Now, if you are familiar with my boyfriend’s blog (now ex, this is an old blog) you will know how important this particular experience was. He is a surf instructor and has been surfing for about 10 years. He lives and breaths surfing and the ocean in general. We were going to Siargao, the Philippines, home of Cloud 9 – one of the most amazing surf spots on the planet. The pressure was well and truly on for me to learn to surf. I was not exactly “stoked”, as they say.
Why didn’t the bf teach me how to surf you say? Trust me, bad idea. If any of you have read my previous blogs on free diving or diving you will know that I have issues with trying things for the first time. I did not want him witnessing my horrendous first attempts.
Of course, as usual, I had these wonderful visions of myself looking all Blue Crush and completely owning the waves. It did not go down quite like that. Turns out learning to surf isn’t that easy, even in the laid back Siargao resorts of the Philippines.
Lesson number 1;
My first lesson on my learn to surf crash course in this tropical paradise was with a young instructor. He seemed nice enough and spoke some english, GRAND. He showed me the basics first. By basics I mean VERY basic. How to pop up and stand on the board. I practised this twice on the beach and then it was straight into the water. Theory? What theory!? It was time to sink or swim!
It became apparent quite quickly that I was not able for a long board straight away. Big giant SUP (stand up paddle board) board it was then! This made things much easier! Though I don’t know if you can call it ” Learn to surf ” if it’s on a SUP, can you?
My boyfriend definitely seemed to think this was cheating, but he’s a bit of a surf snob and I’m a baby surfer. So what if it’s cheating? I’d rather be eased into real surfing anyways.
That said, I enjoyed my first lesson. I managed to stand up with the help of my instructor pushing me into the waves. I fell off a few times but by the end of the hour I was riding the waves all the way into the shore and simply sitting back down on the board when I was finished. Slightly more graceful than the clumsy bails I was performing earlier.
Having finished my first lesson I was quite pleased with myself and the whole ” Learn to surf in the Philippines “, experience. I was no Alana Blanchard (super hot, famous surf chick), but I did OK and I still had time for a few more lessons, after a few cocktails in the local Siargao resorts.
Lesson number 2;
My second lesson was quite a different story.
We went island hopping. My wonderful boyfriend informed me that the break on one of the islands would be perfectly fine for me. SMALL he even said. He is now dead, obviously. If the police ask, I was having a drink with you when it happened. We had a wonderful time, you were very witty!
Anyways, so my instructor comes along to give me my second lesson at this reef break. We get a boat out from the island. When we arrive the place is insane. There are people EVERYWHERE. Bare in mind that my instructor has not once told me anything about surf etiquette. I have had ONE ” Learn to surf ” lesson on a SUP board. I have no idea how to move my board if some unfortunate person is in my path. I can’t even turn my board.
Oh, and the waves? Yeah I guess they probably were small, if you’d been surfing for years, or actually knew what you were doing. But for a beginner like me, they were huge. Still, I didn’t really understand how dangerous the situation was until I got in the water. I was still pumped from being able to stand up the day before.
We threw our boards off the boat and jumped in. You couldn’t stand up in this water. That was the first thing that was very different from my first lesson. The second was that they had given me a long board this time…… this did not bode well.
My instructor headed off to where everyone was gathered. I paddled after him. I wasn’t concerned. I figured, he’s an instructor, he’ll take care of me, everything will be fine. At least, that’s what I expected.
The one piece of advice he offered me before he pushed me into a wave was “go right, stay right”. Okay, great, I had no idea what he meant, but by that time I could already feel my board rising up beneath me and it was time to pop up. I half made it, kind of. But when I was half way up all I could think was “this is a lot higher than yesterday and I am definitely going to smash into someone”. Learn to surf my fucking ASS.
I fell. Then it was all woosh and watery silence as the wave crashed down on me. I could feel my leash tug at my ankle as my board was washed further away from me, dragging me with it. When my head finally broke the surface I had two seconds to take another breath and then I was smashed back under the water again. Even after my free diving training and a breath hold of 3minutes, this was starting to panic me. Where’s your friendly local mermaid when you need her? Or dolphins? Aren’t dolphins supposed to save people in these kinds of situations?!
I reached the surface a second time and managed to scramble for my board. By this time I was tired and terrified. Unfortunately for me, I was on the wrong side of the wave. Of course, I didn’t realise this until SMASH, the white wash hit me and my board side-on, hard.
At this stage I was fairly sure I was going to die. Davy Jones better save some space in his locker for me cos I was on my way! Miraculously I was granted a third chance to haul myself, sobbing with frustration, up out of the water and back onto my board. I could taste salt water. It was in my nose, my mouth, my eyes, it stung, and I still had to make it across to the right hand side of the wave. This scenario hadn’t been in the ” learn to surf ” brochure.
By this stage I had been swept so far away that I couldn’t see anyone. I told myself that my instructor would come for me, surely he saw me nearly drown? Surely he was supposed to check where his student had gone? I must have been gone awhile now. Or my boyfriend even? But no. Surfing isn’t that kind of sport. You’re pretty much on your own. Delightful. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE
So, I had to suck it up and get my ass back across to the boat. Of course, again, no one had ever told me how to do this. I had no idea what I was doing. It didn’t help that I was absolutely drained as well. But I started paddling, cursing the sea the entire time. Cursing the sport. Cursing my instructor. Cursing everything and anything I could think of. Tears of anger and desperation stung my eyes as I paddled pathetically. I was so tired. I honestly did not believe that I was going to make it to the boat.
Then, stupidly, I started thinking about sharks. Fuck off brain, this is the last thing I need in my head right now. Traitor. What I really needed to be thinking about was taking arm-day more seriously because at that moment it felt like my arms were made out of string. Paddling didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. So help me God, if I ever survived this I was never going near the sea again.
I got bashed a few more times on the way but I finally reached the right side where the waves stopped after what seemed like hours. Still no sign of my instructor! However, I was so relieved to see the boat within touching distance that I didn’t care. I was going to get on that boat and I was never going to set foot in the sea again, unless it was for diving purposes.
I was maybe being a bit dramatic but I still felt like I might die. I had yet to make in into the boat and let me tell you the climb was hard. I fell off the ladder a few times, to add insult to injury. In the end my friend had to haul me up onto the deck. I collapsed, starfished on the floor of the boat, thanking God that I was alive. I had never hated any sport more. I had never loved any boat more.
I wanted to kill my instructor when he got back on board. I would have, if there hadn’t been so many witnesses. He didn’t even enquire as to where I had gone or whether or not I was ok. Sound.
The one lucky thing was that I didn’t hit the reef, or smash myself off my board. The only thing bruised was my ego. Somehow that thought didn’t make me feel much better. I thought surfing the in the Philippines would be fun……. not so much.
The next day I couldn’t even talk about it without getting angry or upset. I hated hearing anyone talk about how great a surf they’d had while I was busy drowning. Ridiculous, I know. My friend Cat tried so hard to keep me encouraged, despite my generally miserable attitude.
She explained that surfing is like an abusive relationship. It does something awful to you and you swear you’re done with it. Then it gives you this one wonderful wave and you suddenly love it again. You forget all the awful things it’s ever done to you. This is the best description I am yet to come across of surfing. It is completely true. But you know what, abusive relationships aren’t good for anyone.
Back on board;
ANYWAY, maybe I’m crazy, but I decided to give surfing in the Philippines one more go, with a different instructor of course! My new instructor was much better. He taught me to paddle into waves. He told me what to look for in a wave, how to turn and little things that made a difference. My surf lessons after that were much more enjoyable. No more near death experiences. Maybe I didn’t hate surfing that much.
I’m not going to say that I like surfing, because I’m not really sure yet. I think I was just unfortunate enough to have such a bad experience so early on. What I will say is that it still terrifies me, but I also get why people love it. It is a great feeling when you catch a wave and everything works out perfectly. If you do want to learn to surf , make sure your instructor comes recommended. Ask around and find the best, because it really will make a difference. Obviously I was just unlucky.
I think I’ll stick to land for a while though. Surfing in the Philippines was more than enough excitement for me. Well, for the next couple of weeks.
Wish me luck guys, I’ve been booked on an eight day surf camp in Indonesia for Christmas. Hopefully it will change my mind about surfing!