When I was growing up on the Isle of Wight, I only knew one person who surfed.
He was regularly paraded in assembly to show off his latest surfing trophy. He had an O’Neill pencil case and would turn up in Billabong jumpers on non-uniform days.
In hindsight, this seems rather odd. The Isle of Wight isn’t the surf capital of the UK, but it does get pretty decent surf on the right day and it’s certainly good enough for learning.
Learning to surf wasn’t an easy thing to do in the 1990s. I don’t remember there being a surf school on the Isle of Wight and buying a board would have been a huge investment considering I was earning £3.11 an hour.
Thankfully, things have moved on.
iSurf has been offering surf lessons on the Isle of Wight for a number of years, so I thought I’d finally give it a go. I had tried to surf about five years ago with a board I’d bought at a car boot sale for £4. Predictably, it turned out to be useless as it had a hole in it. I gave up and we’ve stuck to bodyboarding, kayaking and paddleboarding.
iSurf moves around the Isle of Wight, depending on the weather, tides and surf. They’ve got a hut on Sandown beach where they are based for lessons and surfboard hire and a van for surfing at Compton Bay.
I went for a group session which lasts for 90 minutes and cost £27.
A couple of days before my lesson I got a text to say that Sandown was the chosen location. Most sessions were fully booked but I’d squeezed in at 8am. Previously, this would have been hugely inconvenient but it actually worked well as I was back in time to take the children out.
I was a keen bean so I arrived early and had a pre-lesson chat with the surf instructor. He had a cool name and a cool haircut and if you asked me to draw a picture of a surf instructor, I’d have drawn him. This provided much reassurance.
There were five of us in the session and we started with some dry land instructions. We were told about the three ways to stand up, including the two proper options and the cheating version where you kneel on the board. I had aspirations for the Olympics in three years time, so I decided I would go for the proper options.
The waves were a good size at about a metre high or perhaps a bit higher. Pro surfers wouldn’t be challenged enough but they were ideal for learning.
The general idea is to lay with your feet at the tail of the board and your hands on the side of the board in line with your armpits. When the wave arrives, you push up with your arms and then gracefully move to a standing position.
This sounds very simple, but over the hour in the water I just about managed to stand up...twice. On both occasions it was very brief and when I was practically at the shore. It also included the instructor giving the board a good shove so I didn't have to paddle to keep up with the waves.
To make matters worse, a 12 year old in the same group as me turned out to be brilliant at surfing. On one occasion, I wiped out badly and was literally pulling seaweed out of my hair whilst he gracefully glided past. I grinned and gave a thumbs up since it wasn’t really his fault that I was useless.
Jealousy aside, I did enjoy the experience a lot. Surfing requires a lot of energy and a relative confidence in choppy waters. I fell under about five times and was walloped by the board a couple of times, but didn’t suffer any damage.
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