I have little doubt that under different circumstances, I would have been a heck of a surfer. Admittedly, this would involve altering virtually every circumstance in my life -- from my landlocked, mountainous hometown to my bald, sunburn-prone scalp and furry, well-insulated body -- but you get the idea. I've always felt like I could shoot the curl or hang 10 or do whatever it is that surfers say they do when they do something cool.
Driven by that impulse, I've tried surfing on a number of occasions, generally in less-than-ideal conditions for a neophyte such as myself. I've hit the surf in Santa Barbara, La Jolla, and Carlsbad, nearly drowning each time and never once coming close to standing, but I did manage to get up on a board a couple of times in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, on an exceedingly gentle wave that was barely a foot tall.
Really though, the size of the swell wasn't the issue, at least in my mind; I caught waves that one time, so I was convinced I could do it again if I just did it in the right place.
Last week, I had the opportunity to put that theory to the test, and not just at any random surf spot, mind you. I had a chance to see if I could catch waves at Oahu's fabled North Shore, the epicenter of the surfing universe, where the greatest surfers in the world go to prove themselves.
Now, I know what you're thinking: You're already envisioning me ripping cutbacks and riding the tube at the world-famous Banzai Pipeline. Believe me, I had similar delusions dancing in my head, but I was honest with myself. I knew that I probably wouldn't be doing that my first time out. I realized the cutbacks and other gnarly maneuvers might have to wait until Day Two, after I'd practiced a little on a wave that wouldn't kill me.
So I signed up for a surf lesson through the Hans Hedeman Surf School at Turtle Bay Resort, and they took me to a little slice of paradise called Kawela Bay, where the waves are supposedly perfect for beginners. The hairless, tanned, washboard-abbed instructors showed me on dry land how to arch my back, get my knees under me, pivot and stand while staying low, and they made it seem so easy I was sure I'd be moving up to the Pipeline within a few hours.
Once my dry-land training was complete, I paddled out into the waves, and an instructor literally dragged me into position with a foot on the nose of my board and then pushed me into a wave so that I was guaranteed to catch it. All I had to do was stand up.
I didn't do it the first time, but I came close. I didn't do it the second time, either, but on the third wave I was almost on my feet before I toppled over. I knew I was going to get it right on my fourth try, but just about then it dawned on me that I was so thirsty I felt nauseous. I paddled back to shore, where I gulped down a can of guava juice, but I still felt like I was going to puke.
Moments later, it became obvious that the puking sensation was more than just a feeling, so I stepped into the palm trees lining the shore and disgorged my breakfast all over the underbrush. Somehow, despite being out in the fresh air all morning, I had managed to get seasick while surfing, or at least attempting to surf.
For a more sensible person, that might have been the end of the surfing delusion. When you vomit after unsuccessfully trying to ride really easy waves, you might come to the conclusion that surfing isn't your thing. But I'm not afflicted with sensible; I'm afflicted with stupid. So the next day, on a moped tour of the area's famous surf breaks, I stood in the sand looking out at the Banzai Pipeline, and I still felt like it was something I could do, all evidence to the contrary be damned.
So, God willing, I'll be going back to the North Shore some day, and I will try to surf again. I think, however, that I'll make two small adjustments. I'll try to start on waves that are even easier than those at Kawela Bay, and I'll make sure to take a good handful of Dramamine first.
Todd Haole, I mean Hartley, goes with Hawaii the way veal goes with vegans. To read more or leave a comment, please visit zerobudget.net.