On the last day of my vacation I took part in a full-day group surfing trip along the south coast of Sydney.


They drove us along the coast to a less busy beach where we were the only surfers. We were all beginners and excited to learn. There was a lot of wiping out...

Wipeouts are hilarious from a spectator's point of view.

There's an innocent delight in watching someone sincerely attempt to tame nature, only to wind up in a mess of limbs and hair spiraling in servitude to the very wave they were hoping to enslave!

Especially when this person is someone you've come to know, like my new German friend Uli. We had a few good laughs at each other's expense as we took turns falling over. There's nothing more comical than a surfer taken out at the knees by a wave while trying to stand up, causing him to stumble headfirst backwards into the ocean while the surfboard spikes in the opposite direction.

Another classic wipeout is the nose dive - when the wave elevates the back of your board so you spill forward violently, meanwhile your board jets vertically into the air behind you (and then possibly lands on your head for bonus comical effect).

It's a physical sport and luckily no one got hurt badly. I rolled my ankle early in the day while jumping off my board the first time I caught a wave all the way to shore (put a damper on my celebration). Apparently the waves travel a lot faster than I expected. I shook it off but then later on I tweaked my hip. And of course by the end of the day my knees and feet were raw - chewed up by surf, sand, and board.

It got to the point where I'd cringe in anticipation at each new wave, and the task of standing up became exponentially harder as the day wore on.

But it's interesting how all the newly learned motor skills, repeated over the course of an entire day, will leave a lasting imprint in one's mind. I spent the dead of the night periodically waking up in a sweat dreaming (haunted?) by the task of surfing: the urgency to scramble onto the board and gain speed in preparation for the incoming wave; the weightless sensation of the swell catching up with me; and finally the familiar and insistent tug of the leash on my ankle as I ride the wave without a board after all..