Thursday, July 23, 2009

Surf Lessons at Popham

Todd, Peter and I drove down the coast for a surf class at Popham Beach. For me, in addition to instruction in a skill that I knew little about, it was a rare, mid-summer excursion off the island. We went looking for dinner in Boothbay Harbor, where restaurant greeters, one even dressed in a Sou’wester hat and tall boots (it wasn’t raining) competed for our business. Instead of lobster boats, the harbor was full of cabin cruisers and other recreational craft. People drove in circles looking for parking spaces, and then waited in lines. We weren’t in Stonington anymore.

But not far from all this, deep in the woods, we found the home of John Carmody of Sea Cliff Kayakers. John showed us the P&H kayaks we’d be trying out, and then went over our plan. In the morning, we would drive to Fort Popham and take a short paddle over to the beach, where, depending on conditions, the current and sandbars would provide us with ample opportunity to experiment in the surf.

Admittedly, I felt a little nervous as we launched and headed out. This was something new. Would I do alright? How would my flatwater roll work in the surf? I expected to need a good roll, since I would undoubtedly get clobbered by a wave or two. I felt determined to push beyond my comfort zone. I cooled off with a roll, beginning to feel more in my element. We reached the sandbar where small waves were coming in, and plunged in, getting a feel for it. When I capsized in the shallows, rolling off of my (helmeted) head, I began to feel even more comfortable. By the next time I capsized, I was having fun.

Peter catches a wave

Our time on the waves was punctuated by breaks on the beach, during which John critiqued what was working for us and what wasn’t. The first lessons involved the more utilitarian aspects of handling a boat in the surf: launching & landing, bracing and generally how to stay upright. We progressed into handling a boat on a wave, working on edging the boat rather than relying on the paddle.

Meanwhile, countless girls in bikinis strolled the beach. Unfortunately, I have no photo to illustrate this point... or much else for that matter. I tried to stay focused on learning something, and when I did snap a photo, it was usually blurred by water on the lens. We’ll just have to do it all again. By late afternoon, we were catching waves, sometimes even staying on them. Peter demonstrated that it all worked the same with a Greenland paddle, and at one point Todd spun his paddle overhead, demonstrating... something else. For me, it felt great to catch a sizeable wave (sizeable to me) and instead of just capsizing, riding it, adjusting my speed to keep the stern at the crest.

We met John at a coffee shop in Bath, and discussed what we’d learned, and what we needed to work on. Later, at a Thai restaurant in Belfast, the three of us came up with a page of notes, trying to remember all that we had learned, which turned out to be considerable. As the sand continues to sift from our gear, we look forward to our next chance to get out in the surf.


Quackey McKnuckles said...

Is that a Shred Ready lid?

Speedbumps said...

Good eye, Quackey (is that your real name?). Todd is sporting a Shred Ready Super Scrappy helmet.