Monday, December 15, 2008

Small Kahuna

This adventure comes to you from the mind of my friend Sara S. A word about Sara S. AWESOME.

No really, she’s terrific. I didn’t think so when I first met her, but that was only because our first meeting was at the disciplinary hearing I had with her when I was a junior in college and she was the hall director. To be fair, she didn’t think much of me either when she met me at that hearing, but that was mainly because she’d already met with the other 10 friends of mine who’d been written up as well, and while Sara S. knew in her soul that we were lying about our story, that there wasn’t alcohol in the room and we weren’t having a party, Sara S. could prove nothing because all of our stories synced up perfectly. And that is my story and I am sticking to it. (Hi Mom and Dad! Thanks for the tuition!)

Anyshoes, Sara S. and I have clearly moved on past those fraught times of making me write a paper as a sanction to right my wrongs. (Which I will post later, as I still have a copy of it.). She has become a very good friend of mine, and a perfect partner in crime when I need to tackle hard-hitting assignments like finding the top 5 places to drink martinis in Charm City, as Sara S. not only lives in Baltimore, but she also is not one to turn down free drinks. (Apparently working at Saint Mary’s College, even for a short time, turns you into a boozer. I would very much like to tell you I’m shocked.)

So thank you, Sara S., for the idea for this wonderful adventure. You will be receiving a major reward for helping me Look Fine at 29. And now, on with the show.


There is a class I like to go to at my gym on Saturday mornings. It’s a total body workout class, and we lift weights for half the time and do squats for the other half. There’s a little cardio thrown in for good measure, but mostly, it’s just the lifting and the squats. I’ve been going to this class for about a year now, which means that in that time I’ve completed 4,697 squats, working my gluteus maximus 4,697 times.

I was thinking about this class, and silently thanking my butt and Tamara the Total Body Workout instructor, as I stood in a modified squat position, arms out, one in front and one in back, looking down the length of the arm out to the front. This is okay, I thought to myself. I can do this.

Of course it was okay. Of course I could do it. All I was doing was standing on a surf board. In the sand.

The instructor of our surfing lesson, a fair-haired, fair-skinned short man with a thick coating of sunblock on his nose and tips of his ears, walked us through the process of getting from the paddling/flat-on-your-stomach position to the standing on your surfboard/riding the wave position, breaking it down into four steps. I watched apprehensively. The standing position I got. It was the paddling and pushing up part that will be the death of me, I thought sadly. For despite attending this Total Body Workout class for the last year or so, and despite all the lifting we do in said class, I do not have a ton of upper body strength. Ask me to hold something or wave my arms around in the slightest and I tire out almost instantly, requiring a nap and a cold compress for recovery. Whatever muscle I do gain in my upper body doesn’t stick around very long before deciding it would be happier living Thighland rather than the United States of Amarmica. I prayed that when we got on the water I’d have some natives return to their homeland of Amarmica, at least for a visit.

After a mere 20 minutes of surfing instruction on dry land we headed out to the water. “Most of the work you’ll do today will be paddling out!” the fair instructor called cheerily on our way out to sea, and I died a little on the inside. As we paddled out into the water, my panicking instincts kicked in, and while I’d been relatively calm earlier, I was not as much now.

Because did I also mention the ocean freaks me out a little?

The ocean freaks me out a little.

The freak out is partly due to the fact that I have a bit of an overactive imagination and am convinced that those things that people say could never happen to them or in a million years will actually happen to me. For example, the calm waters in front of a Hawaiian resort will suddenly turn deadly when I turn around on my surfboard, only to find the second coming of Jaws looming over me, eagerly licking his two sets of teeth in anticipation of snapping off my head in one bite as easily as you would bite off the top of a popsicle. I would be as cold too, being in the water, though maybe a mushier around the edges.

The larger part of the freak out has to do with the fact that I can’t always see the ocean floor. Who knows what’s lurking down there, waiting to wind its slimy, filmy, fluttery self around my ankles. I do not like what I cannot see, and while I can mostly put this and other thoughts out of my head, they were niggling around the sides of my brains as I paddled and paddled, breathing deeply but not quite panting yet, out to the spot where the rest of my classmates were waiting.

Oh, and I have a mild fear of drowning, I don’t know why, since I know how to swim.

The instructor, along with another instructor, who seemed very Cheech-like in his demeanor, joined us on the water. “Lay on your board and paddle up to us,” they said. “We’ll push you into the wave, and when we say pop up, that’s when you pop up on your board and ride the wave in.” But, they warned us, don’t ride it too far in, otherwise you’ll ride into shore, and the sand? Not so soft when your board stops and you go flying and eat it. So just fall off your board instead.

Of course! Shouldn’t be a problem!

And fall off your board with your arms out, and fall either directly forward or directly backward. That way, if you’re over rocks or coral, your hands will hit first, and you’re less likely to do major damage, the instructors told us.

Why, sure!

Oh, and when you fall, don’t pop out of the water right away. You don’t know where the board is, and you don’t want a wave to push it into your face, they added.

No head injuries! Right-o!

I let the other class participants take their turns before I paddled my way, a little knot of nerves sitting primly in my tum.

“Ready?” the instructor asked.

“Ummm,” I said.

“Get in ready position,” he said, and I pulled my arms back so my elbows were pointed skyward next to somewhere between my boobs and my waist. I stared straight ahead, the water calm beneath me, and then the instructor said, “Okay,” and I felt a wave roll under my board as the instructor pushed me into it. I stayed down for a moment until I heard him shout, “POP UP!” somewhere behind me, and I frantically scrambled to climb up my board, forgetting everything we’d learned in the 20 minute session on land. Because do you know what happens when you try and scramble on a surfboard? I shall tell you. Amazingly, you do not so much slip because you are wearing water shoes that help grip your feet to the board. But you do a lot of flailing, have a brief moment that shines like the glorious Hawaiian sun above you as you stand for a nanosecond, right before your hips pitch forward and your back bends, and you think to yourself, “I can touch my toes!”, before you go flying off the board and into the water, arms and legs tangled together as you have the fleeting thought of hoping to God above that there is nothing dangerous below you because you are certainly not falling off your board in the proper position.

The instructors would have done well to have also given the one simple instruction of “DON’T FREAK OUT.”

When I popped up, I looked back toward the instructors. “Whoops!” I called. I hopped back on my board and paddled out to the waiting area.

After that, it got easier. After that first fall off my board, I looked down and realized that though the water was murky, I could, indeed, see to the bottom, and see that I was standing on a whole lot of rocks and other sharp things that could hurt me (and would, as later my hand would scrape against a patch of it, but thankfully draw no blood). Realizing also that the water wasn’t all that deep even where the instructors were, since they were able to stand as they watched for waves, a good deal of the panic washed out into the ocean as the tide pulled itself back out to sea.

The next push into a wave proved more successful, and I rode it quite well, as I would the majority of the waves I encountered in my surfing lesson. I will be honest when I tell you that these waves were not big in the least. They were itty-bitty waves, and while Kate Bosworth would have been disappointed, I was just fine with it all. The only problem the waves’ lack of force caused was when the instructor pushed me out into a wave, and the wave piddled out before we even made it a quarter of the way to shore, and I was left standing there on my board on top of the ocean, bobbing aimlessly. I turned around to look at the instructors and shrugged. “Sorry about that! That was my fault!” He called. I hopped down off my board into the water, turned around, hopped back on in stomach position and paddled back out. (Later, I would get to ride a mildly bigger wave, the thrill of the day as I rode it for a short distance, despite eventually getting knocked off my board by it. It was big enough that when I did fall it washed over me in a rush, and my arms flew over my head, and I curled into a fetal position, which is a Midwesterner’s response to such an event, taking the finer points of surfing safety and tornado drills and making them One.)

Because of the small waves and calm waters, there seemed an inordinate amount of hanging out flat on our stomachs until the next viable wave came our way. Some of the other people in the class would sit upright on their boards while they waited, straddling their legs over it and into the water. I desperately wanted to do this as well, as laying flat on my stomach was starting to hurt my lower back. I’d push up onto my elbows, debate trying to pull myself up into a sitting position, but fearing I’d never get back into a laying down/ready position without falling off my board, I opted to endure the uncomfortable flat-on-stomach position. Risking falling off my board was only worth if I was standing up on a wave. Falling off my board when getting back down into ready position, not so much.

Because getting back on the board was, ah, complicated.

The complications stemmed partially from the aforementioned lack of upper body strength and partially from the face that oceans make things wobbly. In trying to get back on the board there was a good deal of heaving myself at the board, clinging desperately to its sides as it teetered back and forth, dangerously trying to tip me into the water. Once at least part of my stomach or lower body was anywhere remotely on the board, I did my best to scramble to a more stable position, like a crab on ice. Feeling good at one point, I decided to try a new approach to getting on the board, and took a sort of running start, with a bounce and a hop, leaping stomach first, sailing through the air at my surfboard. This is great! This worked! I shouted to myself silently and gleefully. And it did work great, for one half of one second that I was on the board, before I went rolling off the other side, really accomplishing nothing more than skimming my body out of the water on one side and into the water on the other.

Good times.

So you can see why I was hesitant to rock the board too much with any moving around, lest I fall off and have to get back on again. The good thing, though, was that the lack of movement and interminable waiting of waves subsequently made me stop and contemplate all that was happening around me. First, I contemplated that I did not put enough sunblock on the backs of my legs. My poor, pale skin prickled as it burned, and later the patches of bright pink would feel scratchy against fabrics, though ultimately they did not burn as badly as I’d imagined. Hooray and God Bless SPF 50. Secondly, I also contemplated on the issue of my right forearm and right knee getting board-burned. I have yet to figure out why this did not happen on my left side.

And then there was the contemplation of the beauty of it all. In front of me the beach stretched out to my right and to my left, filled with families playing, never mind the expansive resorts dotting the background. Behind me was a swath of gently moving water, beyond it the hazy outline of another Hawaiian island. In the distance, dark clouds hovered over hills and volcanoes in the distance. Our instructors said a storm would roll in later, though it never did, save for a few sloppy splotches of water that drooled slowly out of the sky. It was glorious and spectacular, and I did not drown and no sharks ate me, not even on the last ride into shore, our surfing lesson over just in time for lunch.

Beauty shows itself in so many ways.


It's no Blue Crush, but it will do.



Stephanie Y. said...

I love it! And I must admit, I had a rather similar experience during my surf lessons. Especially the upper body strength part. ;)

Antigone said...

How fun! You got further than me. I have no balance. None. But I do love the water.

Gina said...

Well done you!!!! Standing up on your first time out! Woo HOOOOOO.

Nora said...

Damn! You look good on that board!