Sunday, October 23, 2011
Epic Lesson Yesterday
Yesterday's lesson was so epic I have to write about it. We will call my pupil "AC" for the sake of internet privacy. AC has taken lessons from a few different schools - in Costa Rica and in New York. She has her own board and suit and has given surfing a few gos on her own before contacting me for private lessons. The first two attempts we made at a lesson were gnarly to say the least. The first one the waves were 3-5 foot with 25 knot on shores. AC made it out the back a few times and took a few on the head with gusto, never losing the board except when close to shore. After about an hour we called it a day and rescheduled. Lesson two, two weeks later, was much smaller but the winds were even harder - probably about 35-40 knots with gale force out of the southwest. I thought, "Well when you're learning it's good to just catch a few whitewaters even if it's blown to bits." So we suited up and went down to the beach. The 9'6" red tank was like an airplane wing. It felt like some kind of Navy Seals training drill carrying it to and from the water. I started to doubt our plan, but New Yorkers don't have much time, so I figured for her sake and mine it was still worth a go. We tried catching a few whitewaters but it was so jumbled and chaotic that that ended shortly. Then we paddled out the back. The wind was so strong it was pushing us eastward so I had AC grab onto my ankle and I paddled us in. I pushed her into one wave which she stood up on and then we called it a session. On the way back we concluded that we'd keep a close eye on conditions for the third lesson. This means I'd text her an hour prior to heading out - so that I could be sure about winds and swell. Yesterday everything (except traffic) seemed to align perfectly. The cams were clear: 1-3 foot, light side shore, low tide going high. My fish is in ding repair so I just brought the red tank and AC brought her board - a 7'10" Al Merrick tuflite (surf tech). The was actually the first lesson that she had her own board - it was up in Boston the previous two. On those occasions she rode the tank and I was on my fish. This time it seemed best for her to get to know her board and if it seemed too small, she could hop on the tank and I could ride her board and get a feel for its strengths and weaknesses. The weather was nippy first thing in the morning, but by the time we got to the beach the sun was beaming and the temp seemed to get up to about 60 degrees. We did the obligatory surf check and to our delight saw empty peelers with light winds. Surf lesson on - we suited up both in our 3/2 full suits (no hood, no gloves, no booties), put on plenty of sunscreen, I donned my yellow surf lesson trucker cap, waxed the boards, and headed down to the beach. We went over more style points on the beach and I explained our strategy to AC: first we'll paddle out the back and practice more board control, then we'll head into the whitewaters, you'll catch a few, and we'll take it from there. She paddled out on her board and I on the tank. When got out the back we sat on our boards both relieved and stoked that it was not a kazillion miles an hour onshore. She was a bit unstable on her board but didn't have problems paddling it out. After twenty minutes of turning in circles we headed inside to catch a few. She did stand up a few times on her board but it didn't have the glide or the weight to carry her inside with ease. I made a decision: you're riding the tank. We switched boards and walked out into waste deep water. AC caught a white water, stood up and cruised all the way to shore. Stoked, but she was crouching a little too much and looked a little stiff. In an effort to undo a few bad surf lessons from previous schools and instructors, I suggested she try to surf parallel stance (both feet facing forward) on her next wave. This she did. It looked great. When she was walking back out I caught a few waves on her board and was reminded why I hate surf techs: they are way too light. It was not difficult for me to catch waves on per se, but I did have to use a ton of strength and forward momentum to get into them. When on the wave you ride too high and floaty, never really feeling your rail sink in the way you do on a fiberglass board. Also putting myself in the mindset of a beginner, this board is just too light for someone who is still developing their paddling abilities and wave judgment skills. The same size, the same shape, just in a big heavy fiberglass finish, and with a single fin instead of tri fin set up would be perfect. Probably wouldn't hurt to be about a foot longer too - anywhere from 8'6" to 8'10". No offense to AC on the purchase - there was at that point no way for her to know this. At any rate, it was clear that I'd keep AC on the tank for a majority of the lesson. After she came back out I coached her into a few more whitewaters. The cockroach crouch, like cockroaches themselves, is hard to squash. She definitely wanted to revert back to that, so I said, "On your next wave just try to stand as tall as feels comfortable while staying relaxed." And that she did and it looked excellent - like Daizy Shane at the beginning of Glass Love (well maybe not that good, but getting close!). We had to make a few adjustments to the way she started paddling for the whitewaters - off kilter to the right a bit - it just took a little more guidance from the outside right hand on the tail of the board. Since she was progressing so rapidly I knew it was time to learn to crouch with style (almost in the barrel stance, but not that exaggerated). We went onto the beach and I showed her the body movements for going from an entirely crouched to an entirely upright stance. It takes a lot of hip twist and flexibility in the back knee and ankle. Many people want the back knee to fold outwards, when what is really needed is for it to fold forward with the back foot sort of pivoted on the ball and toes - heel up just a touch. I went out and demonstrated on a few white waters. Then we went back out and she did it herself. From this point on the cockroach had been finally squashed. It was time for her to start paddling for and catching her own waves without standing in waste deep water. I asked if she wanted to try it on her own board, just to see. She said, "yeah," so we switched again, but it became readily clear that it wasn't going to happen after about 3 or 4 tries. Switched back. And she successfully paddled out, turned the board around from the sitting position, and stroked into a few, stood up, and surfed gracefully towards shore. Her feet were getting numb. The water was about 60 degrees. Still not cold enough for the full winter get up. I didn't get cold. Sometimes it's all about individual circulation. At any rate, it was time for her to catch her last wave. We came into the beach and I said, "You're going to paddle out on your own, judge your own wave, turn the board around, catch it and ride in. I'm staying on the beach to watch. You got it." This of course is the highlight of the session. She paddles out and sits down. I see a set approaching then I see her start to turn the board around. I'm thinking, "She sees it! She's going to go for it." She gets the board facing shore in one fluid movement, lays down and starts paddling. The wave has broken out the back and she catches the whitewater, stands up casually and surfs in, getting bobbled off close to shore. So rad. It is amazing to see this sort of progression in such a small time frame. Next up for AC is green waters, rail grabbing, and getting the pop up to be even smoother and faster. In a sense, the first two lessons weren't for nothing. If anything she gained valuable paddling and ocean knowledge, which set her up for such success this third go round. Every time I teach I seem to get a new insight into techniques I employ usually without thinking. The student forces me to make these techniques conscious to myself and thus I learn how to explain them clearly. Well that's the end of the surf part of the story. The drive back was bit traffic-y but it was cool to go over the session and AC taught me about her job in finance and about the crazy stock market, Bloomberg machines, and why you might want to invest should Greece default.