Cue the theme song from Endless Summer.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget New York City is surrounded by water. As it has been a while since I’ve wandered into unchartered territory, I thought it was about time to get out of my comfort zone (you know, land) and try some surfing. I signed up for a class at Locals Surf School and planned a morning trip to Rockaway Beach to catch some waves.
I woke up just after the crack of dawn—as sun-kissed surfers typically do—and was driving down the Cross Bay Boulevard in my Prius by 8 a.m. I was (and still am) a total noob when it comes to surfing, but I was ready to hang loose; I had a clear mind, two bottles of sunscreen (SPF 50 and 70, just in case), and my swimsuit stashed in my netted beach bag.
Step one: Show up and sign in. I’m not going to lie, I nearly drove past my Beach 67th Street meeting location because I was so infatuated with the drive; it felt like I was cruising on the Pacific Coast Highway, not the streets of Queens. After I slathered my pasty skin in sunscreen and donned my cover-up and sandals, I headed toward the sand.
I spotted the Locals tent while strolling on the boardwalk and made my way over. There, I was greeted by Mike, a former competitive surfer, Rockaway Beach native, and the founder of the surf school. He signed me in and gave me a rash guard to wear over the next two hours. I was getting stoked to jump into the lesson (and waves).
Step two: Tails, rails, and paddling. I met Jenny, a fellow first-time surfer who took the class with me, and our instructor, Pasha, a native New Yorker who has been surfing in Rockaway and around the world for eight years. He told us to pick our boards and place them right-side up on the sand so we could practice paddling and popping up. Paddling and popping up is kind of like doing a burpee; you have to pretend paddle, push yourself up using the rails, and stand on the board in one motion. Pasha told us that it’s vital to have your feet sideways on the board, arms out in Warrior II fashion, and your body in a squatting position (oh, hello, glutes) so you can keep your balance. We practiced this about seven times, which requires a surprising amount of core power. (My abs hurt when I laughed at something my coworker said the next morning.)
Once we were confident in our paddling and popping skills, Pasha explained the anatomy of the board. The front of the board is called the nose, the back end is the tail, the things that stick out at the bottom are the fins, and the sides are the rails. He said to stay closer to the middle of the board and tail when we stood to avoid falling, and cover our heads with our arms to avoid the board and fins from hitting us if we do hit the water. With that vital information out of the way, our land portion of the class was over.
Step three: Get in the water (finally!). Jenny and I strapped on our leashes and walked toward the beach with our foam surfboards (aka beginner boards) in hand. Before I knew it, I was in the Atlantic waters. I took a deep breath, got on my board, and started to paddle out.
Step four: Surf. It was finally time for me to channel my inner surfer girl à la Anne Marie Chadwick from Blue Crush. As Jenny and I were paddling out over and through waves, one gnarly crash knocked me off my board. I was completely submerged in the freezing water—it felt akin to the cryochamber at the Fuel Stop—thanks to the waves breaking over me. It was disorienting, but I couldn’t let it get me down. What would Anne Marie do? I got back up on the board and continued to paddle forward.
When I paddled out to where Pasha was in the ocean, he waited right by my side looking for the perfect wave that a novice like me could handle. When it was my moment, Pasha held onto the tail of my board, telling me when to paddle and stand up. I paddled, popped, and actually held my own. Riding a wave is a surreal feeling; it was the perfect storm of euphoria (I’m flying!) and disbelief (I’m actually standing up on the board?!). Over the course of the two hours, I only wiped out three times. Not too shabby for a kook.
Last but not least: Recover. I knew my body was going to be sore the next day (and I was right)—especially around my rib cage—but I didn’t care, because I just felt so good. I drove home with the windows down, adrenaline still pumping (it left me feeling superfocused for the rest of the day), enjoying the feeling of sand between my toes and salt water drying in my hair.
Move over, Kelly Slater, there’s a new surfer in the USA.