Salt up my Nose
The first time I tried to stand in the ocean, I did a backwards somersault. The second time I tried, I got salt up my nose.
Every time I endeavored to wade in, the water would spit me right back out.
This was not the greeting I expected from the Pacific.
I was knocked off my feet. My legs tumbled over my head and the ocean raked my back across the coarse sand. Ouch. It felt like carpet burn.
I’d heard of waves, but my only experience of them was the gentle lapping along the shore of Lake Michigan, nothing like the power of this water embattled with the edges of the earth.
As I lay there where the ocean left me, my heart folded in fear. My dream of surfing in the ocean suddenly felt way too hard.
Where I once imagined running up to a surfer in my sports bra, borrowing his board and riding a couple of waves before flipping my salt filled hair and jogging back up the shore; I now shivered with the challenge that was truly before me.
The waves were as tall as me (maybe taller) and came rushing toward the shore. I watched more experienced surfers dive under these towering waves or glide over the top of them.
I was going to need a surf master to show me the way.
So my partner, Trevor, and I called up Esteban. A Costa Rican surfing god who showed up in a Volkswagen Jetta with two surfboards strapped to the top and a trunk load of wet suits.
As he stepped out of his car drinking kombucha with his honey tan chest bare over a wet suit (hanging a bit low on his hips) I understood why people pay $100/hr for this.
This sport was not made for an average Mid Westerner. As I squeezed my thigh-fat into the tight rubber one-piece, I immediately started sweating, which of course made the rubber stick and even more difficult to pull up over my body. Once it was over my hips (hardest part by far), Esteban led us from the parking lot to the beach.
We had to practice popping up with our boards anchored in the sand before we got to go in the water. Esteban demonstrated one fluid motion from lying down on his stomach on the board to jumping up into a low surfing position. Simple.
But by the sixth or seventh time he said, “Again!” I was starting to despair. “Faster! You are going to need to pop up much faster,” he said.
But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my back leg to listen. The rubber of the wet suit created just enough resistance that I didn’t think it was even possible to replicate the smooth motion Esteban made so simple.
Yet I kept trying. Lay down on my stomach. Paddle, paddle, paddle. Chest up, palms flat, toes curled. Pop up, front leg between hands, back leg bent.
After I finally nailed it, sweat drenched and worn out already, it was time to move to the water.
We walked out until the water was about waist deep. Esteban held onto the nose of my board while I prepared to pop up when the wave was upon us.
The wave crested and broke and a rush of white water was pushing its way towards the shore. Esteban pushed the board forward for me and yelled “Pop up!”
With the white water on my heels, I jumped up into the surfing position. For one second I really thought I had it, but I quickly realized my feet were off center and the board flipped over, launching me into the ocean as the wave passed over my head.
“Again!” my surf master yelled.
And as I popped up for what felt like the twentieth time before falling into the water once more, I wondered if my dream of riding a wave would ever come true.
Esteban looked at the sun behind me, setting over the ocean and turning the sky into a soft rainbow, before he said, “Alright, let’s try this more time, Margaret.”
I got back into position and took a deep breath, willing my tired limbs to follow instructions one last time. As the white water began pushing my board forward, I pushed up against it and popped up on my board. My feet were miraculously centered and I rode the wave in until the sand rubbed my board’s fin. I fell into the receding water and laughed.
I thought of all those tiny people dotting the waves at beaches stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles. They would sit on their board, talking to friends, bobbing on the waves until they saw one coming they wanted to claim.
There were hundreds of these creatures, known as surfers, along the coastline. And each one was filled with so much strength and courage. They go out on the ocean and flirt with her shores. They dance in the space where two worlds collide: the water from the deep and the rock from the land. Surfers are almost as incredible a species as the hermit crabs filling the bottoms of the tide pools or the pelicans diving into the waves for fish or the dolphins lazily cresting the most threatening waves in the ocean.
While I was nowhere near good at surfing, I had ridden a wave off the coast of California.
And now I can say the last time I stood in the ocean, I was on top of a wave.