Catch A Wave

(Photo courtesy of Stephanie Wierig)

Catch A Wave

By Jacqueline Napoli

Summer’s almost over — have you been happy enough chilling on the sand, but still sort of gazing at the horizon, daydreaming about gliding across the waves on top of a surfboard? Admittedly, it can be a little daunting to start up if you’re not sure where to begin. The real key is having someone show you the ropes. I learned that lesson after years of fruitless efforts and going out on waves way too big for me on a board way too small. Surfing takes time and persistence to learn, but there aren’t many athletic pursuits that come anywhere close to this kind of awesome. It rules.

Surfing captures such a devoted following in part because it delivers such a hefty dose of stoke, which is basically pumped exhilaration coupled with joy and wonder. Every day we surf, we find stoke in some measure, which is why we come back to the ocean day after day, and year after year. The ocean saturates us and becomes a vital part of us. We become salty, water-drenched, tanned and stoked. There is simply no feeling on earth like riding waves. 
Plus it’s great exercise. Paddling (warning: it’s endless) strengthens your heart, shoulders and back. Pushing under waves tones your upper body and your core, and the actual surfing works your lower body in intense bursts. You can expect to be hungry after your surfs.

So, to get started, just stand up off the towel and get in the ocean. Before entering, ask a surfing friend or a lifeguard about the conditions. Is it safe today, or are the waves too strong for a beginner? Is there a rip current — a flow of water from the shore that goes backwards past the waves — that you need to know about? Are there stingrays, rocks, or jellyfish here? Rule number one is to know and respect the ocean. It’s big and it’s strong. But once you get the all-clear, go get wet. Spend some lazy, playful time in the waves and get really comfortable.

Dive under small waves when they are about to break in front of you — important: keep your dives shallow and horizontal, never straight down, in order to keep from hitting the bottom which could lead to a spinal injury. Try body surfing, which is basically swimming freestyle with the wave just as it mounts up to break. Most of all, really frolic and have fun. That’s the entire point. Enjoy the ocean and make it your comfort zone. This step will prepare you for wipeouts, which are inevitable, and which I personally kind of enjoy.

Next time, find a wetsuit and a board. Borrow first if you can, then buy used or new when you are committed. You want a large foam board, about seven to nine feet long, which will be stable and float high. This will make it easy to get and stay up. You will also want a leash for your back or trailing ankle so you don’t have to keep swimming after your board when you wipe out. After you’ve gathered the equipment, find a patient and knowledgeable surfing friend. If that’s not possible, try a surf camp or surf lessons. Having your hand held during the beginning is the very best way to go — trust me. 
The next step is practicing pop-ups on land. You get your wetsuit on, drop your board on the sand, and pretend you are paddling for a wave. Then you quickly pop up over and over, like a burpee, and pretend-surf, facing whichever way feels natural.

After you’ve done that a few times, you wade or paddle out into the whitewash, which are the foamy blankets of water that roll toward shore in continual succession. This is your stomping ground for now, providing endless practice paddling for, catching, and riding waves.

Keep your goals super micro, like, “Get wet and try for three waves,” and get seriously pumped on each success. On big days, I sometimes make it my goal just to get out to the lineup where the waves break!

It’s a really hard sport and takes time to catch on, but chances are you will be hooked from day one if you make it about fun and not about achievement. Ripping will come with time! Go get some stoke and I’ll see you in the water.