Sunday, July 11, 2010


So I was about to leave after my craptastic session when I saw Jules take a long ride in. She put her board on the sand and ran up to where I was hanging out.

We talked for a minute about my morning. Jules said she looked over at me a few times while she was teaching and noticed pure frustration on my face. Then she said that she and her bf wanted me to come on the outside with them to hang out and take some waves. I was so surprised. I was tired and bummed and just mentally done for the day; I wasn't even sure I could physically pull it off if I was brave enough to try. But I knew it was a hell of an offer, so I took her up on it.

Jules told me we'd take the rip out, and that she would stay in front of me, and that I needed to just paddle, paddle, paddle past the waves. I said ok, and we grabbed our boards and headed to the north edge of the cove. That was it, no more discussion. But right before we walked into the water, Jules turned to me, smiling, and said, "This is important."

My first time going outside! We hopped on our boards and I started paddling. And I kept paddling. I paddled and paddled until I thought I might die. The waves were tall and strong and every time one came, I felt like I lost every inch of ground I'd gained since the last one. I couldn't keep up with Jules - she seemed to glide above the waves, and I felt like I was being tossed back and forth between them like a ping-pong ball between opponents. It was disorienting. After what seemed like a really long time, my arms were about to fall off and I was just beginning to consider giving up. It went through my mind what a totally stupid idea this was, and how dumb I was to think I could do it. Right then, I noticed Jules paddling left away from the rocks, and then, after a few final strokes, she sat up on her board. I followed her with the last ounce of energy I had, and when I was able to stop and look around: Open space. Deep water. Total quiet. Craziness. I pretty much expected to still be in knee-deep water after all that tossing around, but I looked back to the shore and it was a long way away. Craziness. A totally new experience, totally new sensations. I was stunned.

Right away I told Jules that I was a little worried because I didn't have any paddle left in my arms. Jules nodded, and told me to first pick a point on shore that I could align myself with because the rip would cause us to constantly drift. And she said that I had to always be aware of two things - looking out to the horizon to anticipate the forming waves so they didn't sneak up on me, and looking in to the shore to my reference point to make sure I wasn't drifting too far.

In the time it took her to say that, we'd already drifted back towards the rip, so we had to paddle over a bit. I was incredibly relieved to notice that it took just a short break for my arms to regain some paddle power. We moved away from the rip a bit and I sat up on my board for the first time out there, and the first thing that went through my mind was: Ah, now I'm the shark bait. :) I've been comforted during the past year that there were loads of tasty folks between me in the shallow area and any potential hungry fish. But no longer. And then I took a deep breath and started looking around to just take in my surroundings . . . and splash! I see the bottom of Jules' feet as she paddles into a wave and heads toward the shore. Gone. Jules is gone and I'm on the outside alone.

This is one thing I love about Jules as a teacher and as a person: she doesn't coddle. She believes I'm strong and capable, and she doesn't just say those things, she acts on them. I admit that when I saw her ride off, I had to do a little self-talk to not scream for my Mommy. I thought, I know she didn't just take a wave and leave me out here. But she had. And then before I could even figure out what to do about it, Jules paddled up behind me with a big smile on her face. I said, "You're back? You took one in and then paddled all the way back out here?" It felt like less than sixty seconds had gone by. Strange . . . when I paddled out, the distance seemed to take a lot longer to cover.

Jules, her bf, and I just hung out sitting on our boards, not really saying anything. There were some other kids around (including one stand up paddler - ummmm, which one of these doesn't belong? That guy was just obnoxious weaving in and out of the surfers) but there wasn't a lot of activity going on. It was really great being able to watch Jules and her bf take waves just a few feet away - watching how hard they had to paddle, and seeing the timing of their pop. Very helpful. The coolest thing is watching people from behind as they take waves - all you see is the bottom of the person's feet going down into the water like they're taking a swan dive to the floor of the ocean. I think it's something about there being a vertical drop to get into the wave out there, but it looks like a free-fall. And when you're watching from behind, their head and body disappear and all you see is the feet. It's really neat.

I learned a few things - that if a wave is coming that is too big, you need to paddle towards it (so to the horizon.) I had to do that a few times and I admit it's a little counter-intuitive, but it works. I also learned that you have to start paddling waaaay earlier, and harder, than in whitewater. This is still confusing to me. The timing is really different because you can't rely on hearing the wave crashing or peeling, or feeling it pick you up, before you do your move. It's like you have to paddle and start your move before any of that happens. To be honest, I'm not really sure how it works. I just know the whole thing is a lot quieter. The waves aren't breaking out there, so it's totally silent, even as you're paddling and doing your move. That's pretty cool.

We were all getting tired and the waves were dying down, but Jules was her super cool self and didn't want to go in until I had a chance to catch a wave. I tried for one but didn't start paddling early or hard enough, and it was just taking too long for another good one to come along, so we decided to head in. I would have loved to have tried a few, but it was such an awesome thing just to go out and experience being there and watch great surfers up close.

When we got back in, Jules told me that I should really divide my time between whitewater and paddling out now, as I'll get more riding practice in whitewater but more paddling practice in green. She also said that whenever I go surfing, I should give her a call to see if she's going out so we can go out together. I mean, how cool is that? She and the bf talked about how they learned in green water - having someone line the nose up just slightly right or left so you don't ride straight, and giving your board a little push so you have some momentum - and Jules said she will do those things for me. I think I'll still schedule a few lessons with her so I can get some really solid practice time out there, but I would love to feel confident enough to surf with Jules during non-lesson times, too.

As we packed up our gear on the shore, the initial paddle out was still on my mind. I told Jules that I felt pretty discouraged that with all of my working out (it's quite relative, but I'm definitely in the best shape of my life right now) I still could just barely get out there. I was trying to play it cool, but inside I was really thinking: I think it's beyond my skill level. I think I have to face it that it's too much for me. Jules' response was so reassuring. She told me that you don't have to be in absolute perfect condition to surf. She encouraged me to keep up my running and yoga, but said that it's also about learning the rhythm of the water. She said, "There's a little river in the middle of all those waves, and over time, with practice, your body just finds that path and you paddle right into it." She said she thinks I'm already on my way.


  1. That last bit reminded me of swimming with my school friend, Fred. He was from Australia and could get from one end of the pool to the other with such grace and ease that I couldn't understand what I was seeing. It seemed to me that I was putting in FAR more effort, but he always beat me, seemingly lifting his arms only once to my every six strokes. I hope you find your little river soon.

  2. "There's a little river in the middle of all those waves, and over time, with practice, your body just finds that path and you paddle right into it."

    This is what a good teacher does. Gives you wisdom to sink your teeth into that can be applied to more than just the task at hand (surfing, or for me, yoga).

    Your body finds the path.


  3. Just wanted to drop a little note and say I've been reading your surf-blogs. Inspiring! Also, if you want a little help (friend to friend type, not "come in and see me") refining your strength-training routine, give me a shout. I love doing it.

  4. Jules is right: you ARE on your way. This is so much fun to read and remember my own surf learning curve!

    The thing about catching green waves, in less mystical terms, is this: experiment, learn, repeat. You move your body a little farther up the board when you paddle and see what happens; you try paddling in later on a wave and see what happens; you arch your back, kick your feet, paddle with both arms simultaneously. And see what happens. And you accept a metric buttload of wipeouts and rinse-cycles in the process.

    And then one day you do it right. You're somehow in the right position and somehow there's nobody else in front of you or behind you, and you somehow had enough paddle speed to catch the wave, and you somehow don't drag a knee when you pop up, and you somehow don't pearl as you're plummeting down the face, and then you remember to look around and you can't believe you're surfing.

    I can't wait for you to catch that one!

  5. I love your surfing stories :)