Now, mind you these are healthy fears in my opinion since I trip over my own toes and have the attention span of a goldfish so instead of berating myself, I like to pat my overactive fear response on the back for keeping me alive so far against the odds.
But I also think life is about pushing the comfort zones to see what we’re truly made of and about facing fears head-on, within reason of course. And while I have a somewhat healthy dose of fear of the ocean and its might, I’m also drawn to it like a moth to the flame.
The last time I went surfing I went way beyond my skill level, got bashed on the head by my own surfboard, and nearly got thrown onto the scraggly rocks on the far side of Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong. Being hit on the head is no joke as wave after wave comes crashing down because you lose sense of what is up or down and you get tossed around as if in a washing machine.
So, time to face the fear of my past mistake and finally get a proper surfing lesson from the new surfing destination of the Philippines, Siargao.
I asked around about surfing instructors and my friendly bunk mate recommended Raffie Pablo, a long term surf instructor of many years. I messaged him that morning and in just a few hours he came by on his motorbike to pick me up from the resort to take me to the boats.
If I had done my research I would’ve known that you can’t just grab a surfboard from the Bravo beachside resort, walk in, paddle out, and start surfing. In this part of Siargao, there’s a rocky reef which is roughly a kilometer out from the shore where the waves crash onto and so you need to (you can paddle but it’s a far paddle) hire a boat for 150 pesos (3 usd) roundtrip. Then, from there you can catch the waves.
So, Raffie and I, with our two surfboards go to the boat place to hire one. But first he has me demonstrate what I know about popping-up (going from laying down in paddling position to standing up in the surfing position). I failed miserably as expected. Here’s the rundown he gave me and made me practice until I somewhat had it right.
Simplified How-To-Surf Instructions a la Raffie
- Put your chest diagonally on the surfboard first
- Then swing your legs onto it
- Placing hands by chest (do not grip the surfboard, but keep hands splayed out)
- Toes pointed on the back for quick spring
- Bring up your chest in a yoga cobra position
- Spring up!
- Left leg first (if you’re goofy footed)
- Then right
- Bend knees with two hands for balance as if doing tai chi
Then it was time to head out! I must have been visibly a bit queasy because I don’t know how many times he said don’t be nervous. I had a few failures in the beginning and I would jump off the board before I could even get any velocity out of fear so he had me sit on my board and gave me tips on how to avoid injury:
- Don’t fall backwards because the board could hit the wind and smack you on the head (learned this one from personal experience)
- Don’t jump off, you don’t want to gain any air because the reef can be a bit shallow, you want to sort of plop/roll off when you get too close to the exposed reef
- When swimming back with the board, don’t hold it in front of you, but instead to the side
- If a big wave is coming, don’t continue to hold on to it as it could dislocate your shoulder, instead let it go and dive under, your ankle strap will keep the board from flying away and it won’t hurt (too much)
- Don’t panic
But as promised, the waves were small and with his guidance I was soon properly popping up and surfing! I didn’t even notice when I got a tad bit scraped up on the reef and no one could wipe the grin from my face. After spending the night in the hospital less than a week ago and still recovering with a lot of rest it was good to finally be able to leave the vicinity of a toilet and go out on an adventure.
The footage below is of my second surfing day, where we launched from a place called La Jarana (about a five min motorbike ride from Bravo) and you actually could just walk into the waves!