Surfer’s log: day 4.
I got one!
Trying out a new beach a little further south we discovered a nice spot where plenty of locals, families and beginners found their spots in the sun. At high tide there isn’t much of a beach left and the ocean runs right up against a line of wooden poles, fences, and cement barriers struggling to hold back the relentless waves. Many of these barriers sit powerless above caverns carved deep into the stone where the the ocean, like a child, has scooping them out like sand.
There are no lines of brightly painted food stands full of colored ice and t-shirts. There are no humans lying like corpses in neat rows as they let the sun burn off their outer layers. There are no brown women in florescent g-strings and roller blades swimming like salmon upstream through the crowds of corn dog munching patrons. In contrast with the manic consumer-centric world of the San Diego beaches, this place felt like the ancient California where surfing began.
The people were friendly and low key. This was their home and it was easy to imagine that this little town consisted entirely of people who had decided that living by the ocean was more important than pretty much anything else in life. Every morning they strolled down the street with smiles on their faces and surfboards under their arms, coming to and from a handful of beach access points. Some of them even said hello. As a particularly outrageous touch, we actually saw a garbage truck roll by trailing tiny purple flowers in its wake.
After the previous day’s beating we were newly enthusiastic about hanging around near shore and riding white water. As it turned out, this not only built up my confidence but also gave me a chance to keep improving my ability to maneuver the big board. Instead of flailing and struggling to stand I was really controlling the ride and consistently catching everything I tried. Of course the better I got, the more I craved stronger waves and longer rides, and this had me walking the board out further and further each time. As I got more determined, I didn’t notice how far out I was going until, toward the very end of the day, I found that I’d accidentally walked and slid my way out past the breaks again.
At that point I certainly wasn’t going to miss the chance to make another attempt. I sat up on the board and waited for a nice swell. As the first one came through I paddled furiously only to have it lift me up and leave me behind, arms digging helplessly into the water. I whimpered and started for the next one. This one caught me, and I felt it lift me up until the nose started dipping in a terrifyingly familiar way. I heaved myself backwards to no avail. The wave curled up over my head and sucked me into the blender yet again.
This time was different, though, and instead of resisting or letting myself panic I simply relaxed and let the water turn me until it was done. I popped to the surface feeling far less the worse for wear and certainly ready to give it another try. I was told later that this beach was less brutal than the last, but I’d also learned to relax and take a solid breath before going under. Instead of fleeing in terror I pushed back out.
This time around I timed things a little better and I managed to paddle enough to feel the force of the wave grab me. I arched my back upwards to keep balanced so that instead of nosing in, the board formed a watery shelf as I was lifted up into the air. I jumped into position and immediately felt myself fall forward as I slid down the wave face for a stomach gripping moment until I realized that this was exactly what was supposed to happen. I was cruising towards land, knees bent and arms out, the power of the wave suddenly mine to control. I was standing on top of the board and the board was on top of the world. I took the ride as long as it could last, only dropping into the water as the wave went completely flat into the sand. I ran up the beach and began leaping and screaming incoherently at Margaret, my heart pounding and my arms flailing like I was trying to call up an ancient ocean god to bear witness. I had caught my first real wave. I could hardly breathe. There was no turning back.