I need to be honest with myself. The charade has to stop. Something happened today, and I simply can’t lie to myself for one more moment. It doesn’t matter who started it, who called who a cry-baby, it ends now. It’s time to be an adult and admit one simple truth:
I suck at surfing.
Like really, really suck at it.
It’s okay. In the half hour walk from the beach I’ve made peace with it. My ego, which lay in tattered shreds, has been scotch-taped back together. I mean, it’s not like I’m a total spaz. Well, I kind-of am, but I have plenty of skills that more than make up for my lack of grace on the ol’ longboard. I can wiggle my ears, you know. It’s true. I have a some sort of bizarre muscle mutation in my cranium which allows me to move them without touching them. When I was a kid I used to pretend that I was Samantha from Bewitched, but a horrible accident meant that I could no longer wiggle my nose, so I had to resort to ear calisthenics to cast spells instead.
That’s not true.
Well, it is, but after typing it I realised how weird it sounds.
I’ve never been particularly athletic. In school, my best friends and I would enter P.E class, clutching our limbs and moaning like World War 1 soldiers on the front line. Diseases that had been cured would come out, “I can’t play volleyball, Miss. My polio is acting up again.” Once, during the headily petulant era of Year Nine, I wagged P.E. My friend and I walked to the shops and ate ice cream instead- a move that threw down a gauntlet of decadence that would scurry behind me like Thing Addams for decades. My teacher noticed that I was missing. Not my friend, just me. Apparently the absence of an argumentative, pubescent horror child that made her life difficult was notable. It certainly wasn’t my Lacrosse prowess that kept me in her memory, anyway.
I played softball after school for one season. I wagged that, too. When forced to play, I would stand in Right Field, disinterestedly watching the ball bounce by as my team mates shouted things like “fucking move”. My parents would watch from the sidelines, pretending that they had a child who was a source of pride. “Maybe don’t just stand with your arms folded, CC,” my mum helpfully said after one particularly heinous match. “Try and, you know, look interested.” I’m not sporty. Anything beyond lifting weights while scowling at the floor, or running on a treadmill like a hamster to Don’t Stop me Now by Queen is beyond my capabilities. So, my decision to take surf lessons was really an act of bravery. I’m still a soldier on the front line, I just have a better excuse than polio now. ‘Hungover’ usually works.
My first surfing lesson was fun. I was with five fresh-out-of-the-army Israeli’s, one of whom, bafflingly, couldn’t swim. I don’t know what drives a person to choose surfing lessons as a leisure activity when they look like a three-legged Collie flailing in the water, but Lame Dog Goldstein did serve as misdirection for my suckiness. You might think I’m mean for saying that. The way I see it is, he either has, or will, slaughter about seven hundred and eighty six Palestinian children in his lifetime. I have the moral highground. Which means I can compare him to a disabled canine. Don’t like it? Well, email me and we can engage in a long debate on Zionist Propaganda and anti-semitism. I’ve read The Gun and the Olive Branch. Well, half of it. But I’ll win, anyway.
Enough of that, though. I didn’t think that my crapness was any more than the average level of I’ve-never-done-this-before. Sure, I’m Australian and I should know how to surf, wrestle crocodiles, and match a cork-adorned Akubra to any outfit, but I watched Jaws at the tender age of ten and as a result I’ve managed to get through thirty one years with minimal time in the ocean. In my first surf lesson, I kind of stood up. Kind of. I did manage to get a good paddle going. Then I sat on the board, staring pensively at the ocean like some ludicrous Layne Beachley. It was fun.
This lesson something happened. I’m not entirely sure what.
Perhaps I should have been practising. I could have spent my nights lying on the kitchen floor and leaping up like a ninja instead of drinking beer and socialising. The whole thing is probably my fault- I’m not taking my non-existent career as an amateur surfer seriously.
In the fourty eight hours between lessons, the Israeli’s had all been transformed into Hasidic Kelly Slater’s. The one who couldn’t swim was gone, replaced with an impossibly attractive girl who carried herself with the arrogant grace of the genetically blessed. The bitch could surf, too. She even did a fist pump as she rode the wave. A fucking fist pump. It’s true- I saw it as I clutched my surfboard, choking on salt water. “Fucking Israeli’s,” I muttered as I tried to sit up. Karma- or God- tipped me off the board then. I looked like a Down Syndrome porpoise as I remounted.
The instructors are lovely, and incredibly patient with me. “CC, you look really tense. You need to relax,” one coached. “Don’t think that can’t do it, don’t think that anybody is judging you-”
“I’m judging me.”
“And don’t feel that you have to stand up, okay? Just have fun.”
“You’re right. I’m allowed to completely suck at surfing. It’s my right to be absolutely terrible and I’m going to milk it.”
When it became clear that my ‘kneel on the board and let out a high pitched shriek’ technique wasn’t working, I was taken aside and given special ‘stand up’ lessons. “Oh god,” I exclaimed to the instructor. “I’ve fallen behind the class and need extra tutoring. I’m in remedial surfing now.”
He laughed and offered me some advice. “Try not to, you know, be so awful.”
Whatever he said worked, I managed to stand up and balance on the board without a wave twice. Therefore I can do it, but I don’t think I can do it, so when I am on a wave, instead of casually rising and giving a little fist pump, I find myself thinking, Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, fuck, fuck, fuck, stand up! Stand up! Stand- gurgle, gurgle, choke.
At the end of the wave I’d surface rapidly, choke on the Pacific, and flap about. I must have looked like a dying seagull because the instructors would look at me in horror. “CC! Are you okay?” I was always fine, the only thing that took a real battering was my ego, which, after two hours, was almost worn down to a nub. I was called over and told to try another wave. I asked the instructor what time it was. I think he knew I was two seconds from fed-up because he said “If you like, catch this wave and then you can go back to the sand.”
“So I can sit on the shore and suck at surfing quietly from the sidelines?”
I managed to stand up for a nanosecond on that wave, and the adrenaline was enough to make me want to go back out. I didn’t, though. I was battle-scarred. I grabbed my thongs, ripped off my rash vest and began a long trudge up the stairs back to the surf school.
In a bikini.
And nothing else.
Sometimes you just can’t get it right. Not only did I suck in the water, I sucked on land, too. For reasons that still remain unclear to me, I chose to leave my clothes and towel at the school. So I had to walk the main street of town in pool-underwear. In Puerto Escondido, you can’t walk anywhere without running into people you know, so my solitary trudge of defeat was witnessed by many acquaintances. “Hola,” I would say to people, trying to cover my midsection with a sea soaked rash vest. Do you like the travellers physique? I’d think. The soft lumpiness is thanks to Corona and chocolate. Look at this bulge, I’ve had to eat seventeen tacos to get that bulge. Have you ever seen a chickie with a rim of flesh there? No? That’s right, I’m hot shit. That’s why I’m almost naked in broad daylight. Thank me later.
Some days you are a triangle peg in a world of Layne Beachley’s, some days you are a general on the front lines, bravely fighting polio, but most days, self deprecation can soothe a shattered ego.