"Look ahead!": an impromptu surf lesson

August 27, 2020 | Surfing
Surfing: always teaching us lessons, in and out of the water | Photo: Shutterstock

I have been surfing for almost 30 years, and I genuinely love to challenge myself and improve my skills every time I paddle out.

But I was never into competition mode to become a full-time, professional surfer or chasing a career as a surf instructor to be in the water all the time.

I have many interests.

I love reading about nearly all human fields and activities, and my second hobby is composing music.

I'm also into Lego building. I enjoy supporting my football club and national team and appreciate time with my family and friends.

I am a self-taught surfer. Surfing is definitely one of my favorite hobbies. But I'm not obsessed about it, and I don't let it be the only drive in my life.

In the past three decades, I might have taught less than a handful of people how to ride a wave.

Nevertheless, every time I helped someone stand up on a surfboard, I immediately felt a fulfilling sense of gratification and pride.

This time, it was different. It was an unusual experience - one that I will never forget.

Leça da Palmeira: a temperamental beach break located near Porto, Portugal | Photo: SurferToday

From Casual Beachgoer to Impromptu Teacher

I haven't had proper vacations for over ten years.

Well, I enjoyed a few weekly breaks during summertime, but I always had to bring the laptop and work at least a couple of hours every day.

It's better than nothing - it's part of my job and career choice as an entrepreneur, and I'm OK with that.

And after my lovely daughter arrived, we had to adapt to her schedule and free time became a valuable commodity.

So, for now, I am happy with a daily 30-minute escape to the beach, just to feel the sun on my skin and go for a quick swim in the cold, Atlantic waters.

Yesterday was no different.

The air temperature was warm, the beach wasn't packed, and it looked like just another inviting August afternoon under sunny blue skies.

I spread the towel on the sand and walked toward the shoreline with my eyes on the swell lines. The goal? Go for a quick swim, dry off, and drive home.

I am often told that I can only look at the ocean and appreciate it with a surfer's perspective, and I understand what non-surfers want to say to me.

In fact, every time a passionate surfer looks out at sea, he or she is automatically and instinctively analyzing the potential surf conditions and the quality of the breaking waves.

It's an immediate and non-reversible mechanism, and there's not much we can do to change that.

Surfing shapes and crystalizes our viewpoint, mindset, and angle of observation when it comes to enjoying the endless blue blanket.

Anyway, my feet have now made contact with moderately cold saltwater.

The surf is rough with six-foot closeout waves detonating in shallow waters - not the perfect conditions for learning to surf.

But, as always, a few intrepid beginners are trying their luck with shortboards and soft top surfboards, unaware of the unsuitable surfing variables.

They are certainly tourists from a different latitude enjoying the warm weather of Western Europe's surf-rich coastlines.

I stopped for a moment to observe their method, and assess their enthusiasm and evolution, as they positioned themselves a couple of yards in front of the impact zone.

I have always loved to see novice surfers riding their first wave. It's a unique and unforgettable moment in a surfer's life.

I remember mine, and it makes me feel good and happy to see others walking on water for the first time.

There were four pale-skinned young men in front of me. They could be Dutch, British, Australians, or even Nordic. I will never know.

They were actively catching the powerful whitewash created by the pounding closeout waves.

Waves: you've got to know how to read them before learning how to surf it | Photo: Shutterstock

Look Ahead, Enjoy the Ride

My eyes kept focusing on one of them, and I still don't know why.

It was not because he was the best and most advanced rider, but probably because he had a modus operandi, discipline, or method.

And I like that.

He would paddle his foam surfboard in front of the whitewater, pop up, ride for a second or two, and then lose momentum and fall on the back of the wave.

But he was always determined to get back and repeat the process.

I admired his attitude and decided to keep watching his progress. He was doing everything well.

I just thought he should keep his eye on the beach, on the horizon, and not on the board. And that was holding him back.

A few minutes later, I couldn't resist.

I am a really low-profile person, and I never mess with other people's lives.

But this time, I felt it was different. I knew I could really make a difference with a subtle gesture or communication.

"Look ahead," I mouthed. The young lad looked at me, nodded his head, and quickly got back to the impact zone.

On his first wave after my intromission, the man stood up, looked forward, and rode a longer wave.

I threw him a discrete shaka and a smile, and his enthusiasm grew.

Take two: another great ride. Take three: probably the longer wave of his life.

I began feeling quietly proud of myself and kept observing his evolution. On his next wave, I got closer and carefully selected my words.

"You're already surfing. So, forget about the board, look ahead, and enjoy the ride!" I told him.

The young surfer smiled openly, thanked me, and got back to his non-stop training session. And you could see him getting better and better.

Surfer: someone who will always look out at sea with a wave riding perspective | Photo: Shutterstock

Sharing is Surfing is Sharing

It was now time to leave and let him enjoy his time in the water without the unknown stranger putting unnecessary pressure on his shoulders.

As I got back to my beach towel, I felt extremely happy inside for what had just happened. In less than 20 minutes, I had been able to add something constructive and positive to someone else's life.

This was not a classic surf lesson. It was just a cool, feel-good, win-win moment.

We never knew each other's names. But someone had followed another fellow human's advice almost exclusively through body language, and without questioning it.

As I reflect on what happened, I have been reminded that surfing is almost like a universal language that, not only binds people together, but also breaks down the meaning of life to its fundamentals.

I will probably never meet that guy. But, one day, he will probably be in my seat doing the same for another enthusiastic beginner surfer.

May some things never changer in our world. And keeping magic alive in our surfing should be one of them.


Words by Luís MP | Founder of SurferToday.com

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