Greg got me a surf board for Christmas. I thought it was a little strange, I didn’t know I wanted a surf board. I’ve never surfed. The closest I got were the myriad fruitless attempts to waterski. There was a string of waterskiing friends across the years, each of them proud of their unblemished track record of successful instructions. No one had ever NOT been able to ski once they had worked with them. Until me. Nope, watersports are not my thing. So when the big yellow surf board appeared under the tree I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
Greg’s been surfing since he was 3. He was quite excited about the prospect of me learning to surf. He’s fantastic at board sports and takes to water as if he had gills. “It comes with a lesson,” Greg assured me. With my track record, a pending lesson did little to reassure me that surfing was something I could do. But, since it was the middle of the winter, I figured I had a good 6 months or so to figure out Plan B. Besides, I didn’t want to dampen his holiday.
My Water-Related Neuroses
Now surfing is not something I ever thought I would do. It just didn’t cross my mind. In addition to my inability to waterski I had developed a couple of water-related neuroses of my own – an unexplained fear of the “toe monsters” that lurked in the sand under murky waves just waiting to bite off my toes, and a heightened shark awareness.
Greg’s been fascinated by the tagging and live online tracking of sharks that started up this year. There have been weeks that he’s provided me with a daily report on shark movements along the US’s eastern seaboard, Australia, and South Africa. Online shark tracking coupled with the fabulous photography on the Discovery Channel had provided me with a clear understanding of my place in the food chain. It just didn’t seem like a winning move to dress in a seal-impersonating wetsuit and leave my survival in the hands of fate. Damn you Shark Week!
Before I met Greg, my complete understanding of the sport was what I gleaned from Jeff Spicoli in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Now, after years with Greg, I had a passing acquaintance with the philosophies, fashions, etiquette, lingo, international competitive possibilities, and hierarchy that makes up the surfer’s world.
The Bottom Rung of the Surfer Status
The kooks are definitely on the bottom rung and I just knew that I would be relegated to kook status forever… especially if my waterskiing heritage held firm and I couldn’t stand up. Visions of failure and disappointing Greg abounded.
If I failed at my first lesson, I would be forever branded in my mind with the scarlet “K” of shame each time I went to the beach. I wasn’t sure I could live that down!
The Surfer’s Mecca
Greg’s nefarious plan unfurled a month later when we landed in Cape Town, South Africa. Suddenly it was the height of summer and there was a plethora of places to surf. If you didn’t want to brave the chilly Atlantic, you could go around the corner to the warm Indian Ocean. If the wind was too heavy on one beach or if the swell was a bit sloppy, well, there were only about 20 other options all within an hour and a half. The waves were always cooking somewhere close by. This was a surfer’s mecca. Greg was excited. I was locked in.
We rolled into Muizenberg in the late morning. The conditions were fantastic, clear skies, the lightest breeze and perfect learner-sized waves. I was nervous. Inside the surf shop, I was assured that my lesson was slated to commence at High Noon. *gulp* I headed out to check out the surroundings… and locate the shark spotters so I could keep an eye on them.
As I was bundling my belongings to get changed in the shop, I asked Greg to grab my booties. “You won’t need them,” he assured me. “The water is really warm and you’ll want to be able to feel the board with your feet.” But going bootie-less would leave me vulnerable to the toe monsters. I was having significant second thoughts about the wisdom of this pursuit. “There aren’t any toe monsters at this beach,” Greg said. I watched him speculatively – what did he know about toe monsters anyways?! “Besides,” he continued, “we didn’t travel half-way around the world and come to this beach today just to back out now, right?” Oh, he was sneaky! Pulling the guilt card out like that. But he was right. I was committed and I would never forgive myself if I let Shark Week and toe monsters cast a pall over our trip.
Meeting the Instructor
As the clock struck the final toll for High Noon, my instructor emerged from the shop into the sunlight with a big, puffy rental board and I immediately felt more relaxed. Nathalie didn’t look anything like Jeff Spicoli, and as she lead me through some warm-up stretches I decided she was A-OK.
She filled me in on how the shark spotters communicated and checked my understanding of the different shark flags and their meanings. She handled my questions about frequency of shark-spottings matter of factly, sharing that sharks would be spotted anywhere from a couple times a week to as often as 3 times a day. She rolled her eyes a bit and described the rush BACK into the water after the all clear had been given as more annoying with the jostling and jockeying for position. The last shark had been spotted yesterday afternoon. Nathalie wasn’t worried. She would keep an eye on the flags and an ear out for the siren while I kept my head above water.
Now it was time to get serious. I practiced “paddling” on the sand and where to put my feet to stand up. I worked to memorize all the little details and instructions during my last moments on land. Then it was off into the surf! Time to put the theories into practice.
It’s Surfin’ Time!
We headed out together wading toward an area Nathalie indicated would be a good break. Her job was to spot the wave and give me an extra push to supplement my paddling. My job was to go straight and feel when the wave picked up the board and then stand up. Nathalie picked the wave. I locked my eyes forward and began paddling like I’ve never paddled before. She shoved the board forward and I was coasting down the face of the wave! I was so exhilarated I forgot to stand up. No problem, I could tell, we were off to a great start and there would be several more waves to try.
Over the next several waves I began to get a feel for getting to my feet. Standing on the board was nothing like standing on the ground. It moves. It wiggles. You keep a feeling for whether the nose is up or down. I had my first nose-dive.
As I repeatedly slogged back out toward Nathalie, battling to keep moving forward over what felt to me like powerful inevitable waves pushing me toward shore, I realized that I had the basics down and now it was a matter of repetition to reach competency. Over time and many waves, practice would certainly make perfect. The rides were short and effortless compared to the wade or paddle-out, the waiting for the right wave, and the paddling required to launch yourself down the face. What a difference it made to have a coach helping with feedback and a well-timed push in the right direction at the right time!
As we neared the end of my scheduled lesson (and I neared the end of my endurance), Nathalie promised we would end on the best wave of the day. As she launched me towards the shore, I determinedly felt for the right timing and balance and stood tall! Victory!
After the lesson, I was ravenous! We celebrated at the café next door where I ordered the Surfer’s Sandwich. Now I was entitled to partake such a delicacy, being a bona-fide standing-up surfer and all! I might be kooky, but I had earned my stripes for the day, the respect of my coach, and Greg’s approval for trying… in the face of immeasurable odds. 😉 I tucked into that sandwich like it was a king’s feast.
Definitely Just Like Getting Started in Fundraising!
I was giving the Ask Masters workshop “Just Don’t Make Me Fundraise” for the Southern Africa Institute for Fundraising the following week and I was struck by just how much my foray into surfing was similar to so many experiences getting started in fundraising.
I reach a point in the workshop where I relate a story about learning a skill, probably a skill you didn’t think you wanted to learn. After all, fundraising is just that. A skill. One that anyone can learn that practiced over time becomes fun.
And just like getting started with surfing, there are many supportive people involved. From the person who backs you up and those who give you feedback along the way, to those who help you navigate the pounding surf to find the right wave and those who give you a well-timed push to launch your effort, all while watching out for sharks; there are many we can rely on to guide us out of fundraising kookdom to fundraising success.
Time will tell if I develop my wave-shredding skills. In the meantime you might just encounter a surfing story in my next workshop presentation. Time to ride those fundraising waves!