First Days


Monday dawned bright and sunny – much as I’d hoped it would – and as I was jetlagged being awake and up in time to get to Oceanside for my 9am meet at the surf shop was not a problem. The town is about 20 miles south of San Clemente along Interstate Highway 5 and is an interesting blend of commuter town for San Diego, tourist hot spot for the beaches and support town for the army base at Camp Pendleton which is just north of the town and is one of the major bases for the Marines who are stationed there.

I arrived at UP Sports just as the staff were opening up and met Carl who is the surf instructor who works out of there. Got myself a new wetsuit (a 3/4mm O’Neill, zipperless one with sealed seams to keep it insulated, for anyone interested) and then headed with Carl down to the beach near the harbour where we were to have the lesson. En route he explained about the sorts of beaches close by, the ones that were better for less experienced surfers and the ones to avoid, all good and useful info for the forthcoming weeks and more importantly for me the sort of detail it would otherwise take a long time to get hold of.

Oceanside Beach – looking south

So, once wetsuited-up and with the 8ft Wavestorm board provided under my arm we headed to the water. The sea temperature was fine – about 14 celsius, which compares very favourably to the St Andrews and Dunbar’s 8 celsius – and was consequently easy to adjust to. The waves were large-ish (5-7ft) but smooth and with a slight offshore breeze were coming in at a consistent rate and pace. I paddled out beyond the breaking water to the line where 20-25 other surfers were waiting for their wave to come in. I gave it about 10 mins to watch how the waves were coming in and see how everyone else was managing in the conditions and what sorts of techniques were being used.

I saw one coming in and with no-one else lined up, this was it, my first chance. I got down on the board, waited until the wave was about 15 feet from me and paddled as hard as I could. The board caught the wave, I felt the surge of speed as it took hold and propelled me forward. Thinking I’d got it I raised myself up and attempted to pop-up. I got to my feet, crouching low and then stood up. Unfortunately my leading foot had forgotten where the board was and rather than being planted square in the middle, was way out on the left hand side. The board veered to one side, I did an uncanny initial impression of a Weeble (remember those…?), but unlike they who wobbled but never fell down, I wobbled with gusto and not a little style and was then dumped firmly but decisively into the sea.

Carl was reassuringly brief and honest in his assessment “Too early, man” followed by “Gotta give it more time”. Thus knowledgably enriched I headed back out to wait for the next one. Over the next 90 mins or so I paddled a hell of a lot, missed many waves, caught quite a few, fell off a lot but also rode several great waves to the beach. Most of the folk out weren’t riding all the way in as it would have meant having to paddle back out much further afterwards, but given that they were catching many more than me I couldn’t really afford the luxury of disdainfully bailling on a ride I’d fought so hard to win.

Oceanside Beach – looking north

The session was great, for the first time I caught a 7 footer and when at the crest and faced with the vertiginous view down the board to the bottom I managed not to panic, got myself up and raced down the face, turn, head back up and just when I felt life was great, the wave broke on me and sent me tumbling down. I scrabbled around for a few seconds under water, trying to find which way was up (no Yazz references please) and bobbed to the surface with the biggest grin and loudest whoop of the day – whooping is allowed btw and only frowned on by the hardcore. Returning to the beach Carl gave me some instruction on how to improve my pop as that’s the area where most work is currently needed. He also asked if I was free on Wednesday morning for the lesson – to which I asked “well what’s this?” His reply was that this was just an assessment to see what I needed and the lesson proper would be on Wednesday at 8am. He also suggested I use the board he’d provided me with for as long as I was here for or needed it and when I pointed out I was here for 2 months and might need it for a long time, he was coolness itself – “just give it back when you’re ready”. And with that the session was done.

Doheny Beach – harbour wall point break

Tuesday I headed early to Doheny beach about 10 mins drive north from San Clemente to practice what I’d been told. The air temp was colder and the waves not as big as the previous day (2-3 ft) and there were only 3 other folk in the water when I arrived, however what I quickly learnt was by positioning myself further up the board, this lifted the tail slightly, making it easier to catch the wave. There’s is a fine line to it though, as lie too far forward and what happens is the nose of the board goes under and you end up face-planting into the water. That said it was another good session, lots of new info picked up and by the time I got out, there were 20 or 30 folk in the water, so I felt I’d had the best of it.

Roll on Weds 8am, back at Oceanside for the lesson proper…