Everything is in order when I embark on my 7 a.m. journey toward the beaches of Tofino. I groove down the highway with time, weather, a new CD, and good coffee on my side. I miss the turn-off to Tofino and get trapped on the "inner route" abyss. Shit! Naturally, my stress dissipates after finding my way back, into the lush air of the rainforest and those familiar winding bodies of water the mark each leg of the journey. I ponder the equation of my arrival, fractionating distance and speed with plus, minus, x and equals, resolving that I'll work it out one day when my daughters need some stolking about the relevance of math. Finally, after 166 k's, it's obvious that my ETA is right on schedule. As I veer right toward Tofino', I see the sky's path above is dry and open, I know it won't be much longer until I'm flying in the waves. Yes!
The road that brought me here is much longer than the last two and half hours drive. It began last September through a chance encounter that re-awoke my dormant aspiration to surf the west coast. After many years of changing diapers, and cursing the limitations that a scar of fifty stitches left down my leg, the boundary of the prudent voice inside my head that had always said, 'not now, maybe later' was broken. During all those years I carried the idea of surfing in my bag of metaphors, applying them to the grind of life to make it more tangible. Listening to others talk about surfing, watching others surfing, being metaphorical about surfing.....it wasn't enough anymore. That day back in September, in a sudden rush of epiphany, I did what I have done with many other of my silent longings, I pulled it out from the dark and committed again to the true path of my dreams. So, it was since then that this journey, and all journeys towards the surf officially began. I've paid my dues on land, now it is time to pay them in the sea.
I arrive at the "live to surf" landmark property at 9:59 where Jenny, from surfsisters surfschool , along with instructors-in-training, Molly and Karin are waiting to take me out for a ten o'clock lesson. They were all glowing with salt-kissed westcoast cheeks and the thought occurs to me for a moment, " I am about to get my ass kicked by these chicks." This is my fourth trip into the waves, and they have rode hundreds, maybe thousands! Best leave my ego behind for this one! We drive around to hunt for some decent surf. The first beach we go to has good enough waves for a novice like myself. Needless to say, I am very eager for the lesson to begin and after stretching on the sand, we head toward a spot that is away from the other surfers.
Jenny explains on the shore about safety and all the other basic and relevant information I need to know.
She gets me to practice the proper form of "popping up" and paddling on the surfboard I have drawn in the sand.
This is the most useful and imperative aspect of surfing that I can take home with me and practice. Jenny explains that beginners need to practice in shallow water first and then move out to the bigger waves when they are more competent.
"Huh?" I feel like a little kid who wants it all NOW, but Jenny assures me that in few more lessons, I'll get there.
Finally, we are walking toward the water. I look out at the green swells where distant and deft rider's silently etch horizontal lines into the breaks. Jenny asks me how I feel. With a big grin I reply, "like I am about to be humiliated". After we have gone far enough the three of them surrounded me and explain more about the waves and what to remember about my position on the board. In all my life, I have never been in a richer classroom. The energy is fluid between the teacher's and the student. Equally wetsuited, in the element we adore, there is nothing but stoke between our eyes. At last, the moment comes to start 'catching waves'. They tell me to pick one, paddle for momentum, pop up on the board and surf . This I do, for two seconds until I fall on my ass in knee high water. Jenny, Karin and Molly are all shouting wonderfully encouraging shit my way, but I just want to try again. Sometimes I stay up for five to ten seconds and sometimes I baill like a goofy rag doll. Jenny is great, yelling out what I forgot, pushing me to paddle stronger. Molly and Karin test out their instructor skills between my bails with constructive suggestions. They worked as a pack drilling the basics into my head. For someone as intent on and as new to surfing as I am, it feels like the ultimate pamper. After a while I start to repeat what they were saying in my own head while in the moment of bail or balance. "Move your foot forward, don't use your elbows, relax your knees, and for the love of God, COVER YOUR HEAD!!!"
Ever since the epic three days of labour I went through during the birth of my firstborn, I have never doubted my ability to endure, but after a flood of wipe outs, I have to admit that my bottom half is feelings like I'm carrying fifty pounds of extra weight on the pop-up. I take a break to watch how Jenny does it. She makes it look graceful and stealth. Molly follows her proving that even the pro's sometimes bail and I have new incentive to try again. I proceed to catch what feels like my best ride. After a while, the little kid in me starts to drift off mesmerized toward the deeper waves. From fairly close range, I see more experienced surfers moving surreal across the swells in their slippery spider man suits. I marvel at the convergence of technology and nature at it's best, and praise the gods of neoprene and fiberglass. Jenny calls me back. She can see I am getting physically tired and announces that the lesson is over. She welcomes me to hang around and practice in the wash-out while they go out to surf the green water. This little surfsister spends another half hour on my own doing the bail thing perfectly, as the big surfsisters silhouette's swoop down Ran's golden waves in the background. (In Norse mythology, Ran is the female spirit of the sea.) Mentally I am charged to surf all day, but the truth glares that physically I'm all about fall down, not pop up! I decide to ditch my board for a final care-free frolic in the waves, spiraling back to my days as a child where I could make believe I was a mermaid or a selkie in my backyard pool. Some people go to the gym, some people go to the spa and some people go to church...but for me this is my ideal version all of those things and I can't wait to get back.
Susan is a student at Malaspina University
check back with Susan throughout the coming year as she learns to surf. She'll be sharing her experiences right here.