I should have been afraid. The waves were solidly overhead, and I’d never before made it out through the breaking surf on a day this big.
Yet somehow my week at Surf Simply had inoculated me against my usual fear of sizeable surf. As a wave approached, my coach told me to go, and I went. I paddled to the takeoff spot, angled my surfboard and dropped in backside, popping to my feet as a small hill of water rose behind me.
Only later, when I saw the video, did I realise the wave was probably the largest I’d ever ridden.
By the final day of the surf camp, I was able to critique myself when coach Fran played videos taken from the beach of the morning’s surf session.
The lip of that big wave curled at least four feet over my head. The height was easy to gauge because I was riding near the bottom – I should’ve turned earlier to stay higher on the face. I was looking down the line and my foot placement was good.
But my leading hand was not behind the back rail, which meant my butt was sticking out to counterbalance. Still, it was an impressively big wave, and I wouldn’t have gotten there without Surf Simply.
The week began on Saturday night, when the camp’s founder, Ru Hill, gathered the ten guests in the outdoor living space at the top of the resort near Nosara, Costa Rica. We ranged in age from twenties to sixties, and half of us were from Southern California.
After Ru outlined the days ahead, we each explained what we hoped to achieve.
“I want to rip on a shortboard before I’m too old,” I said. I felt I’d been stuck on a plateau, that my surfing wasn’t progressing. And I wanted to learn to duck dive, a manoeuvre I’ve struggled to master for years. My unstated goal, the one I kept to myself, was to get barrelled.
The first day of coaching was humbling. On the long stretch of sand at Playa Guiones, Fran handed me an NSP longboard. I raised an eyebrow. I was here to improve my shortboarding skills, after all.
“Just catch some waves in the whitewater,” she said.
“Then you can switch to the shortboard.” This week, I would do whatever my coach recommended, but as I expected, I was a total kook on the longboard. When I swapped it for a shortboard, I was more at ease and rode a few waves respectably, I thought.
But videos don’t lie. Back at the resort, Fran reviewed the visual evidence and respectfully pointed out numerous things I wasn’t doing in the best way.
That’s when I realised that in order to surf better, I had to go back, all the way back to the beginning, to the pop up. I’d skipped essential steps to get to where I was, and would have to unlearn and relearn if I wanted to progress.
In the afternoon, another shortboarder, Kim from New Hampshire, joined me on Team Orange under Fran’s tutelage.
The first drill – on longboards in the whitewater – was all about the functional stance. Feet, hips, hands, head: they all had to be positioned correctly. The functional stance is the foundation of good surfing, we learned.
I had years of muscle memory and bad habits to be expunged. The functional stance felt strange at first, and my hips were sometimes sore from unaccustomed movements. But gradually the elements began to flow together; the stance felt more natural, and the carving turns became fluid.
Like the other shortboarders, I was surprised at how much time we spent on longboards, not just in the whitewater on afternoons when the surf conditions weren’t great, but even out the back, catching green waves. For practice, “volume is your friend,” Fran said.
This highlights one of the main differences between Surf Simply and any of the other coaches or camps I’ve experienced: They treat surfing as a sport with a defined set of skills to be mastered in an orderly progression.
There’s no vagueness, no uncertainty, to the program. The coaches aren’t ex-pro surfers looking for a way to fund living in the tropics. They’re highly-trained instructors who know how to motivate, inspire and encourage.
“The mark of a good teacher,” said Ian from Canada, “is that if you’re not understanding something, they find another way to explain until you get it. That’s what the coaches do here.”
Perhaps that’s why Surf Simply succeeded where so many have failed before, in teaching me to duck-dive.
Fran broke the maneuver into specific steps and drilled us on each before moving on to the next, first on land and then with low-volume shortboards in the pool. Once we’d mastered the moves, she took us to the ocean and I successfully duck-dove my way to the lineup through overhead waves.
I’ve been back home in California for a few weeks now, and I can already see the impact of Surf Simply’s coaching.
On a recent day when the waves were small, I surfed with two friends I met at the camp who happen to live nearby. Before, I would’ve had a hard time riding a borrowed 8’ Wavestorm, then Mike’s 6’6” egg and Jessica’s 7’6” all in the same session – there would have been many wipeouts as I tried to adjust.
But now I found I could surf them all, thanks to the skills I learned and relearned at the camp. I can’t wait to see where my surfing goes from here.
And that barrel I secretly hoped for? Maybe next year at Surf Simply.
To find out more head over to www.surfsimply.com