So why is it that wherever you find a spot of salt water, somewhere in the world, there's at least one nut-job out there finding Nirvana on a plank? Is it the 'hey-shoo-wah' attitude? The tight wetsuits? Just what is it that makes this sport seem so darn cool? Having recently left land-locked Joburg for a two-year contract in Auckland, New Zealand, I thought it was time to find out.
Despite my physical attributes not quite matching that of the stereotypical surfer I thought it would be a good idea to don the foreboding tightness that is the wetsuit and head off to surf school.
Google will pretty much point you in the right direction and for about $65-$80 for two hours you can get taught the basics. The guy I met was about 50, hadn?t shaved in a few decades, surfed with a floppy hat on and had a wetsuit that I?m sure over time turned to leather.
Admittedly, my perception of most surfers at the time was of long-haired, annoyingly well-tanned vegetarians who could barely string a sentence together and used the words 'like' and 'fully' a lot.
Imagine my surprise then to discover that surfing is not only technical, but also requires a bit of a strategic savvy too. Apparently you can?t just run into the water and have a spot of fun.
You have to assess the conditions first ? look for things like rips and swells, and take into account wind direction and the general topography of the seabed. I was surprised to learn that every little aspect influences the shape and curtain of the wave. In other words it's best to brush up on your surfology. I like, fully take back what I thought about surfers in the past.
To get a gist of the beach you plan to surf at it's also a good idea to find a surf website which gives the current conditions relating to swell, wind and low/high tide. A great website to get all your surfing info in New Zealand on is www.surf.co.nz.
Stay out of this hood until you can surf the talk
The truly great thing about New Zealand is that the beaches are also within easy reach.
Remember though that surfers in New Zealand are a bit like West Coast and East Coast rappers. Territorial.
The West Coast boasts the South Central of waves ? they?re rough, brutal and if you wander off into the wrong part of town you might just get whacked.
One such place is the notorious Piha, which is why I don?t recommend you try surfing there on your second time in the water. Like I did.
In fact, stay out of this hood until you?re pretty confident and can surf the talk. After having twice been smacked on my head by my surfboard and getting carried out close to the rocks ? sending every lifeguard into a flat panic ? I almost made it on Piha Rescue (a weekly sea rescue television show).
Uncomfortable with the prospects of a hard knock life, I decided it was best for me to switch sides. What the East Coast lacks in intensity it makes up for in both beauty and creativity on the water. Two great beaches are Waipu and Mangawhai; they stretch for miles and are fantastic to muck about on.
Which brings me back to my surf lesson. My instructor, who I will call 'Beardie' out of respect for anonymity, had surfed all around the world. Beardie knew it all and shared his wealth of knowledge with me.
He showed me how to judge a good wave and where to look for the best spots. I learnt how to paddle, sit and how to stand. And that was while I was still on the sand. Eventually though, I braved the water and had a few practice sessions on the white water while the other more experienced surfers rode the 'real' waves.
The thing about learning to surf is that your wetsuit has no room for any ego or pride. The best thing to do is to get out there, splash about and most importantly have fun. Just get out there and find your feet through trial and error.
If there was one valuable thing that Beardie taught me, the answer rested in his floppy hat. Thanks to that pesky Ozone hole New Zealand has one of the highest UV levels in the world. It sounds dramatic, but the shelves in the store don?t lie? you really do need factor 40. Beardie has a name for me now too; Tomato Man.