Stripes' Trip: Surf’s up
Overcoming childhood trauma
When I was a little boy of about nine or 10, my family and I were enjoying a trip to the beach in Korea. I was sitting on an inner tube in the water when I suddenly slipped through the center. The water dragged me under and I swallowed a lot of salt water. My parents on shore didn’t realize I’d fallen in, but my older brother did, and he rescued me from nearly drowning. Since then, I’ve only dared to dip my toes into the ocean a few times.
This changed earlier this summer when I visited the famous surf spot Shonan Beach in Japan. This is the very beach where in 2020, world-class surfers will converge to battle it out for the Olympics. The area is home to some of the best surfing beaches in Japan, so I decided that this would be the best place to not only learn how to surf, but also to overcome my fear of swimming in the open sea.
On a chilly morning, my colleagues and I arrived at Oceanglide Kai Loa, a quaint surf store on a quiet corner which offers surf and standup paddleboard lessons for beginners like me.
After filling out the standard forms, meeting our instructor and three other participants in our class, it was time for Shoji and me to get our wetsuits on. Putting on a wetsuit was more difficult than I imagined, so don’t be afraid to ask for help like I did.
We soon headed to the beach, about a minute away and started our warm-up exercises. First, we practiced paddling and jumping up onto the board on dry land. We rehearsed it multiple times and it became easier with every try … that was until I had to go into the water.
The closer I walked towards the cool water, no matter that it was calm that day, I could feel the dread growing inside me. I tried to challenge my fear and stepped cautiously in. My only sense of security was the ankle cord attaching me to the surfboard.
I hopped on my board and paddled to where the coach was waiting to launch us into a wave. I looked down but couldn’t see the seafloor, which meant that my feet might not reach the bottom were I to fall off my board.
But, the lesson wouldn’t stop for me to figure out whether or not I was in deep water, and the coach warned me a wave was coming. He set me up, told me when to paddle, and at last, when to shoot up to the standing position. On my first few tries, I lost my balance and fell into the water. I quickly realized that we were not in deep water at all and, at most, were in about 4-feet-deep water.
Soon, my fear let up and was replaced with fun and a strong sense that I needed to overcome the obstacle before me— standing on the surfboard and riding a wave.
I waited my turn and observed other’s techniques to see if I could use any of that on my next try. At the coach’s signal, I started to paddle and felt the board slightly rise in the water as the wave picked me up. The speed increased as the wave pushed me along, but I was balancing on the board. Finally, I had caught my first wave!
I could feel the adrenaline rush and at that moment, there was nothing else in the world. The wave was small, but I felt like a professional surfer and was ready to compete in the Olympics.
The waves weren’t big or choppy, and the coach was great at helping us with tips to perfect our technique. The others in my session seemed to be around the same level, so we were all sharing laughs when one of us took a tumble or cheering when we all finally caught a wave.
My trauma from nearly drowning as a child was forgotten while I stood on the board that day. I am sure that feeling of riding my first wave will last me a lifetime. And, Enoshima, with its laidback atmosphere and calm waves, was the best place to give surfing a try. I am ready to take on surfing in Korea and perfect my timing on the board to catch a couple of good waves there, too.
I’ve never considered myself a man of the sea. Surfing seemed to me the last sport that I would ever try, let alone enjoy.
To me, surfing has always looked cool with a laid-back vibe and surfers wearing stylish apparel. And yet, I questioned why people love the sport so much. So, I decided to give surfing a try, without the expectation of finding out the answer.
Our instructor led six of us, including ChiHon, for our two-hour lesson on the popular beach.
After a warm-up exercise and a briefing on how to find waves to catch, paddling, and finally, riding a wave – the three basic skills of surfing – we were soon in the water. Though I wasn’t scared of trying to surf, I was certainly relieved the sea was calm that day.
A short 60 feet away from the shore, we launched ourselves in an attempt to catch a wave, one after another, with the instructor’s help. In the first couple of tries, I fell off the board after less than a second.
Paddling back to the instructor, I couldn’t help but try to figure out what went wrong. Before my mind could settle on a conclusion, I was set up for another shot and another fall. How to stand and keep balance on a surfboard remained a mystery, which scared me. But my perception changed on my fourth or fifth try. What made a difference was my right foot, which I managed to keep close to the rear end of the board. When a wave came, I could feel my right foot “catch” the wave, and the board was pushed forward as if catapulted by the sea.
I was still a little nervous, which probably made my posture awkward. My right leg was stretched toward the rear of the board, while my left leg was positioned forward with the knee deeply bent more than necessary. With my arms spread out from my sides to keep my balance, I probably looked more like a “Silver Surfer” wannabe than a pro-surfer. At the same time, though, I was sure that I finally had a sense of what surfing is all about.
Who knows, I might even give it a try on my home turf in Okinawa.
SUP store: Kai Loa – Ocean Glide Marine Products
Location: 2-9-10-101 Katasekaigan, Fujisawa City, Kangawa Pref.
Online: http://www.kailoa.com/ (Only Japanese)
One-day Beginner’s Course: 2-hour lesson Fee: 5,400 yen
(Including rental surfboard, wetsuit and insurance)
(Excluding Shower facility - coin operated)
Hours: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., 1 – 3 p.m.
*You need bring bathing pants, towel and sandals.
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