Learning to Surf in Lagos, Portugal

As I think I said before… I came to Lagos to learn to surf, and, with a dose of irrational self-confidence in my athletic abilities, I was fully prepared to be an excellent surfer within a week or so… not a pro mind you, but you know… mildly excellent at least.  That way, by the time I left Lagos, I would feel comfortable paddling out pretty much anywhere that wasn’t too dangerous.  I came up with a plan (the day I arrived) to take two full-day surfing lessons (you know… to get the basics out of the way), and then I would just rent a board and wetsuit from one of the various surf shops in town and go out on my own (as I had a rental car).  Boom… planning done.  I proceeded to ask around about the various companies, found out what sounded like the best one and went ahead and booked two days of lessons with them starting the next day.  Done and done.

I get up somewhat early to grab breakfast before turning up at the appointed place around 8:00 AM.  There’s several other people milling about already (turns out that most people who learn to surf in Lagos come for a week or two and live in a hostel provided by the surfing company… most of which had already left for the beach).  I get directed to a stereotypical surfer dude, who directs us all up the hill to a garage where the boards and wetsuits are stored.  Everyone picks out a board and wetsuit while we wait for what must have been an early 70’s land cruiser to pull around to take us to the beach.  We load the gear up, get in and start driving.  Turns out that the town of Lagos is on Portugal’s south coast, but all of the beaches with surf-able waves were on the west coast (a 40-minute or so drive away).  Everyone’s chatting away like they know each other (which they do as they’re all staying in the same place) so I settle in and make some small talk and get to know the girl sitting next to me and the driver.  Everyone seems pretty cool… most are Australian, with a Swede and a German thrown in for good fun.

Driving to the beach.

Not a bad place to learn to surf right… praia arrifana.

Once we get to the beach, we unload the gear, trudge across the sand and set up camp for the day.  Everyone’s pretty eager to get in the water, so we all gear up.  As I’m the only first day person there, the same driver surfer dude takes me aside to go over the very basic basics (ocean safety, the equipment, listen to the instructors, how it all works, etc.).  We practice a bit on the beach and the he decides it’s time I hit the waves.  Now… even though I don’t now how to surf, I did grow up in San Diego (and spent a lot of time at the beach and in the ocean)… so I’m familiar with all the general basics of how waves form and break, and what to do get over/under them and all that good stuff that might be much harder for someone who’s never been in the ocean before (one more reason on the “why I’m going to pick this up quickly” list).  So I paddle out fairly easily and surfer dude and I go over sitting on the board, identifying where the waves are the basics of trying to catch a wave.  He (and I of course) feels that I have a good grasp of what’s going on… and that since I’m a big athletic dude… I might as well get in there and try and catch something.  Cool… I’m in.  I haphazardly get in position (with the instructor right behind me to give me a needed boost to help me get into the wave (keep in mind that we’re all learning to surf…so these waves aren’t exactly what you would refer to as big).  We both spot a good one coming… I paddle hard and begin to feel the wave take me.  I put my hands in roughly a push-up position to try and get myself up… I push down to hop up and after a split second of faltering I get my balance, stand up and cruise right in…. I am the fucking man!

Okay… that’s not what really happened… it turns out that surfing’s not quite that easy.  Go figure right?  What really happened was that I did get into the wave just fine, but when I went to push up, one of my hands slipped out from under me and I basically face-planted right back into the board as the wave broke and tossed me over into the ocean… how’s that for an auspicious start?  Whatever… I get back out there and do it again… same result… and again… same result.  Luckily, as my lovely Russian friend Sasha has pointed out to me… I (by virtue of my chromosomal pairing… thank you Mom and Dad) possess the dogged determination of the male mind… the will to keep trying, in spite of repeated failure, to accomplish whatever mission I’ve deemed necessary to accomplish.  I persist, and by the end of the day I manage to stand up (if only feebly) for a second or three before falling off.  I quickly recalibrate my goal of being a mildly excellent surfer in two weeks time to just being a competent surfer.

I go out the next day with similar results, but decide to stick to my original plan of only taking two lessons because I think I know what to do… I just need practice actually doing it.  I find the cheapest rental shop in town (it’s amazing the price discrepancy between places just a few blocks from each other for essentially the same equipment… do people just not ask around?), get a board and a wetsuit (yes, you need a full wetsuit, even in the summer, in Lagos) and pledge to go to the beach every day over the next two weeks before I’m supposed to leave (I need to return my rental car back to Spain by the end of June) and I feel I’m more or less on my way to becoming a competent surfer.

Long story short… I kept my pledge… more or less, which was hard given the distractions of the Lagos nightlife and the fact my room was directly across the street from a bar (I did take two days off and would go for one session a day…either in the morning or in the afternoon, but rarely both since it was too far to come back and too long to just sit there all day waiting on the tides… and occasionally, maybe I was tired from the previous night?).  I’m sure you can guess at my results… by the time I left I was nowhere close to even being a competent surfer… BUT I was able to manage to stand up consistently while heading in the direction of the wave (as opposed to just going straight)… and I felt comfortable paddling out, even in larger surf.  So I’m going to go with mission accomplished here… I’m not very good, but I think I can now get on a board and paddle out with a reasonable chance of not embarrassing myself.  Lessons learned: 1) Surfing is hard, and 2) Maybe I’m not as good at things as I think I’m going to be?  Ha Ha… No, I definitely did not learn that… so actual lesson learned: 1) Surfing is hard.

That’s how you load up the VW rental car… and yes I had to park on the curb to prevent the following:

A Portuguese traffic jam… actually happened all the time… just had to wait them out.

Me and my sweet, sweet rental board.




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