Tuesday, 24 August 2010

PIECES OF ME: How Tyrone overcame his fear of the depths and predilection for wet feet to finally catch a wave!

Cloaked in a spirit of adventure and armed with a reserve stash of courage, last Saturday I set out for Bull Bay in St. Andrew, destination Cable Hut Beach, the watery backyard of the Jamaica Surfing Association. Continuing the run of my most exploratory summer yet, the intent was to – finally! – get a lesson in surfing, that awe-inspiring activity that I always chalked up to being reserved for headstrong, rush-loving adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers. Cue the eye roll. As it turns out, I secretly envied them all along. It was time for me, too, to partake in the “swell life.” My tide had come in.

But first I would have to get over my deep-seated phobia of the sea’s infinity. So you can imagine my incredible relief when my instructor, pro surfer Icah Wilmot, said that for my beginner’s lesson, we would be starting out with the smaller waves closer to shore. (Duh, Tyrone. Who do you think you are? Surfer Dude?). The adventure, however, begins on dry land with Wilmot, whose shirtless appearance reveals a body more sublimely toned than mine, giving me a brief tutorial on the fundamentals of the ‘theory’ of surfing. Not surprisingly, there are quite a few techniques to master, which I took to with unforeseen relish and eagerness to learn. Wilmot, the unassuming son of Billy “CC” Wilmot, seems to possess a wealth of practice and knowledge on the subject of surfing that belies his 23 years.

On the beach, I repeatedly practise the basic three-step routine (as explained to me) that culminates in a standing, perfectly balanced position on the surfing board. First, you get into a push-up position while lying prostrate on the board, with the arms positioned strategically close to the chest. Next comes the leg fold; the leg you intend to put in front when you stand is bent to touch the other leg. And finally comes the fully erect standing pose, with the upper body and legs working in sync to help convey you across the water as you square off against the rollicking waves.

As I survey the ominous unendingness of the deep blue Caribbean Sea, I astutely realise that I am not going to learn everything about surfing in an hour, but if I had any lingering doubts on whether or not I learn quickly, I surprised myself that day. When finally I found myself being led out among the breaking waves, it dawned on me that showtime had indeed arrived. It was time to, um, test the waters. The first wave arrives: I get in position, all set to put my newfound surfing knowledge into practice. Upon standing, however, I lose all semblance of balance and go toppling into the water. Cho! But no damn wave is going to get the best of me.

So, ready again. I get back into position, more patiently this time, and as the wave approaches I slowly execute my three-step routine, and voila, I find myself RIDING THE WAVE!!! Is this really happening? Apparently so, because close to half-a-minute later, my board and I are deposited at the shore as the wave breaks and then slowly retreats. I did it! I had surfed my first wave. (And, fortunately, it was captured on camera for me by a kind young chap, who was visiting the beach with a busload of friends from Boston, Portland.)

To sum up the experience: Not bad at all. Not to toot my own horn, but I seriously never expected to achieve anything in surfing of all things so rapidly. Maybe surfing is not that hard after all. But, truth is, it can be alarmingly technical as hell. It clearly requires patience, dexterity, focus and quick thinking. So personally, to catch a wave (as surfing jargon puts it), to stand up on that surfboard and realise that you are in fact riding the wave is a completely surreal moment for a first-timer. In that moment, I had grasped something, something I had observed with equal spells of fascination and apathy for years. Now, with my story to tell, I am extremely proud of myself for at least mustering up the courage to get on that board.

As for the setting, Cable Hut Beach, it’s a transcendently beautiful, calming spot, made all the more appealing by the warm hospitality and quaintly alluring charm of the Wilmot clan. I can’t wait to go back.

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