It's a thrilling feeling when the wave grabs hold of the board, and it rockets forward, no more paddling needed. I enjoyed that experience for several seconds at a time Saturday before toppling sideways into the water.
My first surfing lesson was at 9 o'clock, before the strong sun and the big crowds are out. Lovely bright not-too-sweltering day. My instructor Sterling at Wrightsville Beach Supply Company loaned me something called a rash shirt to prevent sunburn and chafing. Seemed my flapping denim overshirt was going to be hard to surf in. So wearing the proper gear, I already felt very surferly walking the block from the shop to the ocean, . Also, a nice feeling to be taking a barefoot morning stroll again down a sandy street on the beach where I grew up.
I began this two-hour experience determined and hopeful of riding a wave standing up. I didn't even think about any preliminary steps in the water. Had no idea that it might be tricky to sit straddling a surfboard without doing something resembling a kayak roll. They look so stable, these boards, but they're not: they wobble, side to side. I felt as if I'd accomplished something huge when I finally felt confident pushing up to sitting, and watching for a good wave.
I chased a lot of these waves. Caught two or three. Twice got my feet under me but fell before I could stand. Once got hit by the board, which didn't hurt, but did leave a nice little purple goose egg that has gradually turned into my first-ever black eye. (I'm enjoying saying: Oh, that. That''s just a surfing injury.) And once, I rode all the way to shore, which was truly magnificent , hurtling along in the foamy front of a wave at an astonishing speed.
I inquired of Sterling how tall these giants actually were. He said: a foot. Okay, maybe a foot and a half. I'd figured three to four. Turns out that surfers don't measure from the deep valley between waves, they measure from the hypothetical smooth surface of the water. So hypothetically these waves were a foot and a half. In fact, they were three! At least!
I was a bit aware of my advanced age of 62 as I set off on this little adventure. The night before this lesson my mother told me that older surfers are called wahines; she mentioned a local woman who'd won some kind of wahine surfing title. When I learned what it actually meant, I was glad that I hadn't jubilantly announced my arrival in the shop as a wahine; turns out it means "girl."
So will I make a habit of surfing? I kinda think I'll do it again a time or two. I got the basic ideas in my lesson. Now I just need to practice — until standing up on a flying ten foot ironing board comes naturally, doesn't even feel like a particularly bold thing to do. And even if I don't get around to it, giving it a shot once has refreshed my sense of possibilities.