5 weeks of Polzeath Ladies Surf Club has flown by and Tuesday’s session marked the end of the first phase. Looking back, I can see just how much I’ve achieved in a relatively short space of time.
5 weeks ago I couldn’t pop up properly. Years of bad habits meant I’d repeatedly gone to my knees and I wrote myself off as a lost cause. But thanks to a supportive environment, fantastic coaching and some perseverance, I’ve nailed it!
So on Tuesday I wanted to focus on the next step and another big hurdle – paddling out back. Now I’d corrected my pop-up, it was time to venture back into the lineup and have a go at taking off on unbroken waves. George had mentioned it a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t wait.
Except when it came down to it, I was scared shitless. Which was weird, considering I’ve paddled out back numerous times before.
But this time was different. This time, I had a 9ft longboard to contend with. In 3-4ft surf.
Riding a bigger board
On George’s advice, I’d stuck with riding my longboard – a nice stable platform for me to repeatedly practise my pop-up in between surf club sessions. And this week, I brought it along. I felt really comfortable with it. In fact, going back onto my 7’ 4 minimal after riding the longboard felt super weird and not right at all. I’d really found my groove with my longboard and I’m seriously thinking about sticking with it long term.
I just didn’t know how to handle paddling out on a board of that size, let alone trying to drop in on unbroken waves which really freaked me out. Dropping in on a longboard scared me. I found the prospect of having a 9ft board land on my head daunting. It sounds kind of daft when I put it in black and white, because everyone wipes out, but in my head it’s like a real psychological block.
But I wanted to at least give it a go. There was absolutely no pressure on any of us to paddle out which was good. Because by the time George, Georgia and Boxy had gone through paddle technique, getting over waves and turtle rolling, we all looked pretty terrified.
So the agreement was that Georgia stayed in the shallows with those who didn’t want to paddle out. Boxy stayed in the mid section with George heading to the lineup. Before we paddled out, I hung back and admitted to George how scared I was and that 1-2ft was my usual ‘safe’ paddle out limit. But I didn’t want to go home without trying – that didn’t even enter my head. So with some words of encouragement from George (“I know you can do this”), I bit the bullet and started paddling.
I must have got a bit lost in the moment because I was suddenly aware that there was no one alongside me. My friend Jenny though, spurned on by my semi enthusiastic, semi terrified paddling saw this and sped past me. And I’m massively grateful that she did, because it fired me up to keep going when I very nearly gave up. I really wanted to join her out back.
But by this time, the set waves came rolling in and I was in the impact zone. Right in that mid section. So with Boxy alongside me, it was time to have a go at turtle rolling.
Duck diving (which involves sinking the board underneath the walls of whitewater) doesn’t work with bigger boards. They’re too big and buoyant. So turtle rolling involves flipping the board over (with the surfer underneath it so you’re effectively underwater) as the wave passes over you. Then, you flip the board back over and carry on paddling.
Surprisingly, I think I did ok for a first attempt. I managed not to let the board drift away from me but getting back on to resume paddling was a struggle. And after turtle rolling 4 or 5 waves, I was absolutely knackered. I paddled hard to scramble over a few unbroken waves that charged toward me. My arms were shot and they didn’t want to move anymore – I seriously wanted to cry.
Yet I still hadn’t reached the lineup.
I could see George and Jenny. They were so close yet it took an almighty effort to finally reach them. George told me to keep paddling. And after a few more strokes, I finally got there. I could relax…for now.
Identifying the fear
But initially I did far from relax. Generally I actually like being out back yet it took me 10 minutes to really calm down. I was shaking with fear. I was scared about getting caught in a rip. I was scared of how big the surf was. I was scared about not being able to get back to the beach (because my arms didn’t want to work anymore). Plus, I was scared of dropping into bigger surf on a 9ft longboard.
Yet if I’d taken a moment to really look at what was out there – 2 trained experts who would have got me out of trouble if needed, I could have calmed myself down a lot quicker. But when George asked me and Jenny how we felt on a scale of 1-10 (10 being terrified), I pitched myself at an 8/9.
When I addressed and identified why I was scared, it didn’t seem quite as terrifying. I’d really let the panic set in and it clouded my ability to think straight. George and Boxy really understood and they could see the fear written all over my face yet they brought a real zen like state of calm to the line-up. Their words of encouragement really helped.
But we couldn’t sit there all day. And it wasn’t why we paddled out. Ok so I had just overcome a massive hurdle by paddling out and turtle rolling a 9ft longboard through all those waves. But the next step was to try dropping in.
The ride of my life
At that point, George came out with the words that I firmly believe stuck sub consciously and gave me the push I needed. He said “The ride of your life is on the other side of fear”
The sets came rolling in and the first time George told me to start paddling, I bottled it. Yet Jenny had already gone for a couple of waves and survived to tell the tale – on a similar sized board to mine. So when I got the nod from George, I started paddling.
Catching waves on a longboard is easier, and it means you can get into the wave earlier. When I started paddling, the wave was just starting to stand up and looked fairly small. My last thoughts as I felt George nudge the tail of my board was ‘oh this wave isn’t very big at all.’ I later found out that it was one of the more sizeable set waves!
The next thing I knew, I was up and riding and it felt like I was flying. I can’t tell you how I got to my feet but I was astonished that I’d managed it. Usually when I drop in on unbroken waves, I go to my knee and I swear it’s like some weird safety mechanism. But this time, no knee. I actually popped straight up.
I sped down the open face in shock. My dream at the beginning of this year was to consistently drop into shoulder high waves and ride the open face. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just achieved step one towards that dream. That ‘fairly small’ wave was actually shoulder to maybe head high.
It was the best wave of my life! I’ve never felt more alive and I think the whole beach heard me yelling. I even trimmed across it before colliding with Jenny (sorry lovely!) who was the first person to give me a hug, cheer and be massively stoked for me. Now that’s the kind of friend you want to go surfing with!
Then I heard other people cheering. Then Boxy was at my side high fiving me and telling me how awesome that wave was. Then Georgia, and the other girls from the club who’d seen the whole thing from the shallows all congratulating me. And finally George, who was so happy for me and beyond stoked to have been part of it. I’m hugely grateful for his support.
I was shaking for a while and I couldn’t stop smiling! Amped on adrenalin, I’m not sure what I actually said to anyone for about half an hour afterwards. So apologies George if I rambled when you videoed my thoughts!
It’s only now, sitting here, writing this that I realise the true source of my fear. Lack of trust and faith in my own ability. I didn’t trust myself to make that drop. I didn’t trust myself to get to my feet. And it’s lack of trust that causes me to panic about being out back. Because my upper body strength is quite frankly pretty pathetic. But if I worked on it, seriously, I could trust myself to paddle out without a coach at my side.
George commented on it in the lineup and advised me to hit the pool. The truth is, I hate swimming because I suck at it. I also can’t afford to get in a swimming pool right now. But I’ve got the Atlantic Ocean on my doorstep, and a board that I can practise paddling on. Plus a power stroke chord that’s been gathering dust in the shed for months.
And with the thought of that wave still at the forefront of my mind, it’s a massive incentive to grit my teeth, put in some hard graft and really work towards my dream…