It was a hurricane swell and there was plenty of rain. I had previously only ever dealt with beach breaks, and this was rocky terrain. All I knew was the turtle roll and to follow the lead of everyone else. Drilled, pulled, dragged, and eventually caught in a rip, I did it all with a smile.
That was the moment. The moment where I got hooked. The waves were beautiful. The blue walls rose up again and again, an immense challenge to my competitive spirit. But it would be three years before I would get back in the water.
This was not out of choice. The everyday chaos of life has the ability to propel time at a faster clip than expected.
It was not until this spring, that an opportunity arose. I was leaving the desert for Sonoma, and that meant a flight into San Francisco. This was my chance. I knew I had to get back in the ocean.
I was not afraid of the water or that it was my first time surfing in the Pacific. Or more importantly, that I am a complete novice. I was more afraid of the surfers. You hear enough stories…
There was word that a south swell was rolling in, so I rented a board at Aqua Surf Shop down by Ocean Beach. Day one was a washing machine. The waves were coming from every direction, sometimes a mushy mess, other times a crashing heavy blow. More times than not, I was sent spinning with the sand. But once again, I was smiling the entire time.
I was also talking to myself. I’m not sure why surfing engages me in cathartic ramblings, but it does, more than anything else. Maybe I’m just trying to speak to the waves.
My second day out I decided to head to Pacifica. I had heard that the waves were easier to catch than Ocean Beach, and it was only twenty minutes south of the city. Early Sunday morning I was on the road, following the winding coast, and watching a beautiful band of fog hover above the hills.
I arrived at the same time as another surfer, who I eyed warily as I hid my keys and squirmed into a cold, damp wetsuit. There were decent sets rolling in, and I decided to avoid the crowds.
Confidence is key, but even with that and a dash of hubris, I was having no luck with my board. The one I had rented was a 6′ 0″ fish that, in retrospect, was probably too advanced for my skills and entirely wrong for the conditions. But, as has become more apparent as I grow older, never underestimate the kindness of strangers.
The cold eventually took hold of my determination, and I glided in, teeth chattering and convulsively shaking. It was then that I noticed how many surfers had hoods and booties.
Back at my car, I wondered if I should call it a day. The surfer from earlier was putting his board away and getting ready for a run. He asked how I did, and for once I went with the honest, unconventional response.
I explained how I had probably made a mistake with my board rental, and instead of answering with the typical smile and shrug, he suggested I use his 7’4″ fun board. This completely threw me. Surfers were supposed to be territorial. Didn’t locals despise non-locals, especially beginners? And yet this one was offering up his board while he went running.
Well, when opportunity presents itself, you strike. I took the board and finally got to my feet. I let go of my frustrations, shook off the cold, and just enjoyed the rides that were handed to me.
I flew out that evening still salty, but invigorated. I didn’t get barreled, but I did learn a lot. Getting my feet wet wasn’t the hard part. It was committing to dipping my toes in, and that comes well before you reach the shore and see the ocean.
Don’t test the waters, dive into them. I promise the conversation will be a good one.