A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about things we’ve always wanted to do but inexplicably never have. Somewhere on the list for her landed surf lessons. She’s lived in California almost her whole life and has never paddled out to ride a wave. Having taken lessons before but always down for a refresh, I suggested we do it. Living in San Diego without enjoying the ocean is kind of shameful.
When I first moved to San Diego almost two years ago, I knew I wanted to get back on a board. I previously took lessons in Maui on a family vacation in 2007. It was love at first ride. Not only was I living out my Blue Crush fantasy, there was nothing like feeling the board glide over the water below you. The ocean has always both intimidated and amazed me. The water is a powerful, beautiful thing, to be enjoyed and respected. When I was on a surfboard, I felt completely connected. This is the memory I would go back to when, many years later, a psychic would tell me that I have salt water in my veins. This I believe to be true.
In my present search to take surf lessons, every sign pointed to Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla. No – seriously. Every single person I asked where to take surf lessons said, “You have to go to Surf Diva. They’re the best.” All online searches led me to their site. So, obviously, we had to give them a shot. My friend and I decided to get the best experience we needed solid, quality training time. We opted for the 2-Day Weekend Surf Clinic, selecting the women’s only time – which also happened to be mid-day with optimal weather. Let’s be honest, the water in California is cold. I needed as much sunshine as possible to not be whiny all day.
We were stoked. All registered for classes, now we just had to wait. Finally the weekend arrived and fighting off nerves of the unknown, we dove right in.
First, let me say, if you ever need to make your way to a popular California beach like La Jolla Shores, save yourself the headache and taxi/Uber/Lyft/whatever. Parking is not worth the stress and frustration.
Our first stop was to check in at the Surf Diva store. The store is every beach lover’s dream, full of beach needs and casual wear. The giant sign over the register stating “SURF AND RENTAL CHECK IN HERE” made the process pretty simple. The employee outfitted us with full body wetsuits, which we then had to ask for advice how to put on. I’ve never worn a full body wetsuit and I didn’t want to be that person that needs to holler (scream) for assistance because I’ve somehow gotten stuck in all the neoprene. We went to a dressing room, the floor charmingly covered in sand, to get suited up and I have to admit, I felt pretty cool pulling on the zipper cord, hearing that satisfying zzzzzzip. Legit surfer girl now.
We then had to make our way down the beach to our meet up point. A beautiful 75* summer day, we knew it would be crowded at La Jolla Shores, but we didn’t expect it to be like this. Tents and people every where. Covering every square foot of sand and grass.
We met up with our fellow surfers and instructors under a pretty pink (maybe it was red and faded) pop-up tent. Beach boards strewn across the sand, a clothing rack holding wetsuits and rash guards. So laid back. I knew this was going to be a good day. Our instructors Lauren and Mary introduced themselves and got each of us six riders situated. We gathered around and sat on the nose of the boards. It was time to get schooled.
A few things about the instruction that I found noteworthy:
- The instructors took the time to get to know us and I could tell they were really committing information to memory. I knew the information they asked for would help individualize the lesson and it showed later that they really paid attention.
- While most people worry about sharks, La Jolla Bay is populated with sting rays. A fact I wasn’t aware of prior to our lesson.
- We were taught how to read rip current in the water. Current channels were also marked on the beach with orange cones. Good to know! As we got into the water, the behavior of the waves was easier to see and read. I highly recommend lessons for this reason alone.
After teaching us how to pop up (stand) on the board, it was time to make our way down to the water. This was the point when I couldn’t tell the difference between excitement and fear. The waves look much bigger when you’re standing waist deep in water thinking it would be fun to ride them on a board.
The first few runs were rough. As we all learned to navigate the water, we were constantly getting in each others’ way. I don’t think any of us stood up until a few runs in. The waves were consistent but hard to read.
This is a skill that I truly admire in surfers and one I’d really like to learn. The ability to read wave sets to pick out the perfect wave to ride. There were times when I thought I was catching a good ride, but there was too much water behind it and I got tossed from my board. There were other times when I paddled into what seemed awesome only to get pummeled by a second wave right behind it. But when I picked the right wave… it was a dream. If you have any resources to build my skill on reading waves, please pass along!
I don’t remember how many rides I got in but by the end, I standing was easier and easier with every wave. At the beginning, my issue was not getting my back foot forward enough on the board. Then I wasn’t getting my weight to the center of the board. When I got that down, I was getting the leash wrapped around my forward (left) foot. The process was frustrating but then… then came that perfect ride.
My instructor prepped me on my board. I was aligned, my balance perfectly set, toes curled. I paddled and there was that moment when I could feel the wave take me. I slowed down my movements, reciting the instruction in my head. Hands to the ribs, flat on the board, push up, leverage right foot, spring left foot forward, shift to nose and adjust feet, knees bent, chest up, arms out, look forward. I road the wave all the way to the shore and threw up shakas in celebration. That was it… the perfect ride.
So perfect that I jokingly asked if I could call it a day. Haha. But it was enough to give me the confidence to be more assertive, trust the board and body, and get better rides.
The clouds started to roll in and our two-hour lesson was coming to an end. We all did our final runs to shore and made our way back to our tent. Then the real challenge started… how, on God’s green earth, do you get out of a wetsuit…in the sand? Turns out my skinny jeans experience is really handy!
I was super sad the day was over, but my soreness was starting to set in and I knew we had one more day to enjoy, so it was time to go home. The soreness set in fairly quickly. First the arms and shoulders from paddling. Then the legs from fighting the waves. Then surprisingly but understandably the hip flexors from the range of motion needed for popping up. And then… the toes. But really, my toes. From gripping the sand while walking or standing to propping up on the board, my toes got more use in a few hours than they had in a lifetime. My body was ready to rest and rehydrate.
Soreness was definitely present when I woke up in the morning but the waves were calling. I couldn’t wait to get back out in the water.
Overcast and wind made our second day on the ocean a little different. A cool breeze was blowing and we were heading to the outside. As the instructor explained, there are three zones for waves: the inside, the outside, and the impact. The inside is closer to the shore where the white waves are crashing. They are typically smaller and are the really foamy waves taking you out as you wade in the water. This is what we surfed on Day 1. The outside is further out at sea where the big blue waves are. These are the waves you see more experienced surfers riding. The impact zone is between the two, where the large waves are crashing. So… we were heading to the outside. With the big boys.
To ready us to mingle with other surfers, we had to learn some etiquette. If you’ve ever seen Blue Crush, you already know how to behave. Don’t drop in on other people’s waves. Don’t paddle out in front of someone riding a wave. Don’t steal someone’s wave. Basically, don’t be a jerk. My question has always been: Who gets the right of way and how do you know?
Turns out, there’s an unwritten rule for that. The surfer closest to the peak of the wave gets the right of way.
After going over a few other pieces of etiquette (you’ll have to take lessons at Surf Diva to find out!), we headed right out into the water. Without the sun beating down on us, it was quite brisk. Again, thank goodness for full body wetsuits.
Here’s the thing about the outside… it takes a loooot of effort to get there. All the paddling, battling the waves. So much stamina is needed to do a few rides.
Here’s the other thing about the outside… those waves are so much bigger when you’re facing them from the perspective of a surfboard.
Catching waves from the outside is actually a little easier. Attempting to pop up on the face of a wave is smoother than on the inside. Without all the giant rumbly rush of water, the board is more stable and easy to push up on. And once you’re up, if you have your balance, you’re up.
Of course, getting onto the wave is the trick. Between waiting my turn for the wave and waiting for the right wave, there was a lot of down time. There was also the trick of not getting caught slightly sideways and being tossed from my board. I got a face full of salt water a few times.
However, the waves I did catch were glorious. I felt like a real surfer. The stability of the wave face made popping up a synch and I started to play around with my weight distribution and directing the board. The feeling was exhilarating.
I guess the Beach Boys had it right… catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.
The two hours in the water were exhausting. By the time they called the 15 minute warning, I was ready to recover. Rain was starting to roll in and the temperature had dropped. Ideal conditions for finding our way back to the beach.
Coming off the weekend, I definitely have surf stoke. The best side effect from the surf lessons was the confidence I gained. I feel comfortable grabbing a board and paddling out on my own now. I know I can do it. So…I immediately came home to research the cost of wetsuits and surfboards. I mean, why wouldn’t I? We’ll see how long this love affair lasts, but for right now, I’m all in.
If you’re looking to take lessons or even just to rent equipment, I highly recommend taking surf lessons from Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla. You’ll learn everything you need to know about surfing and have an amazing time.