"DOWN" screamed the surf instructor at the top of his lungs. I quickly obeyed without hesitation and dove under the water and thus swimming under the wave. On the beach he had prepped me properly and told me that no matter what happens I was gonna be OK. He's got everything under control and everything would be fine as long as I heeded to a few simple instructions. One of them being that if he every gave the word "DOWN" it meant i had to dive and swim underneath the water immediately. Sounds simple but in reality when you are out there you only have a split second to respond before the wave overtakes you.
I had always joked about going combo on a beach but as it turns out, that is exactly what I would have to do. Change my clothing discreetly but I was in broad daylight nevertheless. This was because the Chilean sea has been and always will be very cold. You can chuck all your images of tanned bodies in bathing suits catching the surf. Here in Pichilemu if you wish to surf you'll be spending at least 15-20 mins trying to get into a wetsuit on a public beach area. Yup, I was getting nude on a beach that isn't a nude beach.
My surf lesson happened the day after a massive swell, the one that was supposed to come on the day of the big surf competitions. The waters had calmed down quite abit but was still quite strong, especially for someone wanting to take my first surf lesson. That is why the instructor was taking his time watching the waves and scouting out the best and safest location for the lesson to take place. Most people get the images of surfers standing on their boardas as the waves carry them towards the beach. That is surfing but there are many factors that happen before that. I had to learn how to stay balanced on a board even just being on my belly. And I had to learn to get back on the board after being knocked off by one wave as another wave was coming. As stated earlier, I had to learn when to duck and swim under the wave.
Half of my very first lesson wasn't learning to stand. It was learning to get comfortable on the board, learning to balance, learning to breathe. In reality, in my first moments in the sea it felt like everything was coming at me all at once. The waves, the cold, the wind. Being knocked off over and over again. My body had not developed the stamina it needed to take the ocean and was not used to the temperature. After getting knocked off and having to get back on only to be knocked off again, I was out of breathe and had to ask to be taken to the shore to recoup.
While I was recuperating, my instructor took the board and showed me how to do it and gave a 15 min demo. Those 15 mins were what I needed to get my breath and confidence back to be able to try again. As the lesson progressed, i started to feel more confidence and balance lying on my board. When the instructor told me "I'm gonna push you into this wave" I would nod and give the go ahead that. The first few times he pushed me into a wave, I held onto the board until it hit the shore.
But then a miracle happen, as I was riding one of the waves everything he told me on the beach kicked in and I was able to lift myself up and at least be on my knees as the board hit the shore. And the last wave of the lesson, I actually had one leg that was kneeling and the other was up half way towards standing up before the board tipped over and I plunged in that position back into the ocean.
Many thoughts accompanied me as I began the battle to get out of wet suit and back into my clothing and once again I found myself partially nude on a beach that isn't a nude beach. I may not be quite able to stand and catch a wave yet but that i had bagged a million lessons with me in the ocean. The biggest lesson of all is that there are so many ways to be successful. The lesson was an absolute success in more ways than I could count.
I was building up my stamina and upper body strength, learning to breathe, learning to dive under ocean waves as well as how to paddle. Learning to find my rhythm and balance on the board. Surfing is one of those things where you learn just as much flying off your board into the ocean as you do standing and flying through the waves.
*** note that there are more than 100 pics of my surfing lesson and I couldn't post them all on this blog. If you wish to see all the pics from that day here is the link to the public facebook album surf lesson