people surfing people surfing People who actually know how to surf. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)

My disastrous first time surfing

Surfing is, as it turns out, really hard.

I’d been staying in a surf town in Morocco, and nobody could handle the idea that I, unlike every other tourist, didn’t come to surf.

“You have to try it!” they all insisted, showing me photos of cool-looking surfers riding giant waves. “Surfing changed my life. It’s a spiritual experience!”

I’m one to bend to minor social expectations, so I signed up for a surf class. After getting ready, I started walking into the water, board in hand.

“Cold. Cold. Cold,” I thought. Earlier, a surfer guy had told me that, when you’re wearing a wet suit, you don’t even feel the water. At the time, it had seemed like some kind of amazing modern discovery.

“Of course tech figured that out,” I’d thought at the time.

me and surfboard in front of atlantic ocean Me and the board that, little to my knowledge, was plotting against me.

The instructor gestured for me to stop stalling, so I scrambled onto my board and began paddling. A wave came closer, a frothing white fury that seemed to be laughing at me.

I suddenly had the realization that any aliens watching must be wondering what an ape with no fins or gills was doing in the water. I had no answer for them.

“This is not going to work,” I thought. “How can this possibly work?” But about a billion surfers couldn't be wrong.

I paddled, turning the surfboard around so I faced the shore. The wave hit, and suddenly, I was flying. I glided on my board, paddling madly as water flew all around me. It was like a video game with the best pictures and sounds in the world. I wasn't fighting the ocean anymore. I was part of it.

I’d felt this way once before. I’d traveled to the Israeli city of Eilat, where a group of friends and I tried out water sports in the Red Sea. At one point, we were holding onto a rope attached to a speeding boat. The water beat at us as we zoomed too fast to think, joy hitting our faces with every wave. As the boat slowed down, one of my friends said, “They say you can’t buy happiness. But with this, I think you can.”

Alyssa Spencer of the U.S. competes on Day 2 of the World Surfing Games. Alyssa Spencer, a person who really, REALLY knows how to surf. (Photo: ISA/Ben Reed)

Back in Morocco, another wave hit, pushing me toward the shore. My board started twisting to the right. I tried to turn it around, but all of a sudden, the board disappeared, and I was underwater, swirling in darkness. Water flew up my nose, I had no sense of direction and still the waves were tumbling me around.

I was too powerless to feel fear, so I settled for resignation. The board could be anywhere; it could slam me in the head. Even people who know how to surf sustained injuries all the time. One of my surfing friends hit a rock last week, and his hand swelled up. He had to go to the hospital.

Unlike him, I had no idea what to do, so I waited for the waves to have their way with me. Then, THWAK. My chin rang with pain. The board indeed had decided to hit me in the head.

The sea settled down. I stood up, grabbing the board, and walked toward the instructor, doing my best to laugh it off.

I fell down repeatedly as the hour-long lesson went on. The board smacked my head three times. I couldn’t help but feel like this was an unfair ratio of minutes to getting whacked in the head.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that I hate some things that everyone else seems to love. Surfing, like red wine, yoga, dance clubs and the opera, falls into this category. But I can see why people do it. I can see why someone would paddle through frozen saltwater for hours just to catch that one wave that makes her feel like the ocean come alive.

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