Column: “Ride the Wave”

Rocky Mountain News, August 25, 2008

Take a Colorado Break and Just Ride the Wave

Colorado is a terrible place to be an aspiring surfer. Obviously, it’s a state with no waves.

This doesn’t stop legions of Coloradans from trying, however. Head to one of Mexico’s surf towns in April, and nearly everyone you meet is from one Colorado ski town or another.

Coloradans like to defy gravity, and a trip to a tropical surf spot has become an annual ritual for ski bums searching for a few extra weeks of stoke after the resorts close.

My husband, Brent, grew up surfing in Florida, and although I had ridden a surfboard a few times before I met him, I date my surfing career to our first vacation together eight years ago in Panama. Brent recently reminded me that, before he had ever seen me surf, I mentioned that someone had once told me I was a “natural” on a surfboard.

I am so not a natural. That became obvious to Brent our first morning in Panama, when my friend Heather and I were bobbing in ankle-deep water on Brent’s beloved shortboards, banging into each other and scraping our fins on the cobbles below. He must have been deeply in love; such destruction would be met with far less good humor today.

Learning a new sport teaches you all sorts of things about yourself and your relationships. I learned on that trip to Panama that my new boyfriend was a good sport. Brent learned that I was prone to braggadocio, but also perhaps that I was persistent and keen to try new things.

After a few more surf trips, I decided I was ready for the big time, and on my urging, we joined my best friend and her husband for six weeks of surfing in South Africa. There, the powerful waves, rocky shoreline and frigid water pounded my surfing delusions into permanent submission. Brent learned something else about me then: I have temper tantrums. I learned that if you are very, very, very unpleasant, it is possible to get Brent riled up.

It’s not as if I wasn’t aware that teaching your partner a new sport can be difficult. Or that our learning styles are completely different. Brent, a natural athlete and a man of few words, learns by doing. I learn by talking. Here’s how it usually goes:

Me: So if I make a bottom turn on the takeoff instead of angling down the line, how do I generate enough momentum to beat out the section?

Brent: Just ride the wave.

Even with all of those disadvantages, though, I have slowly improved. Lots of time in the water – and a few well-placed pointers from dudes in the lineup – has given me a sense of, if not mastery, then at least mild proficiency on a surfboard. I ride a shortboard now and am learning to make some turns and lazy cutbacks. A natural I’ll never be. But I’m obsessed.

So each spring and fall, and, come to think of it, summer and winter, too, I start hounding Brent to go on a surf trip. It’s hard to get in shape for surfing in Colorado, and a few weeks before we leave, I strap an aquajogger belt around my waist, put a float between my legs, and paddle up and down the pool, back arched and head out of the water like I’m paddling a surfboard.

My training time usually coincides with Senior Swim hours, and a few of the women there have been so impressed by my lap-paddling that they started doing it, too. Show up at the South Boulder Rec Center on a Thursday afternoon, and you’ll likely see me and a whole retinue of lady seniors bobbing up and down the lap lanes with embarrassing flotation devices.

I may look like a fool, but a few weeks later, while Brent is groaning about his sore muscles, I will be well-prepared for the pounding I’m about to receive. And like clockwork, you’ll likely hear a conversation that goes something like this.

Brent: My shoulders hurt.

Me: Aquajogging would help you keep your rhomboids, deltoids and triceps in shape.

Brent: You’re crazy, woman.