Peniche, Portugal: Learning To Surf

Cornwall & Portugal

Living in Cornwall, surfing and the ocean become an integral way of life, an emblem of the people who come from or choose to be here. It seems however, that the desire to ‘surf a wave’ extends far beyond those lucky enough to reside by the ocean, even if it is just a slight flutter of the heart towards the idealized vision of the whole thing. Tropically warm waters, relaxed attitude and ultimately, cool – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

My first experience in the waves was in 2012 (I had just turned 22) at Baleal beach in Portugal. With warm, glistening sand and turquoise waters, I was definitely keen. As a strong swimmer, the water didn’t faze me and so I skipped the lesson and paddled straight out back, the point beyond the broken white water waves for those who are yet to experience this, with my then-boyfriend-now-husband.

The first shock was the temperature of the water that from afar had looked misleadingly warm. My geographical knowledge was relatively ignorant for a twenty two year old and of course Baleal is still very much the Atlantic Ocean and very much freezing. Trying my hardest to not pee in my wetsuit to battle the cold (which has become more acceptable over the years), I lay myself as elegantly as I could on the board and mimicking those around me, started to gently paddle, assuming the wave would glide me along and pop, I would be up.

‘Sand-eater’ is probably the best way to describe my first wave as I reminisce fondly about my scramble to the surface with what felt like a mouth full of sand, to finally be flung from the ocean by Mother Nature herself with a very disheartening sense that I wasn’t welcome back. Just to confirm this, as I started to deal with the confusion of where my board had disappeared to, the ocean used it as her weapon to give me a hard slap against the back of my head, not letting me forget who had the upper hand. I took this as a sign, along with a slight fear of concussion, to rest my sorry ass on the beach for the rest of the day, hoping that a decent suntan might cover up my blushing face.

It’s funny how some activities become so addictive despite being so painful, I guess like tattoos and yoga, because upon waking the following day, glowing from either slight sunburn or the sore head, I was keen to have another go. It seemed to me that what had at first appeared to be a warning from the ocean was in fact a lesson; a teaching to not stay away but to instead return with a better, more respectful attitude.

I’d love to say that the second attempt was more successful, but the reality is that three years on and I have become Queen of the Whitewater, only occasionally trying my luck ‘out back’ and perfecting my pop up on the smallest of waves, but that is okay. Acceptance, patience & overcoming-fear are all a part of the (attempting to) surf journey; especially as a fully-grown woman where learning to accept that big, ungraceful tumbles are just a part of the process. A valuable lesson is always there for the taking, even if it isn’t at first obvious.

So, if the thought of clambering in and out of a never-dry wetsuit doesn’t put you off and you are looking for an experience, a new hobby, or an entirely different way of life, then suit up and get in. With humbling life lessons guaranteed with every session, you’ll find yourself slowly beginning to connect with yourself, the ocean and Mother Nature. And maybe, just maybe, after you’ve taken what feels like your hundredth tumble, you’ll find yourself slightly further out than your normal comfort zone would allow and you’ll watch the sun set just beyond the grasp of your hand.