how to, surfing

Surfing sans buddy when you’re a beginner

Going on a career break, whilst it may not be good for the progress of my career (after all, it’s less a “break” and possibly more a fracturing), has fortunately done wonders for my surfing. I have been able to get out in the water, during the golden quiet time that is otherwise known as just after 9am on a weekday, nearly every day for the past few weeks. It has been absolute bliss.

I surf in places that are generally packed like sardines, 12 surfers all trying to surf the same break on the weekends (with varying degrees of success), but during “quiet” time I am usually one of the few surfers (sometimes only) in the ocean. There I can meditate as I stare out at the ocean, and try to figure out my life and where I am going whilst I wait for the next wave, take things as slow or fast as I wish, and generally make an idiot out of myself without half the surfing community thinking “what a kook” because happily, few are there to witness my sins against the surfboard.

It took me a while (over a year to be precise) to get comfortable getting here though. That is, surfing without a buddy, which is the refrain all beginners hear from their surf instructors, more experienced surfer friends and/or government sanctioned pamphlets. Before the break up (see my first post), my buddy was my surfing-since-grommit-and-ridiculously-athletic-ex (who, for his sins, introduced me to my addiction).  His eagle eye and natural (over)protective instinct made me feel safe in the water, no matter how large the waves got, how rippy the ocean was, or how biting the wind became. Importantly, he pushed me along in my surfing journey and never took my “but its raining, and cold, I’m tired, and the waves are too big” bullshit. He came very much from the “tough love” school of thought.

Obviously, since the demise of our relationship, I have lost what I realised was a huge physical and mental safety net for me. At first, I leaned heavily on my surfing friends, who I would try to persuade, corral, and outright coerce into going for a paddle with me every chance possible. I even joined a meetup group.

And then one day, because I can’t always find someone to go with me during weekdays in my current boho-chic (and sometimes hobo-chic when I can’t be bothered to change out of my pjs) lifestyle, I sucked it up (that is, my fear and ego) and one sunny day marched into the ocean by myself. I told myself, just take one step, if you freak out, you can always just paddle in. I have not looked back. It was as simple as that.

2015-02-18 20.16.33
A surfer, in the ocean. Egads!


Safety first when surfing without a buddy for beginners:

That’s not to say though that I am not safety conscious and I will always try to surf with a buddy where possible. However, when my choice is between surfing alone or not surfing, surfing (within life-preserving reason) wins. Some useful safety tips that I have read and gleaned from much more experienced surfers about surfing sans buddy are:

  1. Tell someone where you are going to surf and when they can expect you to come back. It will increase the chances of you being found if you get carried out by a rip and can’t paddle in or become injured and stuck on a rock ledge somewhere (or at least they will be able to recover your body) (sorry, macabre I know, but at least we’ve dealt with that now).
  2. Try to pick a spot where there are at least one or two other surfers or within view of lifeguards. I know this flies in the face of lone surfing, but seriously, if you’re just beginning to surf or not very experienced in the water, you want at least one other person around (even if you don’t know them). If you get into trouble, they and/or the lifeguards will be your only rescuers. If all else fails, try to pick a beach where there is someone on the beach getting their tan on (or performing other “beachy” activities).
  3. Be vigilant. Constantly assess the conditions as they can quickly change. Have a point of reference on land (and check it regularly) as the currents can easily carry you hundreds of metres away from where you started (and where your car may be parked!)
  4. Know how to handle yourself in the water. There will be instances where your leg rope may break, or your board will snap. You need to be able to swim back to shore. If your swimming abilities are dubious, take swim correction classes or practice at your local pool on non-surf days. Don’t go out further than where you can confidently swim back. If your board breaks, use what you can as a flotation device.
  5. Wear bright colours, rock a bright board. Simply because you’ll be easier to spot from the beach.
  6. Know your limits. This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you can only surf whitewash, stay there. If you have only surfed waves below 4ft, don’t tackle something bigger sans buddy. Always keep some gas in the tank in case of a big wipe-out.
  7. Avoid sharks. This means:
      • if you see schools of bait fish around, paddle away! They are like babe magnets…. except for sharks
      • avoid surfing in murky, discoloured water
      • avoid surfing at dawn and dusk

        What bait fish look like in the water
      • surf near the lifesaving flags (if any) so you will hear any shark alarms
      • if you see a dark shadow, or a stomach churning fin, paddle calmly away. Do not flail around in the water, as the shark may well think you are a distressed / injured (and tasty) seal.

The above also assumes that you have taken all the other usual safety precautions (i.e. check the weather and tides, assess conditions before paddling out, identify rips and potential hazards, protect your head when you wipeout and surface slowly etc).

Thankfully, I have never had an incident in the water where I thought “oh crap, this could be it” but I think it always pays to be as prepared as possible.

Safe surfing guys!

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