Surfing was always one of those things that I have always thought looked really cool but really really hard. I never thought that I’d ever try it especially since I live in Canada. Not exactly a place one normally equates with surfing. And then I went to Tofino, Vancouver Island.
Much of Vancouver Island has weather and temperature very different than the rest of Canada. The island’s temperate weather pretty much lasts all year round, allowing the water along Tofino’s long coastline to be rather steady at 10°C/50°F. Tofino, one of the main cities on Vancouver Island, is the surfing capital of Canada. In fact, each October, Tofino welcome the best female surfers in the world to the annual Queen of the Peak competition.
Tofino has many different surfing schools so you’re pretty much guaranteed gear to rent and lessons from which to learn, no matter what time of year you go. The school I chose was Surf Sister, probably Canada’s best known school. Despite its name, Surf Sister does not exclude men; however, it is geared towards bringing women the historically male dominated sport.
The morning my friend and I were to appear for our lesson, it was rather cool and grey. We were assured that once we put on the wetsuit, booties, gloves, and hood, we’ll be perfectly fine. I was skeptical but still agreed to sign the usual adventure form that basically says if you die, sucks to be you.
On that particular day, we were directed to Cox Bay, perhaps 15 minutes outside of Tofino proper. Once at the parking lot, we attempted to get dressed in our rented gear. There is absolutely no graceful way to put on the suit so abandon all dignity and just squish yourself into it the best you can. As long as it is on, count it as success. After a few moments of hysterical laughter, we carried boards down to the beach.
On the beach, we spent a good while learning the theory and basic craft behind surfing. Our group was small, only three women. It didn’t take long before we felt like we were balancing on the boards on the sand like pros. We were ready. Bring on the water!
Okay, so we thought we were ready. Have you heard that the majority of people aren’t able to stand up on the board once in the water during their first lesson? It is amazingly hard! You’re trying to remember the proper steps, trying to not get smacked in the face with water, trying to choose the right little swell, and then trying to clamber onto the board and paddle and then rise up onto your feet in that classic surf pose. And you try over and over and over…until finally…success! I didn’t even know what to do with myself the first time I managed to stand up! I was so excited, I pretty much fell over again.
I think the key to a successful first lesson is understanding how much of surfing requires upper body strength. I found that when I couldn’t stand up, it was times when I didn’t have the strength to push myself up off the board. And when you’re doing that over and over again, you get really tired. While surfing may look like it is about grace, it really is all about strength, in my opinion. But no matter your level of fitness or strength, I say go give this sport a try. It seriously is pretty cool, that’s for sure.
*Thanks, AB, for taking the photos and not laughing too hard!