It's been on my to-do list for a while but a few weeks ago I finally decided to learn how to surf. I know nothing about surfing and my friends know nothing either, so I was jumping straight into the deep end. Just like learning to surf, when I first took up cycling I knew nothing about it and I have noticed several similarities between my two experiences...
1. When I purchased my first road bike, I basically picked one out of the Trading Post that was within my price range and went with it. I didn’t know anything about frame sizes and I didn’t even know how to change the gears. I just figured it had pedals and two wheels so I couldn’t go wrong. A few weeks later, I discovered that the bike was too big for me and spent a substantially larger amount on a new one.
I did the exact same thing when I purchased a surfboard. I saw an advertisement for a board very cheap and sent this message... 'Hi, just wondering if you still have the surfboard for sale? Also, I'm a total nube at surfing... could I learn on this board???' I received this reply, ‘Well my Grand Children surf on it so I guess so.’ Based on that alone, I figured the board would be fine.
I went to collect the board and was greeted by an elderly gentleman named Ray who was dressed in his pyjamas at 4pm. I should have been suspicious when I could basically pick up the board with only my thumb and index finger but I just thought that was normal.
After discovering that the board could barely keep me afloat and that it would be better suited to a 10 year old or Kelly Slater, I went to a surf shop and spent a substantially larger amount on a much, much larger board.
2. While learning to ride, I copped my fair spray of abuse from older, more ‘senior’ riders. Whether it be for not doing my fair share of the work on the front, forgetting to point out a hole in the road or just getting in the way. They are always eager to let the ‘newbies’ know
It seems that the same rules apply while surfing. After finally reaching the point where I can stand up on the board but have no idea how to steer or stop, I stood up after riding a wave to find an older man pointing his finger in my direction and yelling expletives. I looked around with a puzzled look and said, ‘Me???’. He made it clear that he was talking to me. I still have no idea what I did wrong but I assured him that I was sorry and wouldn’t do it again.
After witnessing a few incidents like this, I can only assume that common surfing nicknames like ‘dude’, ‘bro’ and ‘mate’ have only come into existence from people learning how to surf trying to address and calm down an angry, more experienced surfer.
3. I fell off my bike several times while learning. It was mainly while I was using cleats for the first time but I embarrassed myself many times in front of complete strangers. Each time, I got back up and rode away as if nothing ever happened. I can only imagine that I looked like an uncoordinated fool as I struggled with the pedals.
Likewise, learning to surf is essentially all about trying not to fall off and look like an idiot for a fair while. In my first couple of outings, I managed to cut both of my feet on rocks, dislocate my finger and almost get hit in the face by untamed boards.
4. In cycling, despite initially being uncomfortable on the bike, it is very easy to appear as if you know what you are doing. If you have all of the right equipment and shave your legs, then you can look like a pro. Well, at the coffee shop at least.
In surfing, it is even easier to appear like I know what I'm doing. Simply put on a pair of board shorts, a rashie throw a board under your arm. As long as you don’t go in the water, people can only assume that you can surf with the best of them!
5. Cycling is an expensive sport. Bikes cost a lot of money and you soon discover that there are different types of bikes for different needs. And that you need one of every type. There is the old adage that the number of bikes that you have is always N+1, where N is the number of bikes that you currently have.
Surfing is no different. To make learning easy, it’s best to have the longest widest board possible but as you get better, you may want a shorter board. There is a plethora of different shapes and sizes of boards available that all claim to do different things. I’m already on my second one.
6. As I rode my bike more and more, I began searching for a ride that was more ‘epic’ than the last. Longer rides, bigger climbs, faster descents and better views. I was looking for that perfect place to go riding.
Surfing is exactly the same as people search for the location that has perfect waves. For me, that means looking for a beach that provides small, regular waves that I can learn on. When I do find somewhere ideal, like cycling, there is usually a mass of other people doing the same thing and it’s almost impossible to enjoy it.
I have come a long way on the bike since those early days when I was learning the ropes. I hope that one day I am equally as confident on a surf board, however, the lack of waves and a board here in Spain means that my progress will be limited to when I get back to Australia!