A week ago, I got a text from my friend Sean.
It said all it needed to in one word: “Surf?”
A short conversation later (and an internal debate on whether or not I should indeed skip my class to go to St. Augustine spontaneously), Sean was all set to pick me up. I had tried to convince him that we should wait and go on Sunday afternoon instead but he was adamant that the waves were not to be passed up on this particular Thursday. And seeing as it’s senior spring, and this was on my bucket list, I obliged.
We got to his house in St. Augustine, and after a quick meet-the-parents, I was putting on a wetsuit. This is the first of many things people never tell you about surfing: wetsuits are totally awkward to put on. My calf muscles have never felt more thunderous than they did as the neoprene legs of the wetsuit clung to them like that creeper from Plaza of the Americas clung to me back in January. Following Sean’s lead, I left the top half of the wetsuit around my waist and prepared to load up for the beach.
We loaded the surfboards into Sean’s car and headed to the beach…where a red flag was flying and not a single soul was in the water. Another thing no one mentions about surfing: carrying a 7-ish foot long surfboard is no monkey business, particularly when you are on a narrow beach walkover and trying not to hit anyone in the face as they try to walk past.
Sean knew that I had never surfed before and that he was dealing with a total amateur. After we put our stuff down in the sand, I followed his lead and zipped up my wetsuit all the way.
“You ready to hit the water?” Sean asked me.
I was stunned. In all the movies/episodes of Made on MTV I have seen, the rookie practices all of the motions of surfing on the sand before they even go near the water. The instructor gives lots of tips and encouragement and then, only then, do they actually hit the waves.
But Sean seemed to think this method was overrated. He walked confidently toward the Atlantic, knowing I’d follow.
Let me tell you, that water was cold. Yes, the wetsuit was miraculously effective at keeping my body warm. But my poor hands and feet, and lower half of my arms, and neck and face and OH YEAH MY ENTIRE HEAD FULL OF COLD, WET HAIR were all freezing.
Then we began the painstaking process of paddling out. The waves were rough and coming from all directions. Sean made it look easily as I was repeatedly pummeled into the ocean floor and pushed backward (like one of those math problems from elementary school where you go two feet forward but slide back three).
At one point, Sean asked me if I wanted to go back to the shore. No freaking way was I heading in after ten minutes of effort.
We finally got out past where the waves were breaking and it was the most peaceful, beautiful, awesome thing. I was content just to sit on the board and soak it all in. Sean was right when he said that it’s pretty tough to be stressed or upset out on the water.
If I gave you a vivid description of all that followed, you’d be reading until your hair went entirely gray, so I’ll be brief: I never stood up on the board and caught a wave. I did, however half-stomach/half-knees, clenching the board with all my might, ride several waves, literally screaming and squealing as I went. I also cheered for Sean as he Johnny Tsunami-style made the whole thing look like a piece of cake. The end of the day came when, as dusk was approaching, a giant wave came at me head on. My board slammed into my nose and mouth, the wave pushed me under, then my board slammed into the back of my head for good measure. Panicking, I went to the shore and Sean followed, concerned.
Of course, I was fine. Of course, there was no blood. My hands and feet were numb. The board was heavy to carry back down the shore to the car. My nose was throbbing. My hair was a tangled mess. My body was exhausted. We were starving. But I loved, loved, loved my first experience surfing, and I can’t wait to go again.