Monday, March 31, 2008

March 27, 2008 - Raglan

After years of watching Sten surf, it was well past time for me to give it a try. I've been wanting to learn for a while, and that desire just got stronger and stronger this past year as we spent several weeks in world-class surfing locations. I've felt like I really haven't been exploiting the opportunities that a trip like this has presented. But the reef breaks he's been surfing this past year are no place for a rank beginner, so I needed to find a nice beach to learn on and somebody patient to teach me.
Our first morning back in Raglan, while Sten was off surfing the point at Manu Bay, I and a Swedish traveler named Marie took a lesson at the Raglan surf school. Our instructor, Dane, started out by asking if we had any board sport experience. Marie volunteered her snowboarding experience. I just shook my head.
"Do you know which foot is dominant? Do you know if you have a natural or goofy stance?"
"Which foot do you kick a soccer ball with?"
"Umm, can't remember the last time I kicked a soccer ball, but I can promise you that I'm going to be a natural."
Poor Dane, I was like his worst teaching nightmare come to life.

Before we hit the beach, Dane demonstrated the steps to standing up on a surfboard. First lay down, with your toes hanging over the edge of the board. Then, arch your back, lifting your shoulders and head off the board. Look back over your shoulder for an approaching wave that you want to catch. Upon spotting one, begin to paddle fast and steady. When you feel the wave begin to push you, taking over from your paddling momentum, put your hands flat on the deck of the board, under your shoulders and push up on your hands, assuming a position very similar to yoga's upward facing dog. Drag your back knee forward (as it turns out my stance is natural and my back knee is my right one) and plant it between your hands. Pull front foot (in my case my left foot) through hands and plant it at a 45 degree angle to the center line of the surf board. Stand up, planting your back foot perpendicular to the centerline of the surf board, and distribute your weight evenly between your two feet. Your back knee should lean slightly forward. Don't look down at your feet. You'll lose your balance and topple over. Turn your shoulders so that they are at a 45 degree angle to the center line. Face your head forward towards the beach. If you start to lose your balance, squat down. Standing up and waving your arms like a windmill won't help at all. Got it?

Surprising both my self and Dane, I managed to stand up on the third wave and by the end of the lesson I had ridden a few all the way into the beach. It was an incredible workout. I was tired and famished by the end. Back at the hostel, I scarfed down left-over curry, while I waited for Sten to turn up. That afternoon we headed back to the beach. I rented another board to keep practicing. As the surf built up during the afternoon, my lack of physical fitness really caught up with me, and I spent more time fighting my way back out to the point where the waves were breaking than actually surfing. That night we both slept like rocks.

The next morning, Sten dropped me back at the beach before heading back off to surf the point breaks. When he got back he found me very discouraged as I was struggling to even stand up on a board, let alone catch the waves. I'm just too out of shape to try to surf two days running. With Sten's help, pushing me forward as the wave caught the board, I was able to catch a few waves and reinforce my muscle memory of how to stand up and balance on a surf board. After one good ride, I called it a day and Sten messed around on the big foam beginners board that I had rented.
If we had to pick a town in New Zealand where we would want to live, Raglan would be it. The beach and the surf breaks are obviously big draws, but the atmosphere of the town is what gets us. It has this cruisy, laid-back vibe that just makes it hard to get stressed out about anything. There are a few good cafes, a butcher (complete with a pig on a surf board hanging over the counter), and a guy that knows how to make a great cheeseburger ("You must be American. No New Zealander would ever ask for their meat to be cooked medium rare."). What more could we want?

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