Saturday, November 24, 2007

We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but if I were to make a short list of skills that I am comically bad at, it would include:
  • swimming
  • balance
  • smelling
  • expressing sympathy
You'd be hard-pressed to come up with an activity that combines all of those (with the exception of synchronized swimming aromatherapist), but something that does combine the first two is surfing.

So, when my buddy (and host) Larry suggested that we take surfing lessons in Kauai, I assured him it was a bad idea. I explained that this would be an exercise in futility for me. I detailed how there was no possible way that I could succeed at surfing given my crappy record at both skateboarding and snowboarding. Everyone harassed me though.

Liz: The lessons GUARANTEE that you'll stand up on the surfboard!
Hank: Be a good sport! Keep Larry company!
Larry: Do it for the blog!

Larry's reason won. I would do it for the blog. I would participate in an activity that was virtually guaranteed to cause me endless frustration because I love to blog about frustration. I'm like the reporter who got tasered for one of his on-air segments. Of course he was also a self-centered idiot, so, we had that in common.

Anyway, Larry and I showed up at the surfing lessons on Wednesday morning. A sense of doom (and several pieces of turkey bacon) had been churning in my stomach all morning. Visions of Greg Brady disappearing under the surf haunted me. This was not going to go well.

While I signed away my rights, I peppered the surfing coordinator with questions about mortality rates. Nothing assuaged me until a couple of other students arrived for the group lesson. I eyed them carefully. They looked to be about a decade older than me and there was a pronounced waddle to their gait. This was a rare moment in my life when I felt physically superior to my peers.

I introduced myself and found that they were from Kansas and had only signed up for the lessons because they had a two-for-one coupon.

I decided at that moment that if THEY could sign up for surfing lessons and expect to live, then I might survive too. Lesson ON!

We made our way to the beach where we joined up with the rest of the 10 person class. Photographer Dude explained that he'd be taking hundreds of pictures of the lesson with his high-speed camera, photographically capturing all our important moments.

Then, Instructor Dude 1 asked all our names. This was seemingly done in sincerity despite the fact that he called each one of us Dude for the rest of the lesson. He then positioned each of us next to a surfboard on the beach and explained how to surf.

"Ok, you've all seen surfing on TV... or cartoons. You pretty much know how it works. Show me how surfing looks."

Each of us hopped onto our boards on the sand and adopted our best TV surf pose. He nodded like a pensive Jeff Spicoli.

"Yep! That's pretty much it!"

Thankfully, Instructor Spicoli then went into some detail about how to get from the horizontal position to the vertical one. This broke down into about 5 steps:
  1. Press your chest up (like a push-up) so you're resting on your hands and knees
  2. Bring your knees forward
  3. Bring your right foot forward and put some weight on it
  4. Bring your left foot forward
  5. Stand up
After hearing this, the woman from Kansas said "Nope. I'm out." And then there were 9.

We practiced this sequence about a dozen times on the beach and then it was time to get into the water, which was pretty calm and not very deep. I laid down on my board and one of the instructors towed me to a good spot. When he saw a wave, he gave me a good push and yelled "Get up!"

I got nearly to step 4 when I toppled over into the water. I was enthused. I was SO CLOSE to standing up! I was going to surf!

That was as close as I ever got. For the remainder of the hour, I never got past step 3. Either the wave would pass me by while I balanced on my knees, or I'd flop into the water. Several times I ended up underneath the surf board.

What is it called when you're under the board? Is that head air surfing? Airhead surfing? I think I was unsurfing. After I rose ungracefully from underneath the surfboard during one of my attempts, smacking my head repeatedly against the board, I swore to check my luggage for the unlucky Brady Bunch tiki idol

Meanwhile, in between my plummets, I saw everyone else in the class (except the man from Kansas) actually surf. Larry had a couple of good rides, nearly making it to shore on one of his attempts. The 16 year-old girl actually had the composure (and gall) to smile and wave at the camera while standing during one of her rides.

After the lesson, I staggered over to the photographer and asked he if had captured any of my spectacular falls. At the very least, I'd have those photographic memories to go with my budding concussion.

He stared at me as though I hadn't even been in the class and said that he didn't think he got any pictures of me. Thankfully, his pot-addled memory was slightly worse than his pot-addled photography skills and Larry was able to recover a few pictures of me "surfing" from the CD he purchased.

This picture was from my first run. This was the closest to surfing I got.

The pained expression on my face, however, was a constant.

On the bright side, I'm hard pressed to think of another time where I so accurately deduced my skill level at an activity before even attempting it. What I lack in surfing ability, I make up for in precision self-doubt.


The 4th Sister said...

The pictures were is important for a person to know their limitations....I know many...

The 4th Sister said...

Oh yes and Jeff, just being out there in the water in a wet suit you looked like a stud.... so at least you looked good....Dude

David said...

Whoa, dude, that's awesome that you picked up a board and went for it. Just think of that beautiful California coast line where you can continue your learning. No?

Anonymous said...

Your entry made me LOL. :) You're an excellent writer.

Mike said...

4th Sister, I'm pretty sure that I was the unstud out there, but I thank you for your kind words.

David, if by "picked up a board and went for it" you meant "complained so much that Larry just counted my excuses until he got tired of that", then, yes, I went for it. And, no.

Anon, thanks! Sadly, I didn't even really do the experience justice.

Avery Gray said...

I would have been like the old lady from Kansas. Only I would have said, "Later, suckers!" That way, you could have backed out for a reason (other than your deathly fear of dying). You wouldn't want to be a sucker, would you?

Mike said...

Avery, your Avoidance Fu is very strong. I'm not such a quick thinker. Next time.

Deb said...

Well, at least you looked cute falling. That's really all that matters. I'm all about the photos.

Mike said...

Aww, thanks, Deb, but everyone looks cute falling off a surfboard. Lack of coordination is just universally endearing.