Learning to Surf in Barbados

Hang Ten: Learning How to Surf in Barbados

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In an effort to regain her love for NYC, my BFF Lemon has recently made a huge effort to step outside of her comfort zone and try new things, from joining kickball, football and volleyball teams to enrolling in trapeze school. I’ve taken a cue and done the same in the past year, though maybe not quite on that grand a scale. I moved 3,000 miles from all things and people I knew and loved, except for one key player, on a leap of faith. I also learned to trapeze. I conquered my fear and swam with sharks. After three years of sitting on my ass (and watching it grow rather large), I trained for and ran a marathon. So when I was invited on a surf trip in Barbados for my job, an activity which I previously had no desire to even try (remember that whole shark fear?!), I willingly obliged. Why the Hell not? SVV is obsessed with the sport, so there must be some appeal to it. Besides, the Year of Kristin is rapidly coming to an end, after all, and also I’ve been told the world is crumbling and the Apocalypse is near,  so who knows when I’ll get a second chance.

After arriving in Barbados at midnight on Wednesday, I met up with the group bright and early for breakfast, and we went in search of our surf instructor, Melanie, who was bopping around the island trying to find us the best waves. Last year’s reigning women’s national surf champion in Barbados, Melanie is a native of the island and had one enviable, Blue Crush-like body—and she’s had two kids in the last few years! Bitch.

I was expecting the entire first morning to just be technical training on the beach. But no, we practiced proper pop-up technique on the coast for all of 10 minutes, and then it was time to hit the surf! Gulp.

But not before the entire group humored me and posed for this photo. (Hey, I wasn’t about to try and add a camera to the mix on my first attempt at catching a wave!)

From the second I put my big toe in the water, I realized this was going to be no picnic. Heck, even hauling the board to the ocean was challenging. Luckily, I’m pretty athletic and found the paddle, paddle, paddle more fun than work. (Plus, the more I energy I exerted, the more I could justify eating later that day. Score!) Not everyone felt this way, a couple of them only lasting half an hour before retreating to the shore in unmitigated frustration.

It didn’t take me long to discover just how Melanie keeps such a kick-ass bod. I asked her if she worked out, running and lifting weights to get in surf shape. But she just shrugged and said nah, all she does is surf. After three hours of being pounded to a pulp by the demonic ocean and relentlessly fighting against the nasty current, I could see exactly what she meant.

We were all on pretty equal novice footing when starting out, save Eddy, who spent a lifetime as a professional windsurfer/editor of Windsurfing Magazine, so he just paddled around taking pics, effortlessly catching a wave or two here and there. I figured my one biggest character flaw — IMPATIENCE — would hinder my ability to master surfing, but I surprised even myself, keeping calm and collected and determined for a solid three days. While I’d like to think I was going to be a total natural — our other instructor, Dirk, marveled over my beginner’s balance (thanks, Bikram) and excellent paddle technique (years of sports, I presume) — I don’t think surfing is one of those activities that anyone is just going to pick up first time out. It’s also extremely easy to get frustrated right off the bat and write surfing off as impossible. But that ocean was NOT about to get the best of me. I’d attempt to catch as many waves as I could, and the second I fell off (inevitably, it happened every. single. time.), I bounced right back up. They called me the Energizer Bunny, but really, it’s internal competitiveness: I just don’t like to consider there’s something I can’t master.

What I wasn’t prepared for was to swallow so much seawater. That paired with the constant rocking left me with a queasy feeling of motion sickness for the majority of the trip, but I guess sometimes you just have to make sacrifices. Speaking of sacrifices, our surf spot was atop a coral reef, so each time I fell—and fall often I did—my feet and the reef collided, leaving my toes a hot mangled mess. At least I wasn’t one of the few who departed Barbados with souvenir sea urchins lodged in their feet, at least there’s that. Not to mention—and you fellow surfers can relate—BOARD RASH is a total bitch. Mel put me on a foam board, one without wax, and halfway into just the first day, my body was completely rubbed raw from shoulder to ankle. I now see why most surfer’s wear wetsuits or skins—they’re not solely for warmth. Next time, I’ll be sure and take my rash guard and booties. I don’t know what I was thinking. And that’s not even factoring in the welt-like rug burns on my knees. Wasn’t sure how I was going to explain those to SVV…

On the second day, my muscles weren’t a bit sore; I was expecting my arms to hurt like a mofo from all the push-up like activity. But my ribs? BURNED LIKE A FREAKIN’ INFERNO. I imagine the pain comparable to getting “changed” from human to bloodsucker (sorry, there’s far too much vampire pop culture cluttering my thoughts these days). And my skin was so tender, it hurt to put clothes on. I figured I wouldn’t even last half an hour that morning, but somehow the exhilaration of being out there again trumped any pain I might be feeling. In the end, it was totally worth it: I finally caught a killer wave and rode it all the way in — before  promptly getting my leash tangled around my ankles and wiping out as the wave fizzled. It was my sole triumph, on this trip at least, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

What have YOU done lately to vacate your comfort zone?

  • November 25, 2008

    Good for you! I’ve always wanted to try it. I probably should have done it when I lived near the ocean in CA. Not when I live near a lake in Chicago!

  • November 25, 2008

    Warning: I may start singing “Surfin’ USA” at the top of my lungs next time I see you.

  • November 25, 2008

    So fun! I took a lesson when I was in Hawaii and LOVED it! I just wish the water wasn’t frezzing here so I could keep it up.

  • November 25, 2008

    I wanted to surf in Hawaii, but it seems SO EXHAUSTING.

  • November 25, 2008

    I never tried surfing, but I am a horrible swimmer – congrats on sticking it out like that! I like how you phrased “internal competitiveness.” I totally have that – it makes me become addicted to every activity I try out until I have perfected it.

  • November 25, 2008

    That’s awesome. I don’t think I’d have as much patience as you on that surfboard!

  • November 26, 2008

    ooh I am so glad you went surfing!!! I learned how to surf in Hawaii. And my ribs hurt incredibly bad too!

  • November 26, 2008

    Wow! I’m impressed! The possibility of board rash, running into sharks, and crashing into coral would be enough to keep my ass on the beach. But I love hearing about your adventures.

  • November 26, 2008

    you are my hero.
    and that’s really all i have to say about that.

  • November 26, 2008

    The one and only time I tried surfing it was simultaneously so exhilarating and scary that I could barely stay up longer than five seconds at a time. It felt so! fast! And also: so fun.

    Here’s to trying new things!

  • November 26, 2008

    I want to surf now!

    Except that it is below freezing here. Must get somewhere tropical…

  • September 11, 2012

    we’re thinking of heading to barbados for alex’s birthday and so i came here to check out your posts… is this the only one? if you have a moment, let me know if there are more… or if you know of any other bloggers who went.

    p.s. congrats on the new job and house! hope you guys are well.

    • September 11, 2012

      There *were* more, but for some reason, the majority of my November 2008 posts didn’t make it when we moved the site over to WPEngine! No clue why.

      I loved Barbados. I thought it was rugged and beautiful and not peppered with your typical tourist eyesores on some of the more popular cruise hub islands. I mainly did surfing and standup paddleboarding the majority of my time there, but I also toured the other corners of the island and went ziplining in the forest. My only complaint about Barbados is the traffic. It was really bad in the afternoons, as there’s only one main road that circumnavigates the island. I know the Crane Resort is the really nice place to stay–I had dinner there but stayed at an all-inclusive that was cheaper instead. What other tips do you want? Funny, I don’t recall having read anything about Barbados on anyone else’s blog before.

  • October 6, 2019

    Ok I have to learn how to surf know!

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