Wednesday, March 10, 2010

photos by julia aron

It’s 2pm and time to surf.

We all gather in the front courtyard by the pool to get our boards out of the storage closet. I’m happy I was able to get a long-sleeve rash guard. After Monday’s surf experience, the more covered up I am, the less likely it will be to get another rash.

Who knew a rash guard was a shirt? I sure didn’t! Back in New York, the School sent me a list of stuff to bring and on it, was a “rash guard”. I just figured it was a cream or an ointment, so I went to Duane Reade looking for a tube. The guy at the store had no idea what I was talking about because he sent me to the baby section where they keep stuff for diaper rash. I kept explaining that I was going to surfing and I needed some rash guard and people kept sending me over to the Desitin and A and D ointment.

Later, I was at Paragon buying the required surf shorts when the saleswoman who was helping me asked, “Do you need a rash guard too?” “YES!” I breathed. “Do you carry that here?” “Of course!” she said, holding up a short-sleeved, spandex shirt that looked like something a cyclist might wear. Oops!  No wonder.

In the end, I decided to wait to get one – the ones Paragon didn’t match my navy and white little surf shorts and no matter how I do surfing, I need to look cute.

One of the girls at school lent me her rash guard on my fist day, but it kept riding up.  I ended up with a nice little rash on my stomach, just above my belly button. Plus, I was worried about tan lines. Hers was short-sleeved and I could just see myself showing up to model with a farmer’s tan.

So, today, I’ve got a new rash guard, with long sleeves and it matches my shorts – though, I’m over the fashion part – surfing is no joke. I’m happy to just get up, stay up and not hurt myself.

Carlos, an instructor is handing out boards. “Wheech board for yew?” he asks. I don’t know. He’s the instructor. Shouldn’t he know? I shrug my shoulders and he calls out to Rodriguo. They speak in Spanish for a few sentences. When they start laughing, it’s hard for me to not to feel all self-conscious and worried that they’re making fun of me.

That’s the thing about this place. None of the instructors are overly warm and friendly. I feel like a bother to them and if I don’t address them, they never say hello or acknowledge my presence. It’s hard on the confidence for sure. It’s also hard to be excited about surfing. Rodriguo’s a good teacher, but I don’t feel much of a bond there which is kind of a bummer.

I get a smaller board today which is good because the other one was difficult to carry. However, the smaller the board the harder it is to balance which obviously brings in a new set of challenges.

Julia, just out of yoga, stops by to see how I’m doing.

Holding the board under my arm, I lean in so nobody will hear me. “I’m okay. I’m just to over this bullshit with the instructors. They’re so freakin’ cocky and I feel like they only have eyes for the people that kiss their asses.”

Julia nods. “Yeah, I get it, girl. But you don’t want to necessarily go into today with a bad attitude – it’ll keep you from being open to learning.”

She’s totally right and as much as I want to bitch about all things that seem Junior High, her words remind me that I’m here to learn how to surf – friendship and bonding are secondary.

With that, I bid Julia good-bye and we all bring our boards out to the van. Rodriguo is standing on top as per usual, calling each of us to hand him our boards to stack on the roof. “Leez!” He calls. I hand my board up to him. “Am I with you today?” I ask. Hell, nobody tells you much around here – I might as well ask. He nods and gives me a sheepish smile, which in spite of his lack of verbiage puts me at ease.

At the beach, the waves are less than exciting. We do our usual warm-up, taking a run down the beach and back. I’m excited to do this. I’m determined to do this. I’m also hoping I won’t be as nervous as I was on Monday.

In the water, it’s business as usual. Mike, Ben and myself are with Rodriguo, though the guys seem to be able to hold their own, catching waves while we stay behind. It’s pretty funny because when big waves come, Rodriguo’s always like, “Leez. P-AH-ttle out! Mike, Ben, get ready.” Normally, I like to be included, or shall I say keep up, but in this case, I’m good with letting them take the big waves. I’ll just hang out on my board and wait for mine.

The new board is a challenge. It’s smaller and not as wide as Monday’s board. I’m having a problem balancing, just on my stomach. I can’t even imagine what it will be like to stand. It’s also very slippery. The first few times I try to get up, my back foot slips out from under me which puts me in a kneeling position – like I’m proposing marriage or something – just before I fall off the board completely. It’s very frustrating and each time I get back on the board and paddle out to Rodriguo, he says, “Wha happened Leez? You need to kip jour fit w-eye-d." He draws a line on my board, in the wax, to show me where my hands need to be.  This, I assume, is to help me to get my feet wider when I push up off the board.  "Fit w-eye-d. Okay?” 

Yeah, sure.  The board is waxed in two places – obviously the places where my feet need to be. That’s the purpose of the wax is to create traction. I wonder if my legs are too short because the distance between the wax is really wide. Mike even notices this and tells Rodriguo. But Rodriguo stands firm. “Fit W-EYE-d. Bock foot fearst. Then front. Okay? Let’s go.” He motions for me to paddle over to him. “Leez. Ready?”


Determination kicks in and I focus on everything he’s telling me. As I wait on the board, face down and ready to paddle, I think about how bizarre this whole experience is. I can’t see the waves coming. I’m completely reliant upon Rodriguo’s judgment and direction. It’s a total loss of control – no wonder why I’m having such difficulty. Julia’s words come back to me, just as Rodriguo’s yelling, “P-AH-ttle! P-AH-ttle! Hard!”

“You’ve got to be open to this Liz, or else it’s going to affect your learning……”   Julia’s words as the wave comes up from behind and takes me forward. I focus on my feet and getting them as wide as possible. Jumping up on the board, I tell myself, “I’m going to do this. It’s going to happen.” Pushing off the board with my arms, I hop up onto the board – legs wide – and I’m UP!!

As I gather my balance, things slow down and I begin to remember all of the stuff Rodriguo’s been teaching me. Knees pointed inward. Abs strong. Front arm out – back arm, loose. And just like that, I’m surfing! And just like that, I’m DOWN. But I don’t care, the minute or so that I was up made the falls, aches and pains and hard work totally worth it. 

I pull my board back to me by the leash, turn around, ready to go again.  Rodriguo, sitting on his board, legs straddled, raises his strong arm and give me the thumbs up.  A thrilling moment, for sure.

I just wish Julia was here to see it.

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