Learning how to surf; Part II – My very first board!

Mompiche is a little fishingvillage on the northwest coast of Ecuador. There isn’t really much happening here other than a handful of hostels and beachfront restaurants, barely a decent food shop really, but that all becomes less important if you’re here for the main attraction. The surf. There are a few spots around town, mainly beachbreaks, but the star amongst them is the close to perfect pointbreak.

After doing some splashing in the pacific waters along the South American west coast, this is without a doubt one of the cleanest, most predictable waves I have ever seen. It is like a family fun park with the big boys out at the point, learners on the inside and first-timers at the beach. So my expectations were high when I took up surfing again after a three months break. Too high.

Renting a board in Mompiche will set you waaay back according to budget, so I decided to buy one instead. I took the day and headed south to Canoa where I had previously rented a 6”6 funboard to convince them to sell it to me. After some persuasion and 200 USD later, the board was mine. My very first, and very well used surfboard.

My very first board!!

Getting used to a shorter board was surprisingly easy. The board was pretty wide though so the balance was solid and made it feel like a longer board than it was. At the same time it was way easier to turn the board. It was however not possible to duckdive with it. I tried a couple of times to push it under a wave only to be totally thrown off or getting the board pushed back in my face.

When I started up again I had this image in my head of how well it had gone in Brazil and sort of just forgotten about all the times I struggled. Just riding along a wave, sideways, used to be a victory, now that was the minimum of what I expected from every wave. Which of course will only set you up for disappointment. With this increase in confidence and overestimation of my skill level, I paddled right up to the outside to where the bigger and faster waves where breaking. Now, since this is a nice surfspot there is no way you’ll be alone in the water. There will at least be 15 other people out there with you and suddenly you need to know the unwritten rules of how to move around in the surf. I didn’t.

The big boy point on a small day

Safe to say I probably ruined a couple of good waves for some. Having people giving you their most pissed off face can be quite intimidating for a beginner. The paradox is however that if I wanted to improve I would have to try and fail going for 4-5 waves before I would make one. But either not getting the wave or messing up the pop-up (standing up), I will still have taken a wave from those 5 other people sitting beside me wanting the same wave. And they are probably the same people where I messed up their waves trying to get out there giving me their dirty looks. But then there is also those two or three people who (probably take pity on you) will encourage you to go and try giving you some tips.

One thing I learn over and over again though, is how humbling this sport is. You cannot wipe out and slip of your board in private, your learning will happen in front of and beside people who have been surfing for years. And even though surfers are quite protective of their waves a nice and smiling “sorry” when you mess up will usually help them remember that they were beginners once too.

So after sitting further out being intimidated away from going on a bigger wave or an already taken wave, most of the time would be spent paddling just so I wouldn’t get smashed when the bigger set waves came through. It would be the most frustrating thing ever. My head being torn between really, really wanting to do something but not daring to. So with my tail between my legs I paddled back to the inside again. Luckily this was such a good inside that a couple of good waves here would save the day. At one point a small wave would carry me so far I had to jump off because my legs couldn’t work it any further. It was awesome!

After a couple of weeks I got over myself and cared more about catching waves and less about anyone else. After looking at other surfers, you’ll see them fuck up too. I’ve crashed into people going on the same wave, managed to send my board flying into a guy’s face, managed to get the board in my face plenty of times, getting cut when washing up on the rocks and twisted my knee when landing with one foot on the board and not the other. It gets stressful at times.

That time I headbutted my board in Pichilemu

The most trying thing however, will not be the physical injuries or the fear of wiping out, it’s how slow the progress can be. I’m used to a gradual increase in control and skill in most things I try, but with surfing it sometimes feel like your on the same level for months or even getting worse. There are just so many things to handle at once; the conditions, reading the waves, catching a wave, where to sit on the board, the pop up and how to turn. And those are basics. Without a boubt, surfing is the hardest thing I ever done. But then there’s always that one wave where it all comes together and makes you smile for the rest of the day. So worth it!

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