Stoked aka 25! #9

I am a novice swimmer. That being the case, it makes perfect sense for me to stay clear of deep waters, much less raging waves… Now that I’ve put those two sentences together, the slight audacity of wanting to learn both how to swim and to surf within months of each other becomes apparent. I don’t know why it has taken me this long to realize that, but I was aware that graduating from bubbles doesn’t warrant a gigantic leap to riding and ripping.

My very dear sorority sister and friend, LC Cpie, would disagree with the statement above. She has always assured me that swimming skills are not really prerequisite to surfing. She doesn’t swim well herself and is proof that there are indeed ways to get around. Knowing that I won’t be heading out into the deep at the beginning anyway, I finally accepted her invitation to join her and her friends in the surfing capital of the North, La Union.

I wasn’t able to sleep for most of my six-hour bus ride from Manila. Alone with no one to talk to, I watched as the sun illuminated the skies at dawn. Rain soon fell and affirmed reports of a storm passing through the area. My dad suggested for me to cancel the trip, and I remember thinking I probably should’ve listened. I was alone; it was raining; and I didn’t know anyone besides LC Cpie. Any misgiving I had were dispelled as soon as I saw her. LC met me with a huge smile on her face and an umbrella in hand. She told me that bad weather is actually not so bad, as I would soon see myself.

The sea heaved and roared. It was a gurgling mess of white water, swelling and crashing across the seafront. I was exhilarated. There in front of me was a sweeping, powerful display that seemed totally alien and rightly intimidated me. I had no idea what to do. LC Cpie gave the first introduction. She taught me how to use the body board, and we (more like I) spent the next hour getting pummeled. I have never experienced anything like it before. I now have an idea on how it must feel like inside a working washing machine. How was it possible for my entire body to spin so quickly and somewhat violently in such shallow water? What a way to start my education.

That seemed like a walk in the park compared to my actual surfing lesson. The rain was pouring harder then, and the waves came in from different directions. I had a hard time finding my balance on the board. I kept falling off, and dragging out the surfboard against the strong current again and again was such a workout. The exhaustion and frustration were starting to get to me. And to top it all off, the fins of the surfboard hit me on the head in one instance. No way was I going to give up until I am able to ride my first wave though. When I finally did, it was the best feeling in the world. The water hissed all around me, but in that short moment, all I could feel was the smoothness of the ride and the stability of the board beneath me. Stoked, I think they call it.

It would take lots and lots of practice and hard work out in the sea for me to earn the right to call myself a surfer. I don’t even qualify as a surfer wannabe just yet. I have to seriously work on my paddling if I truly dream of going out to join the line-up and chase waves with other surfers. And it would take a number of six-hour bus rides to and fro La Union; nights spent packing and unpacking; bumps, bruises, and sore muscles. That stoked, exhilarating feeling is worth all that, but what makes La Union extra special and particularly worth coming back to is the wonderful group of people I have come to know and adore.

Team Guido is composed of talented individuals who are bound by their singular love of surfing. Theirs is a tight-knit family who opens its arms and welcomes people who are willing to learn, share, and take part in their simple joys and carefree lifestyle. It has been a pleasure for me to know them, and I always look forward to seeing them again.

Very special thanks to LC Cpie for making all these happen. Thank you for being so generous in sharing your Team Guido family with me and helping me accomplish my surfing goal. You are simply one of the coolest chicks I know, and I’m not lying when I say how inspiring you are.

I’m hoping to ride back up to LU again very soon. I cannot wait to continue my surfing lessons and continue having one of the best learning experiences of my life so far!

Tschüs!

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Bubbles: A Lesson in Humility aka 25before25 #1

Some of my fondest summer memories date back to my early years. We would always leave the metro in the wee hours of the morning, and I’d wake up a few hours later to marvel at the glorious sunrise as the bus wound its way round hills and mountains. The mighty sea would finally come into full view, the seemingly endless blue expanse that churned, hummed, and licked with its frothy, white spittle.

I remember having so much fun. We’d bury people in the sand, and I’d collect starfish that surprisingly wiggled back to life, causing me to throw them back into the water in a panic. I didn’t know how to swim, and I was perfectly happy hanging out by the shore. Still, I would beg the adults to take me with them out into the deep, and I loved the sensation I felt when my feet could no longer reach the sand beneath. I didn’t dare let go; my kiddie self was afraid some slimy thing would wrap itself around my ankle and pull me down into the darkness. Oh yes, I imagined a lot of things.

Bohol, Philippines

I somehow wasn’t able to squeeze in the business of learning how to swim as I grew up. The next thing I knew, I was a twenty-something whose only skill in the water was keeping afloat. This is a condition that needs rectification if one of your goals in life is to discover and experience the wonders that this archipelago called the Philippines has to offer. Simply put, living on the islands necessitates that I learn to swim. Scratch that. Living on a planet of water necessitates that I learn to do more than float.

Late last year, I finally decided to do something about it. I signed up for lessons and was thrilled. How hard can it be? I mean, I started life as a tadpole, didn’t I? I would just need to go back to my roots and remember to do what I already could long ago. Sure, I’d probably one of, if not the oldest student, but I didn’t care. One can never be too old to learn, and I have to start somewhere sometime.

On Day one, the coach taught me the first thing there is to know – bubbles. Air in through the mouth. Air out through the nose. Repeat ten times. Up down, up down, up down… as the four year old kid, my only other classmate that time, watched me from behind his goggles. Coach called out to him to carry on practicing his stroke and not be distracted by my little exercise, as his mother and yaya looked on. I won’t lie; it was embarrassing. The kid could run circles around me, while I could only produce a slight disturbance on the surface.

I tell you, at that exact moment, it hit me. Willingness to learn is always a given, but there are other important requirements. The first step to learning or acquiring a new skill is an admission of ignorance, the acceptance of a need or a weakness, and the readiness to surrender control and give your trust to someone who could teach and guide you. Learning requires humility, and that’s not easy.

I confess I wasn’t the best student. I’d have to be at the pool by 7am in my cap and goggles, rain or shine. The water was often cold, and all those warm-up laps really worked me out. I felt quite alone in the water; whether I sink or swim depended entirely on me. My coach watched from above, giving me instructions and calling out my mistakes. Learning the strokes and doing drills over and over were frustrating. I talked a little too much to deflect, but we still managed to stay on track. I knew there was no other way to do it, so I carried on and finished.

At the end of ten sessions, I am qualified now to say that I can swim. I’m still no expert, but I have a newfound confidence when I’m in the water.  It’s the best feeling. The beach and the sea remain to be favorites, and I approach them now with a different kind of excitement. Being in the water feels more natural, easier. It gives me an amazing sense of peace and relaxation that’s hard to replicate elsewhere.

I’m signing up for advanced classes soon. I want to be able to do the strokes well, and I miss swimming regularly. Quite frankly, learning something new gives me such a buzz. I know that that was only the first step, a small key to places I want to go to. Now I can. And that is one of the best things I can give myself.

Tschüs!