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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Breakthrough (part I) - Surfing

Breaking through - this phrase has been on my mind lately. I experienced radical progress in two disciplines in my life this year that made me reflect. 

Per, A breakthrough is defined as any significant or sudden advance, development, achievement, or increase, as in scientific knowledge or diplomacy, that removes a barrier to progress: 

Surfing and dancing are two keen passions where I've invested much energy and effort and the rewards are manifold. 

I was introduced to surfing by my dear friend Josh roughly 3.5 years back one sunny day at Ocean Beach. Not a natural water baby (with a childhood spent in landlocked Delhi), I was jubilant to merely  make it out 100 yards in the ocean and learn to balance on the board in a sitting position and admire the bits of marine life around me - I think we saw at least a seal or two and several birds, and the bright sun radiating off the rippling waves - enough to bestow a shit-eating grin that I wore the rest of the day.

I started off slow but did get my own surf board eventually and started making it out to the local breaks – chiefly Pacifica, beautiful Bolinas up North, and the occasional forays to Ocean Beach and Santa Cruz. The learning curve was painstakingly steep for me. A combination of inconsistent beginner surf in the Bay area along with climbing that took me away on the weekends  meant that I couldn't really devote the extra amount of time to master the basics. Consequently my 'surf stoke' ebbed and flowed. I'd do well on those annual trips to warm waters in Latin America (Costa Rica, Mexico and El Salvador so far) but coming back to icy cold water (brrr!) and junky surf would deplete any drive I had for the sport. The nail on the coffin on my nascent surf career could have been the loss of my board when it flew off the top off Greg's car as we were going down on 280 towards Santa Cruz last year. Sans board and psyche, I barely made it into the water at all last year. The handful of times I went (to just hang out with friends), I'd get in the water, make half-ass attempts to catch a wave and basically count the minutes until I was back on land. Loser-talk right?

Well, let's move ahead to this year – the summer of 2012 where Manav decided to marry his sweetheart down in El Salvador and a bunch of signed up to go. Tropical climes, a new country, tasty pupusas and friends! But of course there was one slight problem – Manav's a hardcore surfer and so were a lot of the wedding posse. We were after all going to stay at a surf hotel in El Tunco, the epicenter of surfing right by two famous breaks – Sunzal and Punta Roka. In preparation of the trip I went looking for a new surfboard – after all I was hardly going to get that elusive stoke up if I surfed sporadically and rented crappy boards – the 8 ft fiberglass board I procured has proven to be perfect for me at this stage.

Lesson: Procure the right equipment. Learning a new activity, esp something as demanding as surfing is daunting enough, you owe it to yourself to get the best equipment that can help ease the barrier to entry. Hey, if you have the time and money to  make it to the beach, then find the cash for a good board and wetsuit!

I went out in the water a few times in advance and started to feel better about the upcoming trip. Packing my board shorts and rash guard I even started to feel a bit of excitement. 

The waters in El Tunco were deliciously warm and the conditions so very clean that I immediately felt transported back to the my early days in surfing where I ecstatically relished every bit of the adventure – the beautiful landscape, the friends, the vast ocean – foreboding yet inviting, and then the majestic olas. Shrugging off any expectations of my ability to surf, I started slow, often catching white water and riding that successfully to the beach. Those rides thrilled and gave me confidence to start tackling the shoulders off the bigger waves on the outside. 

Lesson: High expectations place a heavy burden. Finally learning in my 30s to keep the ego at bay and learn to start small. Begin with easy steps that help build the foundation to tackle more substantial goals. 

One of the days the surf got really big in Punta Roka (I was watching safely from the beach!). This guy is shredding though. 
This happened to be high surf season with big swells coming through. The wave height ranged from 4-5 ft to 10-14 feet. HUGE! I apprehensively went out on some of those big mornings too - while Daniel, Tanji, Jonny, Evan were out there charging the big faces, I was out there hanging out with Ian and Furqan, enjoying the easy camaraderie but also dodging the bigger sets that came our way. Some of the waves were massive and plain scary – like staring down a blue wall the size of a small house about to implode on you. I was righteously mauled by those monsters a few times, got dragged under, drank the requisite amount of agua con sal, but survived fine. Glad of my climbing regimen, and the hard work in the gym and outside that has kept me fit. Ian has good wave sense and following him around saved me from more furious water boarding :) He wrote a great recap of the trip. 

Lesson: Learn with amigos! Go out with buddies and the social engagement is very rewarding and can offer a ton of learning. I'm lucky to have some amazing friends without which my adventures (in climbing, or surfing, or otherwise) would pretty much suck. 

My paddling as well as my wave sense was improving towards the end of the trip. I was in the water my first day back home. Just pure excitement. One aspect of the sport that has held me back a bit was my lack of 'pop-up' finesse, which is the act of jumping on to our feet from a prone position upon catching a wave. While in other popular board sports (snowboarding, skateboarding etc), one begins from an upright position, in surfing getting up consistently can be a major part of the learning process and can take years to master. Unless you are not standing up you are not surfing, but rather wakeboarding. Ha. I was finally starting to see some progress with popping up quickly after catching a wave. This can mean the difference between opening up to further skills with turning and carving, versus spending the majority of a quick ride fumbling with the stance  Many a times I had accepted defeat in my inability for dropping in and immediately popping-up but I feel the progress and know now that it is a matter of time (and many more fun sessions in the water) before I master this basic but crucial skill. Break on through!

Another beautiful sunset in El Tunco
Lesson: Try, try and if you fail try yet again! Such a basic lesson but one easy to forget. Really it is true. We humans are an amazing bunch and well if man can walk on the moon, and a blind person can climb Mt Everest then getting good at surfing ain't impossible for anybody. 

The fall season is upon us in San Francisco. The water is getting colder but the conditions are clean and winter swells are on the horizon. I'm excited about getting in the ocean and for future plans for more warm water surf. Enough writing already, gotta get back to Craigslist to continue shopping for my next board - a shortboard!

Next up, the journey towards becoming a salsero!