Since I’ve been living in Taiwan I’ve tried to keep a mental reminder to try something new each week. One thing I have never done before each week, no matter how seemingly insignificant like walking down a different road or eating somewhere new, does not sound like that big of a goal but it has helped push me to go out of my comfort zone more so than I usually would.
This week happened to be a big one. Something I’ve always wanted to try but living in upstate New York for most of my life have never really had the opportunity to. Surfing. A few weeks ago, (using www.meetup.com) I saw that someone was going surfing at Wushi beach in Yilan, a few hours outside of Taipei on the East coast, and offered to take other people if they wanted to go, so I signed up.
Occasionally on Mondays when I ask my students what they did over the weekend they’ll say “I go to Yilan to play” now I can tell them on Monday, that I also went to Yilan to play.
Saturday the day actually came and our small band of eight met in downtown Taipei early and drove to Yilan. Due to some car issues and the usual weekend traffic of Taipaisians headed for the coast for the weekend we didn’t get to Wushi beach until about 11:30. It took about an hour and a half with traffic, not too bad. We got there when the sun was just attempting to poke itself through the overcast sky. At the entrance there were a few small surf shops renting boards and lessons. There we stopped to change and pick up an instructor, we rented boards on the beach, four between eight people. The person who organized the event, and his friends had some experience while the other random meetup members like me were all first timers.
We got a short demonstration on the sand, find your balance on the board paddle out until you find a good area, then turn yourself around so you are vertical with the oncoming waves and wait. When you see an unbroken wave a few meters behind you paddle hard, when you feel it take your board straighten your arms and jump up fast, almost like a sideways burpee but faster (oh and a boxing stance isn’t the same as a surfing stance). So we practiced on the sand for a bit.
And then it was time, I was nervous as hell. But I picked up a board anyways and walked it out to the ocean. I strapped the velcro ankle bracelet on and paddled out straight into the waves. Finding my balance on the board, trying to unify myself with the piece of plastic that my life was now at the mercy of. One of the guys who had gone before was with me. We paddled until he told me to stop and turn around so my back was facing the waves, it was time to catch some waves.
You literally have to catch the waves, I won’t ever say that sarcastically about surfer bros or broettes again because it makes so much sense, and it is so damn hard. It has to be perfectly timed. It took me the first ten or so perfect waves just to start paddling in time to theoretically ride the wave. Not to mention all the waiting and getting tossed off the board in between. When I finally got the timing down and tried to jump up to stand on the board I fell off immediately. Sideways, forwards, backwards, over my board, face first, all over the place. Each time I fell off I got pelted with waves until it was calm enough for a second to heave myself back onto the board.
After I got over the fear for my life, I was afraid of looking stupid, then I looked around. Nearly everyone was in the same boat, WuShi beach was a beginner spot. I looked on the beach, there were small groups getting sand lessons just like we did and as I looked around me in the water I saw the majority of people falling off their boards every which way the same as me. WuShi beach was like the Swain of surfing in Taiwan (Rochestarian reference only, apologies).
It was addicting, as soon as I missed a wave or fell off I got right back on and was eager to try the next one. It wasn’t until one of our group members spotted me and waved me in. Everyone had been resting for a while, I had been at it for almost two solid hours. We decided to shoshi (and eat a part of the biggest watermelon I have ever seen) when someone spotted the empty volleyball net. So shoshi turned into beach volleyball instead. We started with teams of four on four, when a golden retriever interrupted our game and popped the first ball we then obtained a new ball and four more players. New new friends with new friends.
After an hour of some of the most poorly played beach volleyball I have ever participated in I went back in the water. This time more so than the first I just could not get the timing down. I couldn’t catch a wave. The closest I came to standing up on the board I was almost stable and I fell face first off of the side. Eventually my arms gave out and I had to give it up for the day.
It started to rain as soon as we gathered our things to leave. After a solid day of overcast sky, watermelon, beach volleyball, and of course surfing, I was exhausted. So for the week surfing was my new thing and knocked off my personal bucket list.
I layed in bed Saturday night still feeling the rocking of the waves underneath me thinking about how I have been falling a little more and more in love with Taiwan as each week passes.