Learning To Surf In Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

My muscles strain, my legs quiver, and in spite of the cold I am sweating with exertion. Andy Moon, my surf instructor, encourages me, and with a final effort I stand up triumphantly.

Finally, my wetsuit is on.

It’s 8 a.m. on a cool August morning, the rain has stopped, but the sky and sea are a matching unwelcoming grey. What have I let myself in for?

Andy hands me a “foamie,” a light board for learners. After instruction on where to lie on the boards, we go into the waves to practice paddling and keeping the board straight. This is not as easy as it sounds. Firstly, the board has a mind of its own, and secondly Andy refers to the sea as the washing machine–because it spins and tumbles you in all directions.

Learning To Surf In Jeffreys Bay, South Africa

Photo courtesy of Di Brown

After 10 minutes we go back to the shore for some serious instruction. First, we must establish if I am normal or a “goofy foot,” (surfer-speak for dominant foot). Andy demonstrates the four moves required to stand in a fluid graceful manner. It looks like a walk in the park, or a very tame yoga lesson. The instructions are as follows:

  1. Lie on the board with your feet just over the end of it. (Easy, I can do that.)
  2. Push your upper body as high as you can, using your arms, while keeping your head straight. Never ever look at your feet. (Not too hard, although quite a strain on my puny arm muscles.)
  3. Still keeping your head up, bend your knee out at 45 degrees. (This can be tricky.)
  4. Still keeping your head up, bring your other leg under your body, plant your foot firmly on the board and stand up, using your outstretched arms for balance.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? I bet you are trying it right now on your carpet.

So, into the sea I go, feeling fairly confident. I have good balance and I love the ocean, how can I fail? The first wave I catch tips me off the board from a lying down position. The second wave sends me and the board flying sideways from the pushing up arms pose. By the tenth wave I have progressed to the bent knee before I am underwater again. After two hours, I stand up shakily for all of 10 seconds before falling off. Eventually I manage to stand, but I’m way too late and I run out of ocean and collapse onto the sand. I’m exhausted and exhilarated, convinced with a little more time I can do this.

It’s important to point out that wading back with a board that’s tied to your leg and wanting to go in the opposite direction is quite tiring. However, I felt like a kid again when I came out of the water. Whether you master standing up or not, it’s great to spend two hours doing something for the sheer fun of it. An added bonus was once the wetsuit had been peeled off, warm clothes donned, and a cup of steamy coffee savoured, my skin felt fantastic. Sand and waves are a natural exfoliator. So in summary, learning to surf is fun, releases endorphins, makes a better workout than the gym and is a full body facial from nature. Do it!

Photo courtesy of Di Brown

Photo courtesy of Di Brown

I learned to surf with Andy Moon from Wavecrest Surf School. They have a great offer: For R1500 (US$135) you get seven lessons, plus the use of the surf board and wetsuit all day for practicing. Although not entirely successful, I had loads of fun. It’s also a full body workout and I felt every single muscle the following day. The wetsuits work extremely well, I never felt cold at all. Be prepared to fall, to laugh, to get sand everywhere, and to spend a fair amount of time underwater.

As for Andy, he’s an excellent teacher. He is endlessly patient, always encouraging and passionate about surfing and the ocean. It doesn’t hurt that Jeffreys Bay is one of the top surfing destinations in the world. One part of town boasts many of the top surf wear factory shops for those who love retail therapy, and as a tourist town, there is no shortage of curio shops, restaurants or accommodation. Watching the serious surfers, walking or riding horses on the beach, meeting local artists, a visit to the Surf Museum, JBay (as the locals call it) is a great spot to let go of stress, relax and have some fun.

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