Friday, March 19, 2010

Rinse and Spin

photos by julia aron

This morning, I said my final “Adios” to LAOra as today is the last day of school. Julia is finished with her classes for the day and has agreed to join me and my surfing peeps on the beach. She’s bringing her camera which is exciting to all as we’re all anxious to document our surfing progress.

I’ve got cramps, a condition not conducive to surfing; It takes almost half my energy to tolerate them – not a good thing, considering I need as much strength as possible to get my surf on.

At the beach, the waves are looking a lot like they did yesterday in Hermosa – a fact that still excites me today – in spite of my cramps. I’m ready to make my last day of surfing here, a memorable one. We do the usual splitting off – Ben, Mike and me with Rodriguo and the others with their respective Surf Instructors. Julia’s on the beach, camera in-hand, excited to take pictures of me riding the waves.

I give her a small wave as I make my way into the water and out to sea. Getting out proves to be fairly simple because the waves have died down for the moment. I paddle over to Rodriguo who’s already sitting on his board, legs straddled, dangling in the water. “You ready, Leez?” he asks, flashing me that sheepish smile I’ve come to appreciate over the past week. I want to tell him that I’m feeling less than 100% and that I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up, but that’s not really my style. Fake it ‘til ya make it, right? “I’m ready Rodriguo!” I say, mimicking his seated position on my board.

And then, we wait.

There’s a lot of waiting in surfing. Some of this has to do with the fact that I’m still an amateur and not ready to take every wave that comes. But, even the others who’ve been here much longer, don’t necessarily take every wave that comes. So, we spend the first hour waiting a lot. I try to catch a few waves, but they don’t really pan out. I imagine it looks like I’m descending down a flight of stairs from afar as I sink slowly down into the water, atop of my board.

Finally, Rodriguo calls out to me to get ready. I paddle closer to him and get into position. He reminds me to keep my “fit wEYEd” as he yells for me to “P-AH-ttle! P-AH-ttle!” With that, I can feel the wave coming up behind me, I try to steady my breath and focus on getting my feet wide on the board.

I’ve got good position and as I stand up to full height on the board, I instantly realize something – this wave is freakin’ HUGE! I am way the fuck up here! Maybe I’m not really cut out to surf, ‘cuz this doesn’t excite me – THIS SCARES ME! And with that, I panic, pretty much jumping right off my board and into the water. Doh!

I don’t even bother to look back at Rodriguo because I know he’s going to give me that familiar shrug of his shoulders, a silent gesture of “What happened?”

But, I’m not off the hook because Ricardo, the Head Instructor, calls out to me, “Why you jump off yer board?” I don’t even bother with an answer. I’m sure it would go over real well if I yelled back at him, “Because I got spooked!”

And like a chorus of hecklers, Carlos, Surf Instructor/Photography teacher calls over to me. “How beeg you think tha’ wave wuz?”

With my palms on the board and my feet still in the water, I lean forward and yell, “I dunno. 20 feet?”

This sends Carlos into a fit of laughter and I ignore him, getting back on my board to paddle back out to the others.

He calls out to me, “Four feet!” And I hear the laughter behind me as I make my way back to Rodriguo.

“You okay, Leez?” He asks, pulling my board closer to his.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. I just got a little scared.”

He tells me not to be scared, which, of course, is easy for him. He’s only been surfing a million times in his life.

After some more waiting, I try to take another wave. My footing is off and I barely get past a kneeling position, finally slipping off the board completely. The only problem is there are a few larger waves behind me and for what seems like an eternity, I am thrown around in the undertow like a rag doll, swallowing a ton of salt water. The good thing about having a leash is that you’ll never lose your board. The bad thing, that I quickly learn today is that while I’m being thrown around, it is too – pulling my right leg practically out of its socket.

I finally reemerge from the water and get my bearings. I’m a lot further in than I expected. I grab the leash and pull on the rubber tubing to retrieve my board. Mike’s about ten feet away from me and we shoot each other a quick, “Holy Shit, that was intense!” look before we begin the long paddle back out to the others.

As I paddle out, I take stock of my physical condition. I didn’t hurt myself on that last one, but I am completely exhausted. I think I’ll just chill for a bit when I get back out to Rodriguo. My arms are sore and tired from paddling and I feel like I’m not really getting anywhere.

The waves have picked up and they seem to be coming faster and harder than before. If I can just get past the point where they are breaking, I’ll be fine. The only problem is that I can’t. The wave coming toward me is a doozy and I know that I’m going to have to get under my board for this one. I just hope I can hold onto my board once the wave breaks.

I paddle vigorously towards it and as it breaks about five feet in front of me, I grasp my board, flip over and under the water, hugging it close to the front of my body. The wave is so strong that my board lurches upwards, pulling my arms and the rest of me with it. I learn later that, in this case, I should just let the board go, but right now, I hold on as if my life depends on it. Unfortunately, once the wave passes, the board comes back at me with a WHAP! - hitting me in the forehead. More swallowed salt water. Much more pain my body; and the sinking feeling that I’m not even close to reaching the others.

I pull myself together, get back on the board, and do it all over again. This time, I know what to expect and unfortunately, it creates more fear rather than less. As I see the next wave coming towards me, two things cross my mind – the first is the fear that I won’t be able to handle this and that I’m going to get seriously hurt. The second is to Carlos: Four feet my ass!

As expected, it’s more of the same, me flipping the board and getting whipped around like Raggedy Ann. Finally, I get back out to the others and Rodriguo tells me to “Take it EE-see for awhile.” No arguments here.

I must be feeling better because while I’m taking a timeout, the frustration starts to build. I don’t want to go out like this! I want my last day of surfing to be a success. I have to get up at least one more time. And with that, I tell Rodriguo I’m ready to get back in the game.

After more waiting, I’m finally ready to go. With my board facing the shore and my arms paddling as hard as they can, I feel the swell of the wave lurch me forward indicating the point at which I’m supposed to get up. I pull myself up and plant my feet on the board. It’s not a perfect plant, but I’m up and I try to cheat my feet outward a bit. Unfortunately, this screws up my balance and I go down – hard!

After more spinning and lurching, I get above water only to find that the entire left side of my body has gone numb. This can’t be good. I can barely hold onto my board as the waves continue to throw me around. It’s not like the ocean’s going to wait until I feel better. I look out to Rodriguo so I can let him know that I’m done, but he beats me to it and gives me the fingers across the neck sign, calling it a day.

The numbness in my body overtakes the disappointment of ending on not-such-a-great note and as I make my way to shore, I’m not sure what to do. Ben’s already on shore, wrapping the leash around his board. “You okay?” He calls out to me, as I stumble out of the water. “I don’t know. My whole left side is numb.” I say, struggling to hold the board while I unhook my leg from the leash.

I want to cry – mostly ‘cuz I’m scared. But, the numbness is now accompanied by a general pain in my left arm. I do my best to pack my board up, wrapping the leash around the back fins and dipping the front-end into the water to get the sand off.

Julia has no idea what’s going on and while I’m doing my best not to throw myself onto the sand screaming, “Ow! Ow! Help me!” she’s all about taking my picture. The sun is setting behind me and in spite of my pain, I know it’s a great shot. So, I move closer to the water to give her a better shot and give her a phony smile.

When I reach her, she’s all excited. “How was it? You looked great out there!”

I tell her about my pain and numbness.

“Oh shit, girl. Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure.” And I mean it.

Ben’s sweet and offers to load my board onto the van for me. Rodriguo and I pose for a picture and we all pile into the van and head back to school.

So, my last day of surfing wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be, but I loved the experience. And…call me crazy – but I’d do it again.

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