The Lesson

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I met with Carl at 8am by the same harbour beach at Oceanside as on Monday and chatted through how the previous day had gone and whether I’d been able to practice the pop-up. We got suited up, which in my case was rather gingerly as I’d got a bit crispy in the sun the previous day – I had put suncream on, but either not enough or I’d been out in it too long and the effect was less bronzed god and more part-cooked lobster – hot look huh?

Just standing on the beach I could tell the waves were a lot bigger – in the 8-12ft range – and so I was a little apprehensive, however Carl thought they looked good and as he’s the boss, who was I to disagree. Paddling out was quite difficult due to the incoming breakers which made progress slow, however by locating the rip current it’s possible (albeit with care) to use that to help you get out as there are fewer breaking waves by it and its direction is naturally offshore.

It took a bit of time and involved several turtle rolls (where you flip the board upside down, submerge yourself while holding on and letting the crashing foam go over the top of you), but after about five minutes we were sat on our boards, beyond the breaking water, moving gently in the swell and chatting to the other 4 or 5 folk out there. We didn’t have to wait long for a wave to come in, I could see a good sized one approaching, so I got into position, started paddling and it simply passed me by. Missed it! Ok, not a problem, wait for another. Next one came in, same thing, frantic paddling, wave builds then passed underneath with barely even a hint it had noticed me. Damn! This was more difficult than I expected – I was thinking that with waves this size I’d be cherry-picking them. Hmmm, rethink. Carl came over and said my paddling needed to be more focussed, by which he meant “you’re thrashing about like an idiot, keep your strokes even and stop wobbling on the board”.

With that in mind, I paddled back out and waited for the next one. A few came through in quick succession and so I watched some of the other guys to see how they got on, of the 5 of them, only one caught the wave, the others had similar experiences to me in that the wave just passed under them without taking. Hmmm, interesting… A few minutes later I saw one approaching, got ready, started paddling in a more restrained manner, as it approached I could feel the board being both pushed forward and then as it got very close, sucked back towards it. This was not a good feeling. However I didn’t have long to ponder on this as once the wave was at the back of the board, I felt it surge forwards, then start to lift, I popped up and looked down to make sure my feet were in the right place – they were. Yay! Unfortunately I also looked beyond the board to the 12 foot drop down the face of the wave. Aaaaggghhh! It was terrifying. I wobbled, put my weight on my back foot, which sent the nose of the board upwards, all momentum was lost, the wave crested and then broke directly on me. I did a 9.9 score cartwheel in the air, swiftly followed by a face-plant into the water and then was caught in the churning and roiling white water where I did a submerged double 360 below the surface before it washed over and spat me out so I could come up for air – a situation known as the washing machine as in “was that you in the washing machine back there dude?”.

Loading the washing machine

Much coughing and spluttering ensued, but apart from being a little battered I was undetered and paddled back out – or at least tried to as I was now facing wall after wall of broken wave coming at me and not being in the rip current meant I was battling alone. 15 minutes later and very out of breath I got back to the lineup and chatted through what just happened with Carl; he was very positive about it (close, but a bit late getting up) and offered a few more tips (try pop-up earlier, weight further forwards, look ahead and not down etc…)

The next couple of waves I missed as they washed passed me and then the following one broke earlier than expected and nearly washed me straight off the board, which with hindsight might have been a better option. Instead I stayed down flat and hung on to the board for dear life, legs flailing about like twigs in a storm. I could feel the power of the water all around me and as I didn’t fancy another session in the washing machine I just lay there, held on tightly and let it carry me to shore, where once in the shallows I slid off into the water, relieved not to have wiped out.

I sat on the beach for a wee while to get my breath back before venturing out again, as I still couldn’t locate the rip it was a matter of paddle, turtle roll, thumped by a monster, get on board again, paddle, repeat. Another 15/20 mins of this and I was back out (bear in mind this is probably only about 100m from shore, so not too a large a distance to cover…) I decided to wait a while before catching another to properly get my breath back and so that I’d be ‘prepared’. I watched a few folk catch some great waves, but I was also quite rather relieved to see that for as many successes, there were as many misses and some pretty impressive wipeouts as well. So, maybe not just me then…

Having waited for 10 mins or so, I felt it time to try again. A couple came by and I missed them, then I spotted what looked a likely wave one or two back, so I waited patiently, got lined up and when it was about 20 feet from me, paddled like hell. It came at me at some speed, again I felt the board surging forwards, but this time there was no pull-back, I popped up to the crouching position, stared dead ahead and caught it. It was about 10 feet high and I was on the top of it, I glided down to the bottom where it towered above me, a huge green menacing presence looming over. I didn’t dare turn to look at it for fear of overbalancing, I just stood on the board, occasionally shifting my weight to make slight changes to where I was pointing. I purposefully didn’t try any fancy stuff – turning up the face, changing direction etc, as I knew that way would lie disaster. It was simply amazing. It felt like flying. I rode it all the way in, even after it had broken I stayed on and got the 2nd and 3rd surges from it. I got a whoop from Carl and from a couple of people on the beach.

This was it, first proper ocean break. Boom!

Cue fist-bump and high fives

Was I smiling? Happy? You betcha!!