Scenes from the Skeens

Struggling in the Surf… and loving it.

August 25, 2007 4:50 pm by Dan

So, I haven’t mentioned it thus far, but I’ve spent a lot of time surfing (or trying to). I have some experience with the sport – in Northern California we were spoiled by being close to Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz. One of California’s best spots for beginning surfers, it’s a point break that yields slow, consistent waves that are very easy to ride.

Finding my way in the local waves was definitely more of a challenge. I had one lesson, and for the rest I’ve been self-taught. There have been many, many hours of frustration, which led to some short-but-outstanding moments of triumph.

The technique didn’t come easy to me, and quite honestly I’m still not much of a surfer, but I catch the occasional wave. The hardest part has been reading the wave and wind conditions so that I can find the right type of waves that suit my skill level. I’m beyond riding broken waves, but not ready for the 6 to 8-foot overheads that sweep through here occasionally. I need a nice crumbly wave breaking in either direction.

So anyway, after an embarrassingly long learning curve I’m out there catching some waves and having a 5 or 6-second ride on it. I use either a monster 9’6″ longboard or a 7’6″ board, and likely won’t ever ride the toothpick short boards the skilled surfers use here. Still, all in all I’d say I’ve done alright for an Ontarian.

I’ve had a lot of fun boogyboarding (or bodyboarding) as well. It’s a good thing to do when the waves are huge – you can go pretty crazy on those things and not have to worry about your board clonking you on the head. One day I caught a wave just right I had such speed and such a sharp angle across the face of the wave it made a cool ripping sound as my board sliced through it. Pretty fun.

Surfing is a bloody hard sport to learn. I’m sure others might pick it up faster than me. For anyone who’s tried snowboarding, I suppose it’s similar but now imagine that the board is not attached to your feet and the mountain is constantly moving.

Still, I wouldn’t take back a second of the struggle. It’s a great workout and it’s a pleasure to be in the water, trying to work with the waves for what is a truly unique experience. And when it all falls into place and you find that sweet spot where a wave is forming and breaking, and you feel the sudden push under your feet like a loving nudge from Poseidon, it creates one of those moments that you’ll carry vividly in your memory, perhaps to your last day. There is something eternal that exists inside those shimmering tunnels of water, a place between the wind and the waves where everything exists perfectly. It’s gone in a matter of seconds, but it may also last forever. I’ve talked with some 60-something Aussies who can still describe their first wave.

For me the best moment came last week. After about a week of flat seas the winds picked up and suddenly BIG waves came rolling through, but with a nice offshore wind to make them break nice and slow. The waves were about 7 feet high, which doesn’t sound so big but when you’re lying on a board looking up at one, it seems like the Great Wall of China toppling on you. I paddled around for a while on my long-board, not quite getting where I needed to be and sometimes chickening out when I got to the crest of a big wave. Finally, tired of paddling, I decided to catch one in. I waited for a big sucker to break, planning to ride the white water. This was no typical broken wave though; I caught it shortly after it broke and it spit me forward like a rocket. I was simply hanging on to my board as hard as I could for a few seconds, then got to my knees, then stood up, still moving at a fast pace. Then I actually started accelerating, moving so fast that I had to lean back completely to keep the nose of my board from dipping into the water. The wave was re-forming, picking up speed and shape, and I was gliding along at amazing speed. I bent my knees and curled to the left, making the tightest turn possible on a 9″6 longboard. This banked me to the left and positioned me nicely in the tube of a lovely wave breaking from right to left. I skimmed along the tube for a few seconds, then banked to the right before it closed out in a splash of white water. I rode this white water in to shore until I felt my board’s fin hit the sand. What a way to finish the day!

One Response to “Struggling in the Surf… and loving it.”

Cathy Skeen wrote a comment on August 27, 2007

That’s a lovely, lyrical description. How will we ever keep you down on the farm after this?

Care to comment?