Sunday Express, April 2001
Wave of Excitement
Get on board for the surf school in Lanzarote but watch out for the enthusiastic Swedes
Rich, my surfing instructor for the week, looked just as surf instructors are supposed to look – blond, bronzed, beefy and cool. Crucially, he also looked very good in a wetsuit. I fondly imagined I would too – I was hoping for a close resemblance to Keanu Reeves in Point Break. But after struggling for an eternity to get the thing on in the early morning Lanzarote sunshine, I would have settled for Lloyd Bridges and his diving suit circa 1959 in Sea Hunt.
“Those are your waves," said Rich expansively, looking Zen-like out to the powerful Famara beach breakers crashing behind us. “I’m going to show you how to ride ‘em over the next few days – we’ll have you standing up on that board in no time," he beamed, addressing the absolute beginners among us. Was it my imagination or did I detect a note of scepticism as his gaze descended on me, still fumbling with the zip on my wetsuit.
There were 25 of us assembled on the three-mile long beach that morning, all having signed up for the five-day Lanzarote Surf School course approved by the British Surfing Association. Everyone looked horribly keen. Worryingly, most of my compadres also went in for dangerous sports, the scarier the better. One guy was into sky diving. “I usually wait until around 700 feet before I release the ‘chute," he said matter-of-factly. “Get a better buzz that way."
Before I waded gingerly into the water that early morning I had not regarded surfing as being especially “dangerous". That was before the first mountainous wave flattened me on the Atlantic. I was scuppered, and wiped out before I could even mount my board. Take it from me, getting on to a board is not easy, particularly when you are moments away from being encased in a wall of water that takes no prisoners.
I had to learn to “Eskimo roll" pretty fast. This is the practice of rolling under the waves hanging on to your board for dear life. It saved my bacon on many occasions. “The Swedes seem to pick it up pretty fast," observed Rich, diplomatically trying not to chuckle as I made my umpteenth attempt to stand upright on my nine-foot board.
Sputtering with a mouthful of Atlantic, I could not help but notice that the group of young Swedes – also first timers- already looked as if they lived on top of waves. After the traumas of that first day I could not decide which would be the worst way to go – being wiped out by a freak waves, taken by a shark or decapitated by a pimply 18-year-old from Stockholm flashing along on a surfboard.
Amazingly following a day or two of Rich’s ever patient guidance and helped along by the amiable Darren from Surf South West, based at Croyde in North Devon, I began to make progress. I even managed to stand up. But it was tough going, and the prospect of several ice cold beers in the ancient village of Famara (where I was installed in an equally ancient fisherman’s cottage) became increasingly appealing as the sun slid ever lower in the skies. When I arrived, late on a Thursday afternoon, the main street, flanked by white walled cottages, was deserted. But come early evening the bars began to fill up with a mix of locals and surfers, the latter easily recognisable by their designer wear and healthy glow.
After the obligatory late night apres surf bonding session, our enthusiasm for the surf was not so apparent the next morning. Paddling out, draped over a surf board in the warm sun, soon cured that. Surfing may not be the easiest sport to master, but it’s one hell of a hangover remedy.