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surfing — The Meaningful Traveler


Doing it right – Part 2

by Steve Brock on July 9, 2014

Surfing and the HandAs I noted last time, I tend to be a “jump in and learn on my own” kind of person. But since Shaun Wolden, co-founder of BigFoot Surf School down in Westport, WA had been so helpful, encouraging and supportive when my son Connor took lessons from him back in March, I overcame my historic leaning toward learning on my own and let Shaun guide me. I’m so glad I did.

Shaun got me all set up with wetsuit, hood and booties (these are definitely not Hawaii-temperature waters), marched me down to the beach…and then back up to the top of the overlooking bluff. You always start, he said, by spending time understanding the water. Seeing where the waves are breaking. Identifying likely rip tides. Examining who else is out there and what they are doing.

After that, we spent time on the beach learning surf safety. It wasn’t quite like watching “Red Asphalt” in driver’s ed class. But I will say that I have a much healthier respect for how the fins of a surfboard and the brute ramming force of the board itself can deconstruct or at least maim your body parts if you’re not paying attention.

I then learned how to carry the board. How to appreciate the craftsmanship of the board. How to enter the water with the board. Dive under oncoming waves with the board as you make your way out. How to get on the board. Position yourself on the board. Even…eventually…stand on the board.

Oh, yeah, and surf.

Could I have learned to do what I did on my own? Sure. But in a lot more time and likely not as well. Plus, I would have missed out on the insights that took it from a day of fun to a truly meaningful experience.

Some of Shaun’s advice:

  • When you emerge from ducking under a wave, your immediate reaction will be to wipe your eyes. Don’t. Your head is built to deflect water. Let it do its work. If you stop to wipe your eyes right then, you’ll miss the next wave or next surfer flying right at you. Look first. Then wipe. Delayed gratification can save your life.
  • Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Make each movement count. Take it slow in getting everything aligned and do so smoothly. When you do it smoothly, like standing on the board, fast follows. All will be well.
  • Look all around you. As a beginner, your natural tendency will be to focus on the board and what’s right in front of you. Don’t. Maintain a 360 degree awareness of everything: the beach before you, the surfers to your left and right, the incoming waves behind you. Don’t let your natural focus take away from a broader awareness. Great advice for surfing…and for travel.
  • Follow the hand. OK, this one starts getting a bit surf-Zen-like. As you stand on the board, hold your left hand at eye level, palm toward the beach in the direction you want to go. Then follow the hand. (Note my left hand in the photo above at the end of the wave).

Sounds a bit out there, right? But eventually I tried it. All the wobbly balance issues I’d had faded away. Fast and smooth suddenly were mine.

I would never have figured out the hand trick on my own. So back on the beach later, I asked what the psychological or physiological rationale was for it.

“It just works,” he said in a good-natured avoidance of my question. But he was right. Not everything requires a logical rationale. And not everything can be learned on your own. More often than we may realize, we need others to show us the way in order to get the most out of a new experience.

Still, later on, I pressed again for the reason the hand trick works and got this similar answer.

“I can’t explain it to you in any way that your analytical mind would understand. It’s like magic. Sometimes you just have to believe.”

And now I do.

You can read Part 1 here if you haven’t already.

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Doing it right – Part 1

by Steve Brock on July 3, 2014

Walking Empty Beach

How often do you read the assembly instructions? Pull out the user’s guide? Take time to review anything more than the Quick Start sheet (if that)?

Me too.

Or at least that’s been my modus operandi most of my life. Jump in. Figure it out as you go. Dig out the directions only as a last resort when the back of that Ikea dresser is somehow now on the front. A little grumbling. A few choice words I hope others don’t hear. A bit more time (OK, a lot more time) than I’d planned. But I did it. I learned how to do something on my own.

Until recently, I would have thought, “Good for me.” Now I’m beginning to believe a better response is, “What was I thinking?”

What’s swayed me on this rugged individualistic approach to just jumping in and toughing it out till you figure it out is this: Life is too short to not heed the wisdom of others. I’m learning the value of learning…from others.

Two examples in the last two months come to mind, both of which required varying degrees of travel. The first is fly fishing. I’ll be doing a whole series soon on life lessons from that addictive practice of tossing out line and a feathery faux insect in pursuit of wily fish. For now, just know that while wonderful friends have taught me a lot about fly fishing, hiring a guide for a day transformed my understanding, ability, appreciation and confidence regarding the sport. All from one single (albeit six-hour) lesson.

The second example is surfing. I grew up skimboarding, riding a board into a wave then riding it back to shore. And while I’ve dinked around on surf boards in the past, mostly using them as oversized boogey boards, I’ve never really ridden a wave standing up like, well, real surfers do. Until this last weekend.

My son Connor is very much into surfing which would be an easy sport…if we still lived in California. Washington is not exactly on the international surfing championship circuit. Something about the rocky coastline, cold water and weather that doesn’t exactly cry out for icy drinks with little umbrellas. But we do have good surfing here if you’re willing to work for it.

Connor’s gone out with my brother-in-law down in California before, but this spring, he saved up money to do it right and take a lesson. In early March. In Washington. Needless to say, Connor and his instructor, Shaun, were the only two people in the water that day (or on the beach as the photo above shows). Shaun later informed us that was the toughest day he’s ever been out with a student. When Connor heard that, he just beamed.

Connor, Shaun and the Hand

In the photo above, you can see Connor surfing (note the raised hand – that will be important next time) and Shaun watching…alone in some waves that got much bigger than those shown here.

This last weekend, Connor wanted to go back down to Westport, WA and surf some more with Shaun and a group of his friends. Somehow, they convinced me to jam myself into a wetsuit and go out as well. But not on my own as I would normally do it.

This time, I put all that pride and self-determination aside. This time I did it right and let Shaun coach me through the process.

As a result, the experience was quite different than had I done it on my own and in ways I never would have expected…

To be continued

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