In this era of confessional living, when ineptitude supposedly makes you loveable and full disclosure proves you’ve got cojones, it’s easy enough for me to admit that I’m an incompetent athlete, a slow learner, a forgetful reader, a messy cook, and a lazy runner. I can make jokes about the things I’m not very good at. I can admit that I’m a sweaty, broke, disorganized, cellulite-spackled plebeian, who is prone to crippling anxiety and is no better equipped to deal with modern society than your average wildebeest. But talking about your inadequacies is very different from stepping into the arena and conducting a little demonstration.
Acting foolish? Usually entertaining. Fooling around? Sweet. But getting played the fool? Never fun. I like to look and act ridiculous by choice, not by accident. For this reason, I avoid partaking in activities that highlight my weaknesses. I know it’s immature. I know that I should be past the crippling humiliation I suffered as an uncoordinated child in gym class, but somehow I still have a phobia of publicly partaking in any activity (other than climbing and swimming) that requires serious physical coordination. I know I shouldn’t care if people think I look like a complete idiot. But I do.
Which is why I’ve never, say, attempted to surf.
One of the reasons anyway. The other reason is that I’m just not that cool. I may be fairly laid back (as long as I’m in my hammock) and prone to driving around in a van and wearing a bikini, but my idea of a good beach accessory is a cooler or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not, say, sex wax.
But some opportunities slap you in the face. In this case, we were visiting our friends Marcos and Jazmin in Guerrero. They live on an isolated surf beach, have a ton of extra surf boards, and Jazmin offered to teach me. The isolated bit caught me–there’d be no one to watch…When people pay a ton of money to rent gear or take lessons, it seemed stupid to pass up an opportunity to learn something for free in an ideal location.
Please take the term “learn” with a grain of salt.
Jazmin and Marcos take their morning coffee in front of their house in a small palapa that offers a good view of the surf. On the morning of our surf lesson they were sitting in their customary plastic chairs, occasionally making cryptic comments about a particular wave.
“You going to go out today?” Marcos asked, with a faint gleam of amusement in his eyes.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I replied with a great reserve of enthusiasm. I sat down on a drift log and stared out at the frothing surf. I’ve spent a lot of time in the ocean, and I’m actually pretty comfortable with waves—I’m good on a body board and I’m a good body surfer. I know when it’s necessary to dive under in order to avoid a pile-drive headfirst into the sand. Maybe that’ll help, I thought as I watched a giant wave curl into a gleaming azure tube.
I looked up to see an old gringo approaching. With his ruddy tan, thick grey mustache and shock of white hair, he had the face of a a well-heeled yacht owner. But his countenance was out of sorts with his body: he was barefoot, wore fluorescent board shorts, and carried a Mexican shopping bag and a surf board; his muscled torso hadn’t an inch of fat.
“Fantastico” Marcos muttered under his breath. “He’s sort of an acquired taste. He’s a little crazy actually…But a really good surfer.”
Fantastico set his surfboard down and sat in the sand, staring at the waves with the fixed focus of a hyperactive Jack Russel terrier.
“What do you think, Marcos?” He asked eagerly.
“I think that these kooks don’t know what they’re doing,” Marcos said grumpily. A four-by-four loaded with surfboards had pulled up into the sand nearby, and a bunch of super pale 20-something gringos had emerged. One guy was awkwardly carrying a board down to the surf.
“Where do these people come from anyway?” Marcos asked. “Used to be we were the only surfers out here.” His voice was laced with a nostalgia familiar to anyone who has spent a long time in Mexico; when we get together we all wax about the glory days, when undeveloped beaches were a dime a dozen and margaritas grew on trees.
“Look at these idiots!” Marcos growled as he watched one of the pale people catch a wave. Jazmin and Marcos and Fantastico all laughed knowingly. It was clear that this wave was a stupid choice, but I couldn’t have said how they knew. It looked all right to me–you know, wave-like. The guy toppled into the surf. Fantastico crowed.
“Muy verde,” Jazmin agreed as she took a swill of coffee.
There followed a half-hour critique session in which the poor wannabe surfers were thoroughly mocked. Great, I thought as I watched a pale girl catch a wave and ride it for a few seconds before again falling into the frothing surf. It’s obvious these people that we’re laughing at can actually sort of surf. And sort of is better than nada. Which is where my experience, skills, and probable talents intersect.
“There’s some pretty big ones out there today,” Marcos observed as he watched a giant breaker roll in. “You nervous?”
“A little,” I said. I decided not to mention that I wasn’t scared of the waves, I was scared of looking like a dumbass. Somehow the former sounded way more rational…
When it came time to actually pick up a surf board, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Please get a picture of this, because otherwise no one will believe me,” I said, thinking: also, this is definitely the coolest I’m going to look all day.
“You’ll want to wax that,” Fantastico said, handing me an actual container of Mr. Zogg’s Sex Wax. I started laughing again all over. I’m waxing a surfboard. Hilarious.
Then we got to the difficult part: walking down the beach carrying a surfboard. First of all, I wasn’t sure which way the fins were supposed to face. Was there a cool way for the fins to face? Secondly, I have almost no upper body strength so it was actually a struggle to keep the surfboard balanced under one arm. The board kept wobbling in the breeze and slipping, and I had to stop five or six times to switch arms. If carrying the board is making me feel like a total idiot, I really can not wait to get in the water.
To be continued…