Surfing Queens and Canoes

This post was originally on Michele’s blog Where in the World:
Traveling and living adventures before and after children.

When I close my eyes I see waves.  I’ve been surfing nearly every day that we’ve been in Waikiki — today was my last, and seventh surf lesson.  The surf instructors at Beach Boys tease me because most people take one lesson and then proceed out into the waves unattended to figure it out by themselves.  But after having tried that in Newport, RI last summer, I saw my week in Hawaii as a custom surf camp so I went out each time with an instructor.  I find that I learn something new each time (how to steer, how to handle the second push of a wave), and it’s nice after wiping out and swallowing a heap of seawater that there’s someone there who notices and shouts “You ok?”

The first two lessons that I took were group lessons for $40/hour.  Those seem to be set up mostly for total beginners.  The lessons start on the beach to practice paddling and standing on the board.  At Beach Boys, most instructors taught newbies to get on their knees then one foot, then both feet.  As expert as such company made me feel, I decided a private lesson (at $75/hour) might help me learn a bit quicker.  So after that I chose to go for the pricier private lesson (although they did cut me a deal after I kept coming back).  I’ve gone out with several different instructors, all men — Zack, Junior, and Tony.  If there are any women instructors, I haven’t seen them.  I’ve taken the most (four) lessons with Tony, a sturdy tanned Italian guy born and raised on the island who can move quite nimbly around even on the 11 foot board he takes out with him.  As for me, I’ve graduated down to a 10 foot board and have stuck with that for the duration.  In fact, several of my instructors have informed me that the board I purchased in Newport, RI, an 8 foot 2 inch epoxy board is too small for me to learn on.  They all think I should be with a 9 foot 6 inch or a 10 foot board.

Tony finds it funny, but I’m not joking when I tell him that I’m actually scared to go out each time, and yet I am totally compelled to as if I were addicted.  What can I say about surfing?  I don’t think it’s a sport most people learn in their mid-thirties, and I can see why.  Fear holds us back.  As I’ve surfed around, I’ve seen quite a wide age range of talented surfers from about age 7 to 77.  I haven’t seen as many older women in the water as older men, but they’re out there, and they’re damn good.

In Waikiki, the surfing can get quite crowded — to the point that it’s a bit hazardous.  As I finished my last lesson, the Beach Boys instructors were taking out a group of 25 newbies in already crowded waters to learn to surf.  Let’s just say, I was glad I was done for the day.  Apparently there are not many surf rules in Waikiki, although supposedly you should get out of the way of oncoming surfers riding a wave.  Although this sounds simple, it can be a challenge when you have people coming at you from all sides.  It’s also hard to judge without knowing the locals who can steer around you and who cannot.

One day when it was particularly crowded, I asked Tony if we could head out slightly to the left of the mob scene in the water where I saw some nice waves breaking.  He said that was where the locals surfed and it was a slightly bigger and more challenging ride, but we could give it a try.  I hadn’t realized it until then that each of the breaks had a name.  Where most people surf (and have surf lessons) in Waikiki is called Canoes, according to Tony named after the canoes that take out passengers to paddle in and ride the waves.  To the left of there is Queens, an area more highly rated and more popular with the locals.  Later that day, Geoff discovered this site that lists all the breaks — check out the difference between Oahu ( and Southern New England ( — a bit depressing but I guess it could be worse.

The waves in Queens were bigger, and leaned sideways a bit so the ride was more across than straight ahead.  The larger waves give you more of the downhill ride, in addition to just the whitewater push ahead.  Throughout my week of surfing I learned how to steer (with the weight of your back leg), how to stop (get down on the board and put your hands in the water, or more quickly shift your weight to the back of the board), how to fall (belly flop or back flop since the water is shallow and the bottom rocky), how to keep ahead of the wave (step forward on the board), in addition to things like finding the right wave and timing your paddling into it.  But maybe most importantly, my fear seemed to wane a little bit each time.

If you haven’t tried surfing, I highly recommend it.  When you catch a wave and ride it into the shore, it’s pure elation.  It makes me think of the Woody Allen line, “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.”

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