It started as the most beautiful love affair, one wet and windy afternoon under the grey slate skies of Wales. The wind was howling and the Irish Sea couldn’t look less inviting as the clouds grizzled. I rubbed my sleep stained eyes and wondered for the millionth time what the hell I was doing, on a cold, wet beach at 6am.
I was learning to surf.
My instructor, who smoked too many hand rolled cigarettes, didn’t seem capable of saving me if one of those wind swept waves dragged me under. But as he hacked up his lungs on the damp sand and taught me how to pop up on my board, I began to feel a small chill of excitement running down my spine.
I grew up as land locked as anyone could ever imagine, with sprawling motorways on either side, clapboard houses and a few green fields. What had driven me to want to learn to surf? I can’t even remember, was it that I listened to too much Weezer in my adolescent years? Or perhaps I was blown away by the Hollywood disaster of Point Break? Whatever it was it had already got into my bones and led me to pursue this dream at 6am in October.
I tried to ignore my dad who was busy with the digital camera snapping pictures of me looking like an overgrown seal stuffed into a wetsuit as I started the trot down to the water. Unfortunately the trailing leash got caught underfoot and I went down like a ton of bricks. Great stick that one in the family album dad!
As I entered the water, the chill almost took my breath away. Jesus Christ! Why did no one tell me it was going to be this cold! I had nursed visions of warm waters, bikinis, hammocks and someone playing the ukulele far off. Instead the wind was howling, I was losing feeling in my toes and my surf instructor was hollering out at me to piss in my wetsuit. And now many years on, I am not afraid to admit that yes – I did piss in my wetsuit. And as the urine flushed through my wet suit with delicious warmth, it gave me the strength to plunge further into the cold water.
I dragged and fought my floating wardrobe size board out until I was in well past my waist; I turned it around to face the coast where my instructor was huffing on another cigarette. I heard a roar come up behind me and turned around to face what seemed to be the white waters of death. Paddle came a raspy cry from the beach.
Here goes I thought
I jumped onto the wobbly board and started to flail my arms about until I felt the white water lift me up. Suddenly I was hurtling towards the beach at a million miles an hour, thinking Christ! No one has ever gone faster than this! I clutched the rail in an effort to hold on before realizing I had to cry to stand. I shakily popped up and struggled against the wind to my feet. Wait a minute, I was up! The board was moving and I was surfing!
A grin cracked open my face and I was about to punch the air in joy when the board wobbled, my foot slipped and I crashed under the fizzing, foaming whitewater. I choked on salt, I got smacked in the face and i tumbled like a stray penny caught in the washing machine but I still came up grinning, I had surfed my first wave for a total 3 seconds!