Surf’s Up: Learning to Ride the Waves in Waikiki

I was tempted to upload the photo above as a very low-res image, so that you couldn’t enlarge it, and then tell you that it was a picture of Jeff surfing during his very first lesson. But alas, I’m a terrible liar. And then there’s the fact that I have very smart readers. You guys would call BS in an instance…and rightfully so. The guy in the photo above is surfing just down from the Bonzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore in the winter. If that means nothing to you, let me just say this is not novice territory. The waves were huge and the shorebreak fierce. If we’d have tried to surf there, we’d have been tossed around like a pair of barely-there underwear in a washing machine.

But shrink that wave down to a friendly little break and increase the size of the board by a few feet, and there you go—that’s us, surfing in Hawaii.

On our first morning in Hawaii, Jeff and I walked the two blocks from our hotel to Waikiki Beach with the goal of learning to surf. I’d put it on the itinerary. It was my idea. But that morning, I told Jeff a couple of times that if he didn’t want to do it, we didn’t have to. I was beginning to imagine myself attempting to surf, and it didn’t look pretty.

“I guarantee that you’ll get up.” That’s what Mikey says as he tries to get us to sign up for lesson with him. He’s offered to take out just me and Jeff for the price of a group class ($40, usually five people per class).

“You don’t even know how coordinated we are,” I reply.

“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “I’ll give you your money back if you don’t give up.”

And with that, I’m lying on a board on Waikiki beach, getting an introduction to surfing. Five minutes later, I’m in the water, paddling out to the break. A few minutes after that, Mikey, looking back at the waves, waiting for the perfect break, asks, “Ready?”

“No,” I  think

“Yes,” I say. My mind and my mouth are having communication issues.

“Okay,” he yells. “Paddle!” I dip my hands in and out of the water as quickly as I can. I feel the wave catch my board. I feel Mikey give the board a little boost. And then I hear him yell, “Up! Stand up!”

I pull my knees up so I am in a crawling position. I lift my knees into the air. I let go of the board. I pivot and crouch. And just like that, I’m up. I’m surfing. I’m in Hawaii, and I’m surfing.

It’s surprisingly easy. And way fun. Fun enough to make me keep paddling back out for another go even though my upper body is exhausted from the effort. (Paddling back out after each ride is by far the hardest part of surfing.) Our class is scheduled for one hour of in-water time. That didn’t sound like much time when we first signed up, but once we’re out in the water, we realize it is. With just the two of us in the class, there’s no sitting around waiting on others. We ride a wave in, paddle back out, and then catch the next wave.

My paddles back out get slower and slower as time passes. I stop and lie on the board and let the water carry me where it will. My arms are burning, My neck muscles are tense from holding my head up while I lie on my stomach. I feel bruises forming on my hips and knees, where my lack of padding is proving a detriment as my bones grind up against the board. As I lift up to avoid a wave, I think, “Okay, this will be my last one. I just can’t paddle out again.”

But then I’m up and riding, and I’m leaning forward to go faster, and I’m moving my weight side to side to change the direction of my board, and I’m surfing. I’m surfing, surfing, surfing. And when the wave dies under me, and I tumble into the surf, I climb back on the board and paddle back out to catch just one more wave.

4 Replies to “Surf’s Up: Learning to Ride the Waves in Waikiki”

  1. I’m taking surfing lessons on Waikiki in a few weeks, too! Can’t wait. I’ve only ever surfed in Barbados, and the waves weren’t very strong so I only managed to get up a time or two, but I hear it’s pretty easy to get up in Oahu so I’m stoked to actually try and ride a wave all the way in this time! =)

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