How to Surf 101

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything down. For the upcoming summer season, it would be necessary to discuss my first-time experience with surfing. Beginning on a hot sunny Saturday afternoon, light feathers of white clouds scaling the blue sky, at Long Beach, NY was where I would be born into the community and lifestyle of surfing.

I went with a buddy of mine who lives in the area, we spent the price of one lesson, 50 bucks for two people ($25 per person) lasting 2 hours. It was certainly well worth it. I learned so much in a short time while also failing to stay on the longboard. The furthest I got to pop-up was within a matter of three seconds. Those three seconds, though, felt like I was on top of the world, conquering the brutal ocean like Poseidon, Neptune, or Aquaman.

Although, my friend literally lives seven short blocks away from the boardwalk, we still packed up his car and drove to a spot away from the pier nearly a dozen blocks southeast of his locale. We left prematurely early to ensure a spot. Parking locations along Long Beach, are few and far between. The majority of the time, drivers are just making their own spots within the thin spaces between vehicles along either corner of a One-Way sidewalk. You’d be lucky to grab anything along the angled lined parking. We happened to find the best spot, closest on the sidewalk to the beach access opening without breaking any parking violations. My friend with his arsenal of gear ranged from a surfboard, surfboard case, wax, wetsuit, SPF 50 sunscreen, bathing suit, outdoor speakers, water bottle, towel etc. All I had was my swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, and a small black bag to hold my wallet, phone, and car keys.

We then quickly met the three instructors, a middle-aged man named Elliot, who seemed to be out of place, and two young females. Elliot’s personality is something you would see Robert De Niro perform in Goodfellas. He has an intense Italian personality with a light sense of sarcasm. I liked him immediately. My friend went to the same lesson with the same guy a few weeks prior. This man tends to teach his lessons with more pressure as opposed to the two girl instructors, Katelynn, and McKayla. They were nice and easygoing. The darkened tan man may have been a drill sergeant back in his youth. Elliot had this golden smile as he looked far over the horizon and shook our hands, admitting to us that the waves that day were perfect.

Since we still had two hours until the lesson, we both decided to make camp by the border of where surfers and swimmers were allowed to mingle in the water depths, managed by lifeguards and colored flags (yellow and green). Without a wetsuit, I dove into the active waves. I immediately pulled out of the water feeling refueled and cleaned. I never felt more refreshed in my life. The ocean was vibrantly clean that day. I decided to stay in the water as I swam with my friend to attempt surfing with his board. For those who are wondering, my friend has a 8 foot 6 inch long vertical stripped board containing three fins and a rounded tail. He even waxed the surface of his board before dropping it into the water. Wax and sand helps add traction to the board. My feet never boarded the craft, but it was fun to finally have my body on top of a surfboard while being surrounded by experienced surfers.

The other surfers were all aligned parallel as if they spoke the same language and communicated to one another telepathically. It was fascinating to observe each of them standing up on the board as they rode the wave out across perpendicular and closer in-land. Some of them even turned the board in swift motions. After getting out, I immediately felt winded as if being tackled by offensive linemen.

On a side note, make sure to cover your entire body with strong sunscreen. I placed lotion on my body that day twice and still got burned. The ocean is the worst because the sun’s rays reflect off every molecule from the angles of wave depressions and ascensions. And at the end of a surfing session, you might want to grab an Advil, ibuprofen and down a warm bottle of whiskey. Those will numb the pain from being smacked around by mother nature’s forces.

When we walked back to the surfing tent we were met with three other students. I casually signed my life away on a thin piece of paper. I then was given a wetsuit and told to remove my bathing suit underneath the wetsuit in fear of the material lagging up to my crotch. If there is one lesson to know, it’s to put a wetsuit over your Birthday gear (fully nude). Those wetsuits are extremely tight, and once I walked out of the bathroom I felt like a superhero, ready to take on the challenge as a spandex crusader. The tip for putting on the wetsuit is to climb into the outfit from the back and to gradually pull up the rubber until your feet are completely sticking out of the suit. Once you get the upper torso on, just have someone zip you up from the back.

Katelynn gave us each a 9-foot foam longboard to practice. I got stuck with pink. Doh. Katelyn started coaching us on the technical positions (in sand) we needed to be in when we’re in the water. You start from a push-up position, keep your feet together by the tail, and keep your hands spread out across your chest, not on the edges of the surfboard, but also not in the center. Your chest and belly should be against the board.

The next step is the pop-up. In one quick motion you have to push off the board with your hands, pull one of your legs forward into your abs until getting to a quick standing position. Depending on which foot is out in front, (mine is the left), keep your knees slightly bent, with your back at a posture stance (you should be able to sit on the instructors knee). Your feet should be planted at a 45-degree angle towards the front of the board and you should be able to align your arm with the side of the body that is matching the front leg.

The only way to perfect it in the water is by feeling when the wave is upright to pop, so timing is everything. I still haven’t found that sweet spot, so I just listened to when the instructors told me to go. Also, based on your height and the height of the board, position yourself on a solid place of the board. You don’t want to be too far in the center and you don’t want to be too far back either. The on-land pop-up is always the easiest. What you do out in mother nature, is what really matters. And most of those technicalities will flood away from your mind. Know the techniques of popping up, but when it comes to the wave, also know when to let go of thought, of doubt, and of fear. As Katelynn stated, it all comes down to muscle memory and practice makes perfect. Kind of like riding a bicycle. Surfing is as much of a relaxing leisure as it’s a physical sport.

Once we completed step 1, the girls took us out into the water. On the way to the beach, we carried the surfboards in a few different ways. If your arm is long enough you can hug the board to your side, hold the middle section by both hands, or place the board over your head.

I’ll never forget the first moment I felt when being engulfed by the water in the wetsuit. My feet got cold pretty fast, but the rest of my body felt like a water bed. Wetsuits absorb water without touching any nerves on your skin. McKayla stayed with a few students by the shore to catch the white rapids while Katelynn took the other students further out. The deeper waves are more dangerous because once you wipe out, you have to get back up quickly before the next set of impending waves tries to crash onto you. My friend warned me to not have my back turned on the waves after getting to the surface. You do what you can, at the moment.

On Saturday, several of the waves were behemoths, about ten feet high. The best way to handle these waves without getting injured is by either jumping over the wave whilst holding onto the board with two hands or diving underneath the wave while touching the board. If you have no time to jump over the wave, then pick the later option. As far as I know, you never want to take a wave head on. And when you are flipping and turning around underwater, make sure to cover your head with your arms. If you come up to the surface you can easily smack your head into the surfboard if you’re not careful. One of the positives and negatives of surfing is that you’re always strapped to the board by the ankle velcro rope. The positive is that you never lose the board and the negative, is wherever the board goes after a wipeout, so do you. All of these warnings to surfing eventually become common sense.

I first attempted the white rapids with McKayla and did not seem to catch anything. Then I decided to move out further to meet Katelynn and my bud. Those waves were better, but I kept wiping out. I’d almost get up and fall off immediately after. She would tell me when to paddle and then say the cue to pop up on the board. It all felt too much. When paddling, always paddle with one arm at a time. I don’t know why, but she said to perform freestyle strokes over breast strokes. I’d get my knees on the board and then fly off to the side. I even fell backward a few times. Try to always fall on the side.

The only time I started seeing results was when Elliot joined us in the waves. His approach was much different. He kept telling me to “relax,” and that it’s “simple”. He would continue to tell me to look forward at the buildings in the distance, to not be surprised when I was on top of the board and to take it easy when getting up on the board. I always seemed to be a bit too close to the tail for some reason. “I want you to ride this next wave all the way to the shore,” he would tell me. Growing up with tough male figures, from my father to sports coaches, I was used to that kind of instructing. It fueled me to succeed more. Whilst, my friend preferred going through Katelynn. The only time I was on the board the longest was when I finally managed to free my mind. Within those split seconds, I felt like I was hovering over a cloud. I was one with the molecules, the smell of thick sea salt, and the crabs that were biting at my toes that day (just kidding).

The big lesson from him was to let the board do the surfing and in the instance that is exactly what I did. My biggest problem he said was one where beginners tend to struggle with, not lifting their whole body off the board and instead pushing up with their knees. Also, during the pop-up try not to move your feet and try to free your hands. You don’t want to be dancing around on the board like Uptown Funk.

If you ever want to check out this surfing school, it’s called Surf2Live. Check out their website here, http://www.surf2livelb.com/.

During my montage of being thrown around like a rag doll, I was getting a bit discouraged, but also having fun like I was on some wild roller coaster. Part of the discouragement was seeing a twelve-year-old boy surfing the waves effortlessly. In my mind I said, “COME ON!” My friend quickly reiterated that weight distribution is nearly as effective as the balance. The skinnier you are, the easier you can float on top of the board. No wonder why surfers are so slender and in great shape. Looks like I should start doing some cardio.

The adrenaline that comes with surfing is another surprising phenomenon. I plan on going again in two weeks in the hopes of riding out one full wave. There truly is nothing like surfing. That was the best two hours of my life. You won’t know what it’s like until you try it yourself. Just be passionate, because you’re definitely not going to be riding on the board anytime soon. So what are you waiting for, stop reading this and start surfing gnarly waves bro!

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