#1 30b430 – Learning to surf in Peru

The downside of being taught how to surf by someone who wasn’t fluent in English became clear when I asked my instructor ‘what shall I do if I fall in?’ to which he answered ‘no entiendo’ (I don’t understand).

Fernando, the owner of a surf school in Lima, had assured me that my tutor would speak English as I wasn’t sure my limited Spanish could stretch to surf-speech.

However it soon became clear after meeting Felix that his English was on a par with my Spanish. When I raised my concerns with Fernando his typically South American reply was: ‘No worries, no worries. Un poco ingles and un poco español,’ and my lesson began.

The first challenge was getting on my wetsuit, an extremely unflattering task which involved being pushed and prodded into the skin-tight suit. The end result was me looking like a somewhat flustered whale. I challenge anyone to look good in a wetsuit!

Perfecting the paddle technique
Looks easy enough…
Looking like a pro already

Next came the on-land instruction where, in a mixture of Spanglish, Felix taught me the four steps required to stand up on a board. This was a mission in itself and while Felix sprang up like a cat, I had absolutely zero elegance, I had all on managing to stand up and keep my balance on dry land, let alone in the water. It was about this time that the real panic set in.

‘Tranquillo, tranquillo,’ Fernando kept telling me. ‘Stay calm, if you don´t stand up, you don’t pay.’ To be honest, that stressed me out even more, as I knew that meant they obviously expected you to stand up and I was blatantly going to be the only person in the history of surf who failed to do it.

The paddling begins

But there was no turning back and it was only as we were paddling out to sea (a mission in itself when you’re lying flat on a board almost twice your height and you have no upper body strength) that I thought to ask the question about falling in. It was as I was panicking and trying to remember the four steps that I suddenly had a vague recollection about the dangers of a board hitting you on the head when you fell in.

Seeing as Felix didn´t seem to understand my question I tried to act out the scenario. ‘Si yo…[miming falling in] que…should I do?´ If I hadn’t been so scared at the time it would actually have been really funny.
In the end I decided I´d just have to figure it out when the time came as Felix was turning us around and seemed to be preparing me for my first wave. ‘I will push you and when I say ´paddle´, paddle as hard as you can.´

Before I could even take that in he´s let go of me and I could just hear a small voice behind me shouting ´paddle, paddle!´so I did as I was told. No sooner was I paddling then the voice shouted ´jump, jump´. I was so panicked I instantly forgot all about the four steps and tried to jump wildly onto the board, completely losing my balance and instantly falling in.

As soon as I hit the water, images of a surf board crashing down me me filled my head and I started flapping around madly in the water – I have no idea what I thought that was going to achieve. Luckily the next moment Felix was by my side ‘Emily, tranquillo, tranquillo.´I dragged myself back onto the board, feeling anything but calm.

Felix high-fived me. ‘Very good, very good´he beamed. I had a feeling that this may have been a slight exaggeration. ´And now we paddle again.´So we turned around and repeated the entire routine again…and again.

Then, after several attempts, something amazing happened – I stood up! Just for a second and I was so surprised that I screamed and instantly fell off. But it was such a great feeling that I turned around and did it again.

You might need a magnifying glass but I’m standing – honest!

And for the next hour we repeated the routine. We paddled out (by far the hardest bit – those three years of yoga classes did nothing for my upper body strength), sat on our boards while we waited for a wave – during which time I´d have an impromptu Spanish lesson as Felix chatted away to me – and then I’d paddle with all my might and try to stand up. Sometimes I fell in and sometimes I made it. But the times when I managed to stand up felt fantastic.

The only down-side to the experience was that once again my pesky motion-sickness set in. For someone who loves to travel so much I seem to get sick on an awful lot of modes of transport and I can now add surf boards to that list. After an hour´s worth of going up and down on waves I was feeling distinctly green by the end of my lesson. ‘Don´t worry,’ Fernando said when I got back to the shore. És normal – next time will be better.’

Next time?!

So big thanks to Kasha for a great recommendation for my list. One down, 29 to go!

#1 of 30b430 – Done!