city.
By Matt Kinney
June 19, 2013