I’ve been talking about how much I’d love to surf since before we came out to New Zealand; while out here, I’ve forced Hayley to drag a wilting bodyboard around with us – an extra thrown in when we bought the car – to keep this longing at bay. Finally, last week, I booked a surf lesson with the local surf instructor and occasional performer at the café’s Jam Night on Fridays, Dion.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I turned up on Saturday morning – the formality in the concept of “lesson” doesn’t really fit with Dion’s relaxed, surfer persona and general attitude towards life. But I had one other surf lesson to go on – a progression from practising on the beach, to lying on our stomachs, to then trying to stand with the help of the instructor.
Arriving at the Beach Camp, there were three people and a car, loaded with surf boards, ready and waiting. And off we went to find a good spot. Luckily the one we settled on happened to be perfect for beginners, which I’m convinced was a piece of luck more than a plan. Parking up in a layby, we wound our way, boards in hand, down a steep and spiky path to the beach, where Dion explained the general theory behind surfing, and compared the standing up process to “the worm” dance. After that, it was up to me to choose where I felt comfortable in the water, and to try to surf. Meanwhile, Dion, Tim and Hilary made the most of the mellow waves, occasionally gesturing over in encouragement and checking I was ok.
The informality of this situation could have made me feel even more nervous and embarrassed, especially since I was surrounded by people whose life is above all, surfing; there is something safe about the atmosphere of a lesson, like you’ve been given a licence to be terrible and fail. But instead, the sense that I was just part of their regular day, that I was a friend rather than a student, was actually far more of an encouragement just to give it a go and work out my own way of doing things. It was liberating not to feel that I was constantly being watched, but just happened to have found myself learning to surf with a few locals.
After a couple of hours (and a stomach full of salt water), we took a drive to Fox River, a spot just North of Punakaiki, for the big waves. Hilary and I sat on the beach with a beer and watched the four others (we’d been joined by two more at this point) having the time of their lives. When everyone was exhausted and hungry, we went back to the Beach Camp to “cook up a feed” – a Kiwi expression I’m still not too sure about… Everyone pitched in some veggies, and somehow, we came out with a huge wok of pasta, cooked in Dion’s caravan, which we ate on a picnic table in the sun. I returned to the café 6 hours later, tired, full, and feeling even more at home in Punakaiki than I did before – only a lesson on the West Coast of New Zealand.