At the beginning of this summer, the Fella started surfing almost every weekend. He was immediately hooked on the sport, but I was otherwise occupied in full Triathlon training, so I never tagged along. Then last weekend, the fella announced: “I have signed you up for a surf lesson with the Locals Surf School on Sunday.” I was beyond excited – learning to surf has been on my list of things I have wanted to do far longer than anything else and here was my chance to make that happen, happily dropped in my lap as a present.
On Sunday morning, we walked down to the A-train for our trek out to 67th Street in Far Rockaway. The coolest thing about it is that it is really a straight shot out to that beach, no switching of trains needed. The fella brought his board of course, (yes, a surfboard now lives in the living room of our Brooklyn apartment), so that he could surf too, while I was in my class. I don’t know why but I LOVE seeing surfboards on the subway – it makes the fact that we really are close to a beach seam so real! 40 minutes after getting on the train in Brooklyn, we were making our way down the beach to the Locals Surf School tent.
Started by Michael Kololyan and Michael Reinhardt, two Rockaway locals who want to share their love of the NY surfing community, Locals Surf School aims to make every student feel the rush of actually riding a wave. They actually even say during the first few minutes of class that they will get everyone able to stand up on the board during the first class! Their classes are small, with no more than 3 students per instructor, to help guarantee that everyone gets a lot of chances at catching and riding as many waves as possible during the 2 hour class. As we all started to gather for our first class, we were each given thicker, long-sleeve rash guards to wear during class, which I was really grateful for, since it was a little chilly that day and my short sleeve light rash guard (really just a glorified t-shirt) just wasn’t going to cut it!
The first part of class is held on the beach, going over safety tips and technique before we actually went out into the water. We learned where we were supposed to be on the board – which was much farther back than I would have guessed, how to successfully paddle in the water and how you were supposed to land from your pop-up to have the right balance to actually ride the wave and not topple over. It’s funny, it turns out that all of my SurfSet classes actually meant that I had a pretty good handle on doing the pop-up right! Nice. The Mikes kept a watchful eye on all of us as we practiced and corrected everyone’s form as we worked on the basics. Then right before we went out, they went over the most important thing we needed to remember while we were out in the water: the acroymn CRAL – Cover your head when you fall (so you don’t get whacked by your board or another surfer), Relax – really you will just be under for a few seconds (don’t panic), Air – breathe when you come up, don’t gasp or you might end up with a mouth of water but DO breathe, you’re fine,and Look where you are so you don’t get hit by another surfer. A good solid acronym and easy to remember. Of course, in my first fall, I didn’t and got hit in the mouth with my board because I am smooth like that – from there on out I fully remembered CRAL every time.
While we were on our boards, the Mikes stood in the water chest deep and we paddled to meet them. They would hold our boards and watch for waves behind us. When they spotted one, they would start telling us to paddle and give us a shove and at the right moment would yell “POP-UP!” It was amazing how effective this method was in actually getting you into position to ride the wave into shore. The first few times, I fell off almost immediately. I would then grab my board, hop back on and paddle out to wait my turn to try again. Since my fella was also surfing in the same area, even the time between going for a wave was fun since he would paddle over to me and chat while I waited. I really loved bobbing on the surfboard out in the ocean – it was just so ridiculously relaxing to be out on the water on the board. When I would get flagged to come in, each time I had a moment of “Oh, yeah, I am supposed to be SURFING!” and then would haul ass back to the guys – lucky for me I am a really strong paddler!
There were a few guys in my class, but it was funny…the women (myself included) really spent more time trying to catch the waves and paddling back to the Mikes as soon as one of them opened up. We had a third guy helping us too, somehow I missed his name but he was great too. The instructors all were just cool, relaxed guys, who love surfing and want to help make every student love being on that board too. They were super supportive on each attempt, telling us what went wrong and that next time we’d get it. It took a few tries but I did finally start catching waves and riding them all the way to shore…and really there isn’t a better feeling in the world! I LOVED it. Thanks to Locals Surf School, I managed to ride multiple waves all the way to shore! Although I thought they were full of it when they said they could get me there at the beginning of class, they did. I totally caught the surfing bug… I can’t wait to go again.
Top photo from Locals Surf School’s website. Rest of the images taken by Eric C Stafford of my first successful ride in!