The waves crashed down on me. At the same time, I was being rolled like clothes in a washing machine. I was underwater and wasn’t sure which way to the surface. Fear rushed in as I was starting to run out of breath. I really didn’t realize how tired I was from all the paddling through the break, which made holding my breath so much harder. The crashing water was so heavy and violent injecting the strong feeling of helplessness. All I could do was submit and cling to the board knowing that the board would eventually find the surface, but would the board bring me to the surface before I ran out of breath?
So many things flashed through my mind. The first thing was the simple fact that I was out there alone without a Bay Watch Life Guard on duty. Second, just minutes ago I was on the beach looking out at the ocean wondering if Jaws was waiting for me. Last but not lease, was the thought of drowning. It seems that number three was coming into existence.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf after watching several movies of dudes catching waves and explaining the feeling. When I arrived in San Diego near Mission Beach, I was already planning my week of surfing. It was winter so I knew the beaches wouldn’t be crowded especially in the cold of the morning.
The first day as I was strolling the beach looking for a shop to rent a board and I saw a wave machine. I thought that it would be a good idea to try the machine before heading to the ocean. It turns out that, it was a great because there was somebody available to help and guide me on technique. As with most things, I picked it up really fast starting with the four jets (small wave - video below) for the first session. The second session they turn on all the jets to create a full wave with a tunnel. During the second session I was able to stay in the tunnel for a few seconds before eating shit and being blown out the top. It was great because I learned how to move forward, back, and side to side on the water. I was feeling really confident after the second sessions, so I headed to the shop to rent a board.
At the beach, I sat and watched a handful of surfers. I watched this older gentleman paddle out, which seemed to take him fifteen minutes to get past the break and be able to sit on his board on calm waters. I’m sure that "paddle", "break", and "set" maybe foreign words to you but, they are the very definition of surfing.
As he paddled out, I watched him “duck-dive” through the waves. I later found out from some surfers there are a few ways to negotiate the break. I watched him stay on top of his board and seemingly push down and pop up on the other side of the wave. It looked really easy until I jumped on my board and started paddling out. Well, that shit half worked for me on a seven-foot board. I tried to duck-dive under the first three-foot wave only to find myself upside down being tossed around like a rag doll. As soon as I reached the surface, another wave hit me. In just a few seconds I was out of breath and was pushed back to where I could stand up. I was full of saltwater and felt like I was hit by a truck.
After I gather my composure, I noticed that a few guys were standing waiting not too far from me. It looked like they were waiting for something. I noticed that the waves started to separate a bit more. They both jumped on their boards and started to paddle out so I did the same. This time, I was much more stable and able to duck-dive. With the waves being a little bit more spaced, I was able to get passed the break. Still, it was a lot of work and at times I felt like I wasn’t moving forward no matter how hard I paddled.
It was so peaceful passed the roaring movement of the break. I could sit on my board and float. The beach felt like it was miles away, which started me thinking about Jaws lurking underneath this deep dark green water. It's funny how the love and peacefulness of floating would at the same time be interrupted briefly by shadows from the sun or possible movement under the surface of the water. The small chills of fear up my spine were outweighed by seemingly now being part of the ocean.
However, I made a point to slowly move closer to the other surfers that seemed to be unbothered and just talking to one another. Once close enough, we exchanged pleasantries. I sat there and told them my story. They were really inviting. They gave me a bunch of information and stories about their first time. “Here comes a good set!” One of the guys pointed out. I didn’t see anything. “Get ready to paddle!” I laid down on my board. They were still sitting up looking. I really couldn’t see anything different, just some small rolling swells. “PADDLE!!!” yelled one of the guys I was floating near. I could feel the water rising underneath me so I paddled hard and fast towards the beach.
The 4-foot wave swelled beneath my surfboard as I paddled. I could feel the momentum building with my board starting to move forward; I pushed up with my arms, and jumped up throwing my right foot forward, I was able to stabilize but felt awkward. FUCK YEAH!!!! I yelled. I was up on the board riding the wave. “JUMP OFF!!!” I heard someone yell in the distance so I jumped. I was on the board only a little more then a few seconds but it felt great.
I paddled back out and waited for the other guys. It took a minute but I realized why they told me to jump. Its best not to ride the wave all the way to the beach to avoid paddling back out the entire distance. By jumping off early, you could turn and paddle a short distance so that you can catch a few more sets. Save your last set for the ride all the way to the beach.
A week of surfing, bonfires, and making some new friends. I loved hearing all the stories of these guys chasing waves and living the nomad life. I know that I’m not ready to chase “Mavericks” but it wouldn’t take me long to gain enough experience to give it a go.
I loved San Diego. The Gas Lamp district (not pictured) has an extremely fun night life. There are a ton of clubs and bars in walking distance. Also there are some really awesome places to ride bikes and catch the sunset.