In the meantime, articles like this one in Yesterday's Tacoma News Tribune continue to peak my interest.
Catching on to catching waves
While that is true of every sport, it sounds a little more insightful when Perlee says it with laid-back surfer-dude style.
SAND SURFING FIRST
My personal voyage started face down in the sand early one rainy August morning with one of Perlee’s best friends standing over me.
Barry Esty, like Perlee, learned to surf as a boy in California in the ’60s and moved to Westport when the California beaches got too crowded. He’s now retired but gives lessons to those who ask.
“It’s a service I like to provide,” Esty said. “I try to give people enough advice to keep them from bashing their butts on the rocks.”
That, however, is not why I was laying in the wet sand. Esty drew the outline of a surfboard in the sand with his toe and was teaching me the basics of standing on a board.
Following his direction, I straightened my arms and arched my back to lift my chest above the outline. From this uncomfortable yoga-like position, he told me, I needed to jump to my feet.
Trying to jump with my hips in the sand, I said, is a rather challenging pre-breakfast request. Not nearly as challenging as doing it on top of a cresting wave, he replied.
“It’s not easy to stand,” Esty said. “It’s all about practice. Maybe after a week of practicing every day you’ll be able to stand.”
When the landlocked lesson concluded, I met a Seattle surfer in the parking lot who reinforced Esty’s point.
“It’s not easy,” said Brian Gardner, 32. “I’ve been doing this for four years, and I still struggle.”
The learning curve might be steeper than the waves, but the Westport surf scene isn’t booming because the sport is easy.
“It’s popular because it’s fun even though it’s challenging to learn,” said Damon Romero, 39, of Olympia.
Romero has been surfing at Westport since the ’80s, when the beaches were less crowded and the locals weren’t so keen on the idea of sharing their waves with inlanders.
But that was when Westport’s three breaks – Halfmoon Bay, the Groins and the Jetty – were still a fairly well-kept secret.
The secret has been out for years now and the vibe is friendly, provided the newbies surf smart.
“Any time you see surfers better than you, stay away from that area,” Adam Foster of The Surf Shop said as he issued me a wet suit and a 10-foot board. “That’s a good sign that area is over your head.”
I figured that bit of advice would eliminate the entire Pacific Rim for me, but I was surprised to find that I fit right in chasing my board in the Jetty’s modest surf.
“I’d say about 90 percent of the people out here have been doing this for five years or less,” Esty said.
That’s not to say Westport doesn’t produce gifted surfers.
At the Surf Shop, Perlee popped in a DVD with footage of his children, Dane and Hana, surfing side-by-side at Westport. As they ride the wave, Dane – who regularly wins competitions against California surfers – steps off his board and onto Hana’s.
On my first day, I figure I’ll be lucky if I can step on my own board.
I wasn’t exactly stoked to walk out in the frigid Pacific Ocean. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that my rental wet suit keeps me nice and warm.
Modern wet suit technology, Perlee says, might be the biggest reason more people are surfing at Westport now than when he moved here in the ’70s. With a good wet suit, it’s no longer painful to spend a few hours in the water.
“I used to be OK out there for about 30 minutes with my old wet suit,” Romero said. “Any longer than that, and I was suffering.”
I was downright toasty as I worked my way out to chest deep water, a bit deeper than the waist-deep surf Esty recommended for my first day. I crawled onboard and laid face down as I watched an approaching set of waves.
All I had to do, according to Esty, was paddle around to face shore, catch the wave and spring to my feet as the wave broke.
Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. I only managed to get parallel to the beach when the first wave promptly dumped me off the board.
I popped up, salt water running from my nose, and jumped on again – this time catching a wave and riding almost all the way to shore, lying on the board the entire way.
Even this, what must have been an extremely uncool-looking ride, was a bit of a rush.
I grabbed the board and waded back out for another set, anxious to try to stand.
If this story were a film, this would be the place for the music montage of me falling face first, then butt first, then tripping while carrying the board on the beach.
But, after a few hours of splashes and crashes, I finally got to my feet – for about two seconds. Just long enough to see why the true watermen, as they call themselves, live for this.
A few weeks later, back at The Surf Shop, I asked Perlee how long it takes to feel comfortable with a moving surfboard underfoot. I should have known how he’d reply.
“I can’t answer that,” Perlee said. “It depends on the individual.”
Learning to surf, after all, is a personal voyage.
TIPS TO RIP
PRACTICE: Cut out a piece of cardboard about 9 feet long and 22 inches wide then put a mark in the middle of your mock board. Lay on the board with your sternum on the mark. Then, with your hands on the side of the cardboard, practice thrusting up and whipping your front foot to the spot in the middle of the board where your sternum used to be.
DON’T FOLLOW THE PACK: If you’re a rookie and you see the surfing veterans riding big waves, pick some place else to get indoctrinated. That area is probably way over your head – literally. Pick an area where the water is about waist deep, says Al Perlee, owner of The Surf Shop.
LOSE THE SWIM TRUNKS: Those Bermuda trunks might look sweet on the beach, but they’ll bunch up on you if you try to wear them under a wet suit. The veterans recommend Speedos, bike shorts or, if you must, tighty whities (But please change in the car).
START ON A LONG BOARD: A 6-foot short board is ideal for precise turns and gnarly tricks, but it’s going to be hard to use. A 10-foot long board is for more powerful movements, and its size makes it more stable, perfect for getting a hang of the sport.
LET THE KIDS BOOGIE: Adam Foster of The Surf Shop in Westport suggests starting young kids off with a boogie board. The small foam boards are easier for the kids to play with in the surf and light enough for them to lug to and from the car. WESTPORT SURF SHOPS
THE SURF SHOP: Westportsurfshop.com, 360-268-0992. Rent a wet suit and board for $35. No lessons here, but the staff will direct you to locals who’ll teach you the basics.
STEEPWATER SURF SHOP: Steepwatersurfshop.com, 360-268-5527. A wet suit and board rental is $38 for the day or $26 for four hours. Lessons start at $50 for 90 minutes.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497