As part of my sabbatical, I decided to learn how to surf. A practical person would have signed up for lessons in Santa Cruz (about an hour from where I live), donned a wetsuit and taken lessons over a weekend.

I don’t like cold water.

Instead, I signed up for a 6-day, all-women surf “safari” in Sayulita, Mexico (about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta). I was delighted to leave 55 degree weather in San Francisco and step off the plane in Mexico into welcoming sunshine and highs in the upper 80s.

Here is the view from the awesome villa that I’m sharing with a long-time friend and two new friends:

So, today…we started with a nice relaxing yoga class for an hour…mostly stretching and loosening up. We enjoyed a yummy breakfast at our villa and then walked about 10 minutes to the surf safari’s casita in town, where we learned surfing safety and some basics. We lathered on water-resistant sunscreen, pulled on our rash guards, chose a surfboard and carried it out to the beach. I felt very cool carrying an 11′ board on my head, even though it was really the only way I could cart it out, as my arms aren’t long enough to carry it under an arm.

At the edge of the water, we attached our leashes to our rear ankles (I’m “goofy-footed,”so that means the leash went on my left ankle) and strode out to the waves, two at a time. From the shore, the waves looked big, but in the water, they looked HUGE, even though they apparently were only “waist-high.” I got pummeled by the incoming surf as I tried to paddle out to the “deep water,” beyond where the waves were breaking. It was almost like I was facing an initiation by the ocean … “How badly do you want to go surfing today?” Wave after wave knocked me over and I tumbled a lot. The slight cold I was battling was quickly remedied by the 1000psi neti pot that the waves were inflicting on my sinuses.

By the time I joined the others, my lat muscles and triceps were burning and I was breathing heavily. We practiced braking and the sit and spin. We did a lot more paddling, as the current was pulling us to the left. Finally, it was time to ride a wave in.

I was excited to ride my first wave, and managed to pop up to my feet but then I lost my balance and fell over to the right almost immediately. Hmmm…pretty cool, but that didn’t quite count! I rode another wave in through the whitewash on my knees. I was feeling tired but still enthusiastic as our instructors showed us how to surf only the white wash (go in with the tail of the surfboard first, so it’s easier to hop on and catch a wave). I finally caught my first wave and got my legs straightened past 90 degrees for a few seconds, reveling in the energy underneath me….and then I tried to exit successfully…into about 6 inches of water. More water up the nose.

I rode a few more waves and took a break for lunch. When I came back for “free surf time” the instructors were in the water, offering advice and encouragement. With a little rest under my belt, I was able to stand up several times and on one wave, I felt it drop out a little underneath me…omg, I was surfing! I let out a scream of delight and continued in the whitewash until the energy of the wave had bled off and I could step off onto the sand. I had a several really nice rides but after about an hour, my lower back started to bug me so I decided to call it a day.

Learnings from today:
1 – Embrace the wipeout. A wise surfer friend told me that one of the keys to learning how to surf is to not avoid wipeouts, but rather, to embrace them. Well, let me tell you, I made passionate love to the wipeout. It even sent me flowers.
2 – There’s always another wave, so don’t feel rushed. A few times, I saw a really nice wave forming, but I was too close to it and I would rush to align myself, and curl my toes onto the sweet spot, but I’d be rushing and not quite aligned and then the wave would rush up and catch me and most times, I’d get tumbled in the surf. I realized, I need to set myself up for success…those were my best waves.
3 – Rinse all the sand out of my bikini bottom before using the restroom…I’ll just leave it at that.