I used to play in the surf when I was younger, usually in a kayak, sometimes on wind-surfers and occasionally on long-boards, always in the freezing deep and stormy Atlantic off the coast of Wales. We never had any surf lessons but had a lot of fun.
More recently, in the warmer waters of Australia, and especially now that our daughter is older, we have spent some time on boogie-boards.
I have also started going out on my inflatable stand-up paddle-board, but while I am fine in lagoons and in flat waters, as soon as I hit any surf, I fall off.
Some time ago, we booked surf lessons with Broulee Surf School on the New South Wales coast, but what with COVID-19 and interrupted travel plans, we never got to take them. Roll on to this week, and we were staying at our favourite holiday house in Lilli Pilli, just up the road from Broulee, and so finally we were able to take them up.
We arrived in the morning to a good rolling swell of late-breaking waves. Recent storms had rearranged the bottom to provide an interesting selection of rips and hollows. Three of us met Robert, our instructor, for a couple of hours of personal lessons.
Robert was very relaxed and confident, but must have wondered what he’d let himself in for with three middle-aged suburbanite newbies. Our first exercise was to lie on our boards on the sand, and lift into a push-up and then downward dog… and repeat. In retrospect, I wonder how many people fail that first test?
Since I was in the water, and didn’t feel like breaking out the Go-Pro, I don’t have any photos of us, but I do have pictures of Berrima doing the same course on a different day.
Once we’d mastered the art of correctly placing our feet, it was time to get into the water.
Once again, Robert instilled us with confidence, holding the board as we lay prone, and then gently pushing us onto smaller waves so that we could pop up and practice the standing manoeuvre.
As we got more confident, he pushed us onto bigger and bigger waves. Sometimes we wiped out, but the first time that I pumped the board from side to side to steer all the way to the beach, I was so stoked. A huge grin split my face. I was surfing!
Of course, Robert was doing all the set-up and positioning me perfectly on each wave. When I tried catching my own, it didn’t go nearly so well! But the buzz was amazing. Even with the relatively small waves, it was very tiring to fight back out to where Robert bobbed beyond the break, but every time I struggled straight back out, knowing already that I wanted the next run to be better.
Each time he set me up for a wave, Robert just offered me one quiet piece of advice before letting me go. He didn’t need to do more than that, because it quickly became clear as soon as I was moving whether or not I’d made a mistake, even (as I quickly found out) a recoverable one. Whether it was a complete wipe-out or (whoop! whoop!) a great run all the way to shore, a minute later I was swimming back out shaking my head, determined to do better on the next run.