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Surf Lesson

Surf-Virgin Moms Learn to Ride the Waves


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I’d like to tell you that I’d always wanted to surf. That I’d spent decades on the shore, secretly longing to be out shredding tubes with the sun-kissed stick jockeys. It would be romantic to say it took 40 years to get me to climb onto a surfboard. But the truth is it took only two words:

Champagne. Brunch.

My son’s school organized a surf-lesson fundraiser with booze, breakfast, and a band of adventurous, surf-virgin moms. As a California native who’d never hung 10 — and whose arm needn’t be twisted to slurp mimosas with her toes in the sand — how could I say no?

Starshine Roshell

My surfing friends say there’s something spiritual about a day on the board. It’s meditation in motion. It’s prayer without words.

So imagine my surprise when our instructor informed us that he was fresh off a tequila bender from the previous evening. He zipped us into wet suits (which offer a full-body SPANX effect that I rather enjoyed) and began a lecture about point breaks, riptides, offshore winds, and other facets of physics that I was still entirely too un-mimosa’d to care about.

My attention ebbed and flowed like the tide, but I heard instructive blips like “zip up your ankles … squat low … no ballerinas… eyes on the beach … or you’re gonna nosedive …” We practiced popping up from our bellies to our feet while we were still on the sand. And then we hit the water.

Can I tell you how badass we felt striding toward the surf with our boards hoisted over our heads — a dozen post-Gidget betties in neoprene? In my head, it happened in slow motion with a bitchin’ funk soundtrack.

Surfers say it’s peaceful out there on the ocean, when you’re bobbing on your board, waiting in silence for the next wave. I wouldn’t know. All I heard for two hours was the shrieking, hooting, and cackling of seaweed-flingin’ sistas.

We screamed when we wiped out, we cheered when one of us stood up and rode to shore, and we laughed from salty start to foamy flipping finish. The teacher helped us get into position, shoved us into each barrel, and shouted reminders all the while: You got this. Now paddle! PADDLE! And pop up! On your feet!

When the wave catches the back of your board, there’s an exhilarating, rocket-booster moment in which it’s 100 percent clear what’s going to happen next: You’re going to explode forward. The only question is whether you’ll get up — and how soon you’ll go down.

I made it to my knees over and over again, only to be jettisoned each time into the drink, arms flailing and mouth open mid-scream. And then I recalled a snippet I’d heard on the shore: Eyes on the beach.

When the next swell loomed, I paddled frantically, zipped my ankles together, caught the curl of the wave, popped up, squatted low … and locked my eyes on the sandy horizon.

And just like that, I was surfing.

I won’t lie to you: The mimosas were the best I’ve ever had — something about the sweet juice counteracting the lingering sting of saltwater on my lips and tongue. But it wasn’t the bubbly, or even the breakfast, that kept replaying itself behind my eyelids when I tried to fall asleep that night, exhausted and elated.

It was the sudden wet zoom. The adrenaline surge of that now-or-never moment. The startling … Okay, the startling physics of cutting a lean blue streak through pounding white foam. I’m certainly no expert. But I finally understand why my surfer friends live and breathe by the board.

Says one: “There’s only one other thing that makes me feel that good. And it doesn’t last as long.”

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Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.

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