When I was invited to go surfing in Fuerteventura, I hesitated…
I was scared of waves. As silly as it sounded. The very thought of going under a wave filled me with such a fear that I wanted to hyperventilate. Having had a bad experience as a young girl I remember the feeling of being stuck under the water panicking, not able to get up.
Over the years I had challenged my fear of water. I had dived in the Great Barrier Reef and although I didn’t like the fact that I was breathing under the water, I did it. I snorkelled with giant whale sharks in Mexico – something that I never thought I would ever have the courage to do. But waves and surfing were a different thing. Falling in and going underwater was obviously going to happen.
Each time before I had breathing equipment or a snorkel. This time I didn’t and all I could think of was that little girl gasping for air underwater. The only way that I could overcome this fear was to face it. So I accepted and as the days grew closer to my flight date, the anxiety set in.
As I sat at the airport I wondered what I was letting myself in for. I was a land girl. Give me quad biking and abseiling any day over water sports. I knew absolutely nothing about surfing. The only surfing movie I had ever watched was Point Break but I had committed and was about to board the plane to Fuerteventura…
Fuerteventura is the second largest Canary Island after Tenerife. The island is famed for its year-round waves and nice climate ideal for those who love water sports. Known for its strong winds, the island is a mecca for kite surfers, windsurfers and of course – surfers.
Arriving on the island, I was met by my friend who took me to the surf house.
The surf house was in Corralejo in Fuerteventura, just 500 metres from a surf spot. It was close enough to the capital to walk there for the restaurants, shops and bars. There was also Canarian cuisine in the square just a few minutes away.
There were two connecting villas with shared accommodation of between 2 to 8 surfers. There was a large kitchen for preparing our own meals and meeting fellow surfers, a TV room and two terraces. Outside were day beds and bean bags and a pool to have a refreshing dip when the temperature got too hot. A ping pool table and billiards were there for the competitive ones amongst us. Daily evening yoga sessions were held on the terrace and surfboards and skateboards were for hire.
Social events were planned for the evenings – a group barbecue with an all you can eat buffet and an all you could drink Sangria for just €10, a pool party, and a Friday night meal with everyone including our instructors. The weekends were free with trips planned for those who wanted to hike up one of the island’s several volcanoes, or take a boat trip to snorkel and cycle around the small island of Lobos (2 kms away).
Lessons were in English and were four hours a day. The times changed day to day depending on the sea's conditions. If the conditions were too rough in the morning, our lesson would be scheduled for the afternoon or vice versa. Working with one of the elements caused an obvious unpredictability. Thankfully my first class was scheduled for the following afternoon, giving me the morning to settle in.
Day One of Surfing in Fuerteventura
I cannot tell you how petrified I was on day one. As the clock struck 1pm, I wished that we had just checked into a hotel and were about to go sunbathing instead. Meeting at the van at 1pm, we were led into the garage to try on wet suits.
Having never even been up close to a surf board before I was as clueless as they came. To say that I was out of my depth was an understatement.
In my group were three German girls (who had come solo), a Bosnian girl and her boyfriend, and a Spanish girl. I was on the trip with my friend who had unfortunately twisted her ankle a few weeks before but came along anyway for the support (and the beach).
After picking my wetsuit and trying on little webbed shoes, we each carried a surf board to the van in preparation for our first lesson. I was convinced that today would be a lesson all about the waves, We would all sit on the beach in a circle and learn the basics of surfing. How wrong could I be?
The van stopped just a short distance from where we had started. I couldn’t even see the sea and felt uncomfortable having to change into my wetsuit on the side of the road.
Climbing over a wall with my surfboard and bag, I wondered what the hell I was doing – pretending that I was some surf chick. I felt more like a clumsy seal battling with my board against the wind.
This wasn’t what I had imagined. I had imagined rocking up to a long sand beach like they did in Point Break and putting our wetsuits on overlooking the coastline. Instead we were at a rocky cove walking 10 minutes (or what felt like that long) with my surfboard in tow. Tourists were sat in the cafe looking out at the surfers already in the water.
“Take as many pictures as you can,” I said defiantly to my friend. “I’m not coming back tomorrow.”
I was quitting before I had even began.
During the lesson my anxiety rose even more. We were only sitting on the beach in a circle listening to Nando, our instructor. But the lesson was short and I didn’t feel I knew enough to get into the water yet.
As everyone picked up their surfboards and headed towards the waves it was time for my confession.
“I’m scared of waves,” I spouted out to our instructor.
I wish I could have described the look on his face. Maybe it was a look of disbelief or of utter bewilderment.
But all I remember him saying was, “why did you come surfing then?” before he waded through the water to join the others.
He was right. Why had I come surfing? What was I trying to prove? I no longer had that crazy desire in me to bungee jump or to throw myself out of a plane like I had in my twenties. I was a grown woman in my forties hanging out in a surf club with people at least a decade younger than me. Who was I trying to kid? But I had come this far.
I waded into the water, grateful for my little webbed shoes which protected my sensitive feet against the rocky shore. My group was too far out, having gone through the deep part into a more shallow area.
I stayed where I was and laid on my board as we had been shown on the sand. I stuck out my arms and paddled, shuddering as the feeling of the water run into the back of my wetsuit.
This felt okay. I could do this. I let the rhythm of the water carry the board back to the shore before picking it up to rinse and repeat. I held the nose of the board up as shown in our warm up each time I waded back out.
Basically I was boogie boarding (or I think that was what I was doing anyway). It was on my third or forth attempt that I noticed a man in a red t-shirt trying to get my attention. All of the instructors wore a red top so that we could distinguish them from us ‘normal’ surfers. He could get to me easier than I could get to him. “You’re going near the rocks,” I heard him shout as he got closer. As I looked I realised that I was further and further away from my group. I had drifted left and closer to the rocks of this area aptly known as ‘Rocky Point.”
Being told to join my group, I decided that this was a great time to get out of the water. It was only halfway through the lesson but I had had enough. This was the longest that I had ever stayed in the sea – on top of it anyway.
I let the next wave carry me into the shore and stood up awkwardly, picking up my board and trying to look all Bond girl style as I walked up the beach to my friend.
Luckily she had taken lots of pictures, most of me just laying on the board but it was good enough. I unzipped my wetsuit and joined her to sunbathe for the rest of the lesson until the others came back. I had tried surfing and it wasn’t for me. I was okay with that. Now to properly enjoy being in Fuerteventura for the week.
That evening I stumbled upon the theory lesson. Wondering where everyone was when I entered the kitchen I was told to hurry downstairs to the lesson. The theory lesson was in addition to our practical lesson. Knowing absolutely nothing about the sea, the theory was to improve our understanding of waves, and build on what we had already learnt at the beach. Now this was more like it. I was learning about how the waves worked, and the periods in-between each wave.
With a new-found understanding of the sea, I decided to give it another go. I hadn’t actually gone under the water which was my biggest fear, and if I could boogie board again, I would be fine.
Day Two of Surf Lessons
Today was a different beach. Driving through the Corralejo National Park we passed sand dunes on our way to Punta de Tivas.
The scenery was stunning and as a long pristine sandy beach came into view, I gasped. This was the Point Break scene that I had been picturing. Small heads were bobbing in the water of the coastline. We parked on a hill overlooking the beach, changing into our wetsuits in a more fitting place than before. Before carrying our boards in a line one by one down the hill to the sea.
The lesson began with us practicing our moves from paddling to standing on top. Then it was an action that made me feel like a real surfer – waxing our boards. The warm up was fun and consisted of us running around in a circle then doing the ‘worm’ – a move that helps you move along your board if you are too far back.
The sea conditions were great, the sun was out and there were hardly any rocks in sight. This time I was ready for the sea. I waded in following the rest of the group as they walked through the deep part into a shallow area. I paddled my board over to Nando and asked for his help to ride the wave.
Within the first ten minutes I was standing. Admittedly only once, but when I did I could hear a clap of joy coming from the ocean as Nando applauded my efforts.
I was getting into it and determined to do it again. Hearing the command to paddle I moved my arms in time with the wave and got ready to try to stand. As I swung my left leg through my arms for position number 2 (before the standing one), I felt something hit me and the board went down taking my head with it. My head went underwater but before I even had the chance to think that, my head was back up again. Been attached to my board meant I would always come back up and I was in a shallow area anyway.
This was the moment that I had been dreading. The moment that I had had the anxiety about. Now it had actually happened the reality of being underwater for a few seconds was nothing. Proving how powerful the mind can be at taking one past experience and projecting it into the future. I had nothing to be afraid off.
As I tried to regain my balance my legs felt different, more weighted somehow. And as I looked down I noticed a bald-headed man clinging onto the back of my legs for dear life. Within a flash he stood up, picked up his board and waded back out to sea. My bald-clinging monkey was gone. I laughed for the first time on my surfing trip. Now this was fun.
This time we went for a coffee on the way back. I was sat in the front of the van, listening to the summer tunes and making jokes about the naked man who was running through the dunes (unfortunately he wasn’t a mirage).
That night I felt a sense of accomplishment as we joined in with the communal barbecue. I was feeling more relaxed in my surroundings both in the surf camp and at sea. I had actually stood up. Now time to really surf.
Day Three of Surfing
It’s crazy how quickly the ocean can change. The storm from the night before had turned the gentle waves into scary-looking ones. If truth be known, the conditions had affected my mood. Where was the gentle sea from yesterday? The paradise conditions and even the sun?
Knowing that my mindset needed to change, I smiled as I took part in the fun warm up. This time we ran on the beach going the opposite way to Nando. We were put into teams and with our ‘leader’ standing on the surfboard three of us had to dig a hole under the board large enough for us to squeeze through. Then we had to pull each member through by their legs until they surfaced out of the other side.
It was my turn and as my legs were being tugged my face moved closer to the board. I was about to go under the board through the sand. Just as I had panicked as a little girl, I suddenly began to breathe faster.
“Stop,” I yelled, not wanting to go under the board.
“But you’re half-way there,” shouted one of my team.
“I can’t,” I panted. “I’m sorry.”
They let go and because of my delay we lost. I had lost my confidence even more and now we had to go out into the water.
“If you’re nervous, it makes me nervous,” said Nando.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling. It took a few minutes for me to pull myself together and get my determination back to surf.
I am sure that I had swallowed enough seawater to sink a ship, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stand up on the board.
The periods between the waves were more frequent and soon the beach conditions changed to a red flag. I came out of the sea and rested on the sand to get warm. There was always tomorrow.
That night I watched my second ever surfing film, Chasing Mavericks. As I cried discreetly at the end when he died (sorry to give away the ending), I finally understood why people surfed. The weightless feeling you felt of gliding on the water. Of being at one with one of nature’s greatest elements. I had a new appreciation of the sea, of its currents and its waves. I understood why people wanted to conquer it. Point Break had nothing on this film 🙂
Day Four of Surfing
By day four I was back in my groove. I was standing (admittedly only for 3 seconds) but I had my arms in the surfing position and I was doing it! I was finally one of those people who lay on her board in a line with other surfers waiting for the wave to take her in.
Everyone of us stood up at some point. And even though the wind was bordering on ridiculous, we all rode at least one wave back into the shore.
As we finished our lesson it was nearly impossible to steer our boards as we walked through the beach trail back to the van.
When we went to our coffee shop for the last time I am sure I was delirious. I invented a new surfing dance in the van and acted the complete clown, much to the delight of the group. Maybe it was the copious amounts of sea water that I had swallowed, the bump on my head from my board as I had nose dived, or the euphoria of finally looking like a surfer. Either way I was riding the wave of happiness.
As I drank my coffee and ate my huge piece of chocolate cake (I needed the extra calories), I had a realisation. That surfing isn’t just about the waves. It’s about the time before the surf, the preparation, of choosing the best surf spot as we cruise around in the van. It’s the camaraderie of our fellow surfers as we take our little webbed shoes, and pull our wetsuits over our bikinis ready for the waves, and it’s about cheering each other on as we stand up before quickly falling back down.
In that very moment I felt part of something that I knew I would never experience again. I would never again be sitting here with these people, laughing and bonding over an experience that had helped me to grow. I came as a scared land girl and would leave as a woman more confident in the water.
To me, that’s what it’s all about. As for being converted to a surf chick, the only surf board I can ever see myself owning is the small pink one I brought as a souvenir, but after facing my fear of waves never say never…
My trip with Planet Surf was complimentary. Accommodation and surf lessons were included and food was at my own expense. I only recommend companies on my blog which I believe in and Planet Surf are great for solo females.
Planet Surf have surf schools and camps in Spain, Morocco, France, and the Canary Islands. The company only operates with their own surf schools and camps and they provide all the equipment and lessons needed to get you surfing like a pro. Being a small camp, the atmosphere was really friendly making it easy to bond with others. Groups are kept to a maximum of 8 students per instructor and you are always put in a group with others with the same ability so there’s no need to worry if you’ve never surfed before.
My instructor had said that he had never seen anyone change so quickly from being so scared to laughing as I nose-dived. If I can do it with my phobia of waves, anyone can. So go on, give it a try 🙂