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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Surf Lessons!

Madeline and Natalie waiting for waves
Photo by Paddy Bex

I grew up in Santa Cruz’s Pleasure Point neighborhood, world famous for surfing. Jack O’Neill himself (inventor of the wetsuit) lives a short walk from my house. Getting held under by the freezing ocean current, face in the sand, feet pointing towards the air, instilled a healthy fear of the ocean in me. I had no interest in surfing. I wasn’t chasing big waves before class in high school like many of my classmates. 

I realized that surfing was something that I might actually be able to do in my early thirties, when a bunch of my art museum colleagues from San Francisco started the sport simply by taking lessons at Cowell’s Beach, near the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. 
Mondos Beach, Ventura
Photo by Madeline Horn
My sister Natalie heard that Ventura is the best place in California to learn to surf. She was on a hospital rotation in Ventura, so we signed up for a private lesson with Paddy Bex, a lady surf instructor who provided all the gear. 

Permanent oil rigs are visible in the ocean on the drive to Mondos Beach from Ventura. We arrived at the crescent-shaped beach on a sunny day. The Channel Islands stood in the distance, so large that they felt like the other side of a bay. Scrub-covered mountains reached the beach. Despite the rigs, the ocean sparkled a deep blue and welcomed us in.
Madeline sunbathing pre-surf
Photo by Natalie Horn
Most of the boards in the water were yellow or blue foam beginners’ longboards. Other people were learning to surf there too! I watched two dads casually catching waves with Coronas in hand, while teaching their three kids to surf. 

Paddy’s student before us was a tan tattooed former surfer who had been hit by a car five years ago. He suffered physically and also had brain damage. This was his first time surfing since the accident. He was thrilled to be in the water again. He told us he had surfed Pleasure Point, our Santa Cruz neighborhood, many times before the accident. We were touched by his perseverence and his enthusiasm. Paddy’s skill with him made us feel completely safe with her. 

She instructed us to paddle with our chest up, give two extra paddles after we felt the wave lifting our board, push ourselves up to standing, then look at our destination, not at our feet. We put on wetsuits and simply walked into the calm water. We never reached water that was over our heads. Paddy pushed us to give us a head start on the little waves. To my utter amazement, I stood up on my third wave! Surfing felt good, like gliding. I was in disbelief that it was happening. I didn’t know I had the coordination in me. 
Natalie at Mondos
Photo by Madeline Horn
Our dismounts were uber-unglamorous. Since the water was so shallow, Paddy instructed us to sit, fall back or belly flop to dismount - no diving in. Before we knew it, our hour was up. I could have stayed in for another hour. Paddy Bex was enthusiastic and friendly, making us feel comfortable. Most importantly, she got two famously uncoordinated and un-athletic sisters to stand up on surf boards in the ocean. She even brought a waterproof camera to document the lesson and emailed us photos later!

Now, I’m back in Santa Cruz during an especially cold winter, where the die-hards surf regardless of the weather. I’m not a die-hard, but I look forward to trying the waves here in Pleasure Point when the weather warms up. 

Sign up for classes with Paddy here: http://www.paddybexsurf.com