In January, I had my first surf lesson back in Australia.
It didn’t go well.
For some stupid reason, I decided to do it all again in June whilst in Portugal. Perhaps enough time had passed, and I was looking back at January’s experiment with rose-coloured glasses. So I dragged myself out of bed one Monday morning, trying to ignore the effects of the good old Lagos pub crawl the night before. There to greet us, somewhat confusingly, was Borat.
This Borat wasn’t a Kazakh; rather he was half Polish, half Libyan. Borat did however sound like his namesake and he immediately put us all at ease. A few people in our group had surfed before, but most of us were amateurs. I was quick to downplay my surfing history; I didn’t want Borat expecting much.
We drove for about an hour to get to Portugal’s Atlantic coast; Lagos is on the Mediterranean which doesn’t mean much for waves, so we twisted our way through the hills and found ourselves on a pristine, deserted little beach near the village of Aljezur. It was all a bit perfect, really.
That’s when the perfection stopped. We had to unload the van and carry (or, in my case, drag) our surfboards down to the water. We squeezed into our wetsuits and Borat called out, ‘Right, those who have surfed before, run down to the end of the beach and back to warm up’.
Diligently, the surfers did what they were told. Borat looked at me, still on the sand with the newbies. ‘I thought you’d had a surfing lesson before?’ he questioned.
I shook my head. ‘Nope,’ I lied between my teeth. ‘I’m a newbie too.’
Borat stared at me for a little bit longer, probably mentally putting me in the ‘difficult’ category. But I’d gotten away with it.
Borat took us newbies through the paces. It was similar except for one thing; he was telling us to go from flat on our stomachs to our feet in a single move. In Torquay, we’d gotten to our knees in the middle of all that. I just couldn’t get the hang of it.
It was here when Borat handed out the rash vests. I didn’t really understand why we needed them on top of our wetsuits, until he got to me and another girl who clearly didn’t know what she was doing. ‘Oh, we’ve run out of red ones,’ he said. ‘You two will have to wear white ones.’
I pursed my lips. Right, I decided. I was going to stand up on my board if it killed me.
As George Constanza so eloquently put it, the sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to take back soup at a deli. The water was a dirty grey, and freezing; I’m sure my feet turned blue as soon as we stepped in. The waves were relentless and strong; I was easily taking ten to fifteen minutes just to get out fifty metres or so. It really was two steps forward, one step back.
Unlike in Torquay, this time I couldn’t even get my timing right. The waves were too big, too strong and after not even an hour, I was exhausted. My arms lacked any sort of strength, my nose was full of water and snot and all sorts of goodness. Borat would try and help me by holding my board until a wave would come and letting me go at the right moment, but my this stage my arms were screaming. When he called us all in for our lunchbreak, I couldn’t get out of the water fast enough.
A small beach bar was tucked away by the side of one of the cliffs, and a few of us scrambled up there. Drinking my iced tea with the sound of the waves crashing and the warmth of the sun on my face, I closed my eyes. Now, this was relaxing. This was fun. But as soon as I felt almost normal again, Borat was calling us in again.
‘We’re going to move down the beach a bit further,’ he explained. ‘It’s really rough today.’
But by now, I’d had a taste of the beach the way I liked it. I bobbed around for another half an hour or so with a big frown on my face. Even just trying to remain in one spot was hard. The waves were beginning to hurt. I made the decision to head in early, and used all my strength to get myself on my board and ride one last one in. The Atlantic and Southern Oceans had rejected me. It was time to acknowledge that yes, I may be Australian, but no, I cannot surf.
I was feeling very noble about my decision, however I didn’t count on a foot cramp and whacking my ankle on a rock in the process. I pretty much threw the board at Borat (finding the strength somehow) and limped to my towel.
‘Surfing not for you?’ I asked politely to the German girl already there.
‘It’s horrible!’ she exclaimed. ‘It looks so good on TV.’
This was much more like it. I peeled off my wetsuit and lay on my towel, soaking up the rays and feeling like a human again.
‘But you’re Australian,’ she continued. ‘So why can’t you surf?’