I was initially very reluctant to go surfing. I’m not the strongest swimmer and frankly, the ocean is just very big and scary to me. But the surfing instructor, big wave pioneer Mike Willis, reassured me that our ideal learning location would be suitable for a 4 year-old, and my fears were held in check. And Del Mar is just so beautiful, it’s hard to feel scared there!
Several things amazed me. Just how much work it all is. Fighting to get past crashing waves is pretty intense. Even a small wave looks big when you’re laying flat on a board. Several times I got caught hitting the incoming wave at an angle and getting thrown off and pinned underwater by the board. In the above picture, Suz is getting pummeled and thrown trying to get past a big wave.
With fantastic instruction, we were soon getting the basic techniques. Here, Mike refines Suz’s stance.
Once you’ve fought your way into the water, then you must select your wave. As with most things, the novice always sees many options while the master sees only one. This was never more true with selecting waves. Most are the wrong one but learning this takes a while. Thoughtful selection is tricky when you are being smashed with waves that resemble freight cars! But once you select a good wave that is by itself and without other subsidiary waves behind it, you turn around and face the shore and start paddling like mad to match the speed of the wave.
Above is a telephoto shot of Suz trying to get up some speed for the wave behind her. Once the wave catches you, you must go from prone to standing. Which is a little like trying to balance a haystack on a needle. In a hurricane.
But it’s not impossible and after much exhausting failure, we both managed to catch a few waves.Above: I’m milking a wave all the way to the beach. The brief ride that makes all the work worth it. Actually, one of my favorite parts is making the decision to ride a wave and quickly doing a 180 and then there is a split second while you are paddling as fast as you can and if you turn your head just a little, you can see the wave coming in behind you. That glance at all that power about to hit you is really thrilling. It can hardly be believed how fast you accelerate when the wave takes you!
The instructor was nice enough to offer us a board and a wetsuit to use the next day. Seemed like typical California nonchalance so we obliged and surfed the next day at Solana Beach just south of Carlsbad. In spite of being pretty badly bruised and cut up from surfing the day before, we headed out. Suz went to a surf shop and bought a special rash guard shirt to keep from getting more cut and scraped. We had a great morning and after working out the kinks, we caught a few more waves. Had a bite of lunch (octopus wrap with green apple salad) and returned to the surf. Unfortunately, the tide was coming in and we couldn’t seem to paddle out very well. Converging waves seemed to hit us from odd angles and send us flying backwards. After Herculean effort to get past the swash, I managed only one more wave and was grateful to call it a day at 4pm out of pure exhaustion.
It’s safe to say that now we are both addicted and will be surfing next winter.
Del Mar is just north of the US/Mexico border near San Diego