Dummies Guide to Surfing

Following the thoroughly needed boost from the best friends in Portimão, I was back on top form and ready to embrace true travelling life once more. And on the south coast of Portugal this could only mean one thing: surfing. Gulp.

Having been put off sailing at a young age by the interaction one has to have with water during said activity, and having worked in nautical publishing for four years during which time I did NOT ONCE partake in any kind of water-based pursuit (except for the horrific photoshoot carried out on a large motorised RIB on the choppiest of days on the Solent wherein my understanding of seasickness reached a whole new height (literally)), one could conclude that I was not the biggest watersports lover that Europe had ever been witness to. But I was travelling; I was free; I was going to try out surfing.

Settling into my newest abode in Lagos (Olive Hostel – highly recommended (daily doses of complimentary port and sangria especially welcome after a day drowning while attached via right ankle to a surfboard twice your size)), I asked the staff for Surf School recommendations. There were plenty to choose from, but naturally I opted for the one with the “really fit surf instructor”. I booked one day’s training which consisted of two hours in the morning, lunch and sunbathing time on the beach, followed by two more hours in the water in the afternoon. Having been told a group of four were already booked onto the day’s trip, I was expecting to be joined by four twenty-something males who would embarrassingly show me up on the water and emphasise my total lack of aptitude. Arriving at the pick-up point I was delighted to see that the party of four was actually a very normal, unintimidating German family: fifty-something mother and father with young teenage sons. What a relief.

After an hour’s drive through the Algarve countryside we arrived at the chosen beach, which was swarming with long-haired, caramel-skinned surfers unpacking their wares from big vans, and not a whole lot else. It was quite a spectacle. Clearly this pastime was a way of life for many of the locals, and at that precise point in proceedings I had no reason to doubt that the surfers lifestyle wasn’t my true calling too. (This daydream did not last more than four minutes.)

Once we had unpacked the van and taken all the equipment down to the beach we set up camp and changed into our provided wetsuits (assigned by a thirty-second up-and-down by the “really fit surf instructor”. (I wasn’t complaining.) (Although I think the (however flattering) bestowment of the size 6 wetsuit (two sizes too small (at least)) to me did not help me get into the role seamlessly.) I couldn’t get the bloody thing on. The calves were about as far as I could manage on my own. The one-to-one tuition that the surf lesson turned out to be soon commenced with the careful stretching and easing of the neoprene over my posterior. (Thank God I’d gone with the attractive instructor.)

Wetsuit on (virtually ripping at the seams), it was time for the theory. (Yawn.) Luckily this just consisted of some rudimentary drawings in the sand of the students, the sea and the safety flags, and we were soon onto the first stage of the practical: surfing on the sand. Well. This was brilliant! I was loving it! I was amazing! This (I naively believed) was going to be a super duper day. (In case you haven’t tried surfing yet yourself: it is slightly more difficult when you are attempting it on the water.)

Once we were out in the sea the day suddenly took a turn for the worse… I was terrible. Truly terrible. Utterly useless. Exaggerate I do not. And the German family of four? Bloody fantastic. The boys were standing in no time; catching waves and making breaks (is that even a term?) like they were pros. And the parents were just as good. Even the friggin’ fifty-year-old mum!! They were embarrassingly showing me up on the water and emphasising my total lack of aptitude. The surf instructor soon realised that I needed a little more instruction than my fellow surfees. (Again – I was not complaining.) He positioned my board, held it still, looked out for the approaching waves and pushed me in the right direction as the water took me towards the shore. Before I could even contemplate attempting to stand, I needed to master simply staying on the board as the instructor, Jorge, let me go. I found this a little challenging. On the successful runs I ended up washed up on the beach with the board still below me, lying on my front with my head in the air like I was practising the back-bending Cobra Pose. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, must have been a rather ridiculous sight. On the unsuccessful few (thousand) I ended up immersed in the water, surfboard God-knows-where and all facial orifices pumped full of water. Again, a rather ridiculous sight.

Just as I had been washed up for the seventy-sixth time it was time for lunch, for which I couldn’t have been happier (you know me). I took the executive decision to reward my (deplorable) efforts with a beer with Jorge alongside my cheese sarnie and mini-Mars. It certainly helped my (rapidly depleting) optimism, but not so much my waterborne abilities. After a post-lunch Super Bock-induced snooze in the sun, I slithered into the wetsuit once more (just) and took to the water for the second half of the lesson. The medicinal quota of lager consumed did nothing to help my hand / eye / body / closing facial orifices balancing act, but it did – somehow – enable me to fight the fear and get up on my feet (for a grand total of about 0.35 seconds). With a couple more mili-second-long verticalities, and a lot more underwater near-fatalities, it was time to wrap up the session, unpeel the wetsuit and crack open another beer.

Overall opinion of the day? Great fun. Overall opinion of my surfing? Abominable. Overall seawater intake? More than the recommended daily consumption for the whole of the Portuguese south coast. Boy was I looking forward to drowning in the complimentary port back at the hostel.

[Post-beer (that’s why I look like I’m enjoying myself)]

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F•R•I•E•N•D•S

To re-cap; I am up early to catch a bus from Seville, heading to Portimão, Portugal, with no watch, no map, no phone, no iPad (and not even a bloody compact hairbrush). (I had been robbed the previous afternoon – in case you had the audacity to forget the barbaric recent state of affairs.) So I am sitting on the Alsa bus, which is just as stuffy, uncomfortable and travel sickness-inducing as ever, with the added bonus that I don’t know where we are, I don’t know what the time is, and I don’t know when we will be arriving. A testing situation, one may surmise.

We pull into a bus stop at an unidentifiable port, and after shouting “Portimão?” enough times to enough of my fellow passengers, I come to the conclusion that this is where I am to depart. (Fingers crossed.) Twenty-kilogram backpack donned and I’m off in search of my next resting place: best-friend Rachel’s parents’ brand-spanking-new holiday home in a state of the art complex with electric gates and private pool. Oh my. I must have been in purgatory ‘cos yesterday had been hellish and I sure was on my way to heaven. In amongst the panic of last night’s HORRIFIC attack (did I mention that I’d been robbed?), Rachel, back home in England, had screen-shotted and emailed to my hostel the route from the bus station to the apartment, which they then printed for me (attempting to charge me 10p per sheet (which, as you can imagine from someone who was somewhat out of sorts, was politely declined, followed by a succinct explanation to the jobsworth behind the reception desk that the mere mention of a paper charge to someone who had NO BLOODY MONEY was totally (fucking) preposterous)). So I had my print-outs and I was at the (what I dearly hoped to be correct) bus stop and set off on the last leg of that day’s journey.

It was hot. Like, really hot. Like, t-shirt-has-absorbed-all-it-physically-can-and-now-you-are-just-dripping kind of weather. Not the ideal environment for a sleep-deprived, cantankerous, knotty-haired mess.

Off I went in the direction of the apartamento. Or so I thought. (It transpires that I had got confused between the start and finish pins on the map – and had been walking in exactly the wrong direction for circa twenty minutes. (This may not seem like much of a big deal but add the weight of twenty sacks of potatoes, an evil sun and the aforementioned prior events (the brutal robbery at gunpoint and near death experience) and you’ve got yourself a bloody great catastrophe.)) I did not realise my mistake alone, though. After walking seemingly off the map for a good while, I came across a rather posh looking hotel on the opposite side of the road, and decided to chance my luck at an English speaking front-of-house. I was in luck. Trying vehemently not to judge me on my dishevelled, and quite frankly humiliating, appearance, the receptionist whipped out a local map, drew on my route and bid me (a rather relieved) farewell. (I was doing nothing for their chic and classy image.) Back on the road I made my way back to the bus stop and on (in the correct direction) to the complex at which, after a few more minor hurdles here and there (backpack, tired, hot – you get the picture), I finally arrived. Fina-fucking-lee!

Once the keys were collected I went straight to the apartment and straight to…bed. (I sure know how to celebrate.) Now I just had to wait for my friends to arrive (Rachel (whose parents owned this amazing abode) and Claire (here for the free holiday). Between napping and unification with my two favourite blondes I decided to take a (braless) nip to the nearest supermarket to pick up some provisions for dinner. (I don’t know if you have ever been for a braless supermarket shop yourself (obviously I hope that this is customary for the male readers) (my reasoning was that it was far too hot to warrant any extra clothing than absolutely necessary) but I would very much recommend! It is a very freeing experience and, in such warm climates, comes with no worry of any evidence of your braless nip, if you no what I mean. Anywho. Said supermarket shop was (unsurprisingly) not all plain sailing. Again a recipe of no internet access, no idea, (no bra) and heavy bags made for a rather sweaty, rather cantankerous, and still rather knotty-haired mess (but at least my boobs felt free from their usual confines). I bobbed back slowly (literally), contemplating after every five steps whether to hitch hike home, but concluded that given my recent ill-fortunes, and my current state of (un)dress, this might not be the best idea.

What seemed like three hours later I returned to the pad, with just a few hours left before my bezzies were to arrive. Thank God for that. Arriving that evening with iPad and iPhones (and hairbrush!) galore, the next three days were spent – in a slight change to proceedings from our planned care-free girls weekend away – sorting out my insurance claims and money situation, while drinking A LOT of Portuguese green wine to remind ourselves that we were, in fact, on holiday, and that nothing can get in the way of us enjoying a bottle (or fifteen) of the region’s local vinho verde. Cheers, you blonde, boobtastic, mega-babes.

[Sangria also helped us stay in the holiday spirit]