Surf's Up! (Or: Just call me Lefty)

Monday, July 27, 2009

If you had asked me to compile a list of things I would NOT be doing on my around-the-world trip, surfing in Ireland would have been at or near the top, along with snow-shoeing in Egypt and pearl-diving in Moscow. Then again, camping on a beach in Scotland probably also would have made the top ten, so I guess I should just toss out all those preconceptions and go with the flow.

And that's what I did. I'd had a couple of bleah days in Bushmills, N. Ireland. This may have been because my internet access was inconvenient and expensive (£1 for 20 minutes!)*. Or it may have been because the hostel I stayed in felt like a big, institutional ghost town compared to Arnie's. Or it may have been that Bushmills was not exactly brimming with things to do. There's the Bushmills Distillery (the tour of which wasn't nearly as good as Oban) and there's the Giant's Causeway, which is undeniably cool, but can only sustain interest for an hour or so, at most.

See? They really are cool.

And that's about it. So it was that I found myself staring a a poster for Trogg's Surf School in Portrush, just a 25 minute bus ride down the road from Bushmills. Seizing the moment, I splurged on a B&B for a night and arranged to join the 1:00pm - 3:00pm surfing lesson on Friday, for a mere £30.00.

I rolled in to town at about 11:30 and spent a happy few minutes strewing my belongings around a very pleasant room at the B&B and then marched down to the surf school to get kitted out for the lesson. I met up with Carl and James, the two instructors, who were both appropriately wind-blown and wet-suited. There was also a family of Irish holidaymakers from Belfast in the group and they were very friendly, so it was looked like I was in for a fun time. First James fitted us with wetsuits, and I went off to struggle into mine, which is not easy at the best of times (as anyone who's done it will know). It also didn't help that these suits were damp, though it turns out that there was another reason I was having such trouble...

Eventually I got the bottom half on and went out seek assistance with the top half. Imagine the delight of James and his lifeguard buddy when they informed me I had the damned suit on inside-out. Oh, the hilarity! And here I thought I was a wetsuit pro after my experience in Perranporth. After all, I knew the zipper goes in the back...**

Anyways, once James recovered his breath, and I got myself turned around (literally), we went off to the beach. They made up do a bunch of goofy warm-ups, and gave us some good instruction, and then we were off into the sea to have a go.

Naturally I did not take my camera surfing with me, so all you get is a shot of the beach

In fact, it may have been the longest two hours of my life. Most of the time was spent waiting for a decent wave, hopping onto the board, laying on my stomach, and paddling like mad, as per instructions. Then the wave would come up behind me and I'd attempt to get to me feet while being propelled forward. This would inevitably end up with me emerging sputtering from underwater with my surfboard bobbing merrily by its tether, while another, bigger wave crashed in on top of me to add insult to injury. I believe I passed a quantity of seawater roughly equivalent to that of the Suez Canal through my nose.

(It actually reminded me a bit of my first and only attempt at downhill skiing. There was a lot more falling involved than there was skiing. Perhaps those of us from flat, land-locked places should just stick to more geographically appropriate pursuits, like curling or Tag-Team-Dead-Battery-Jump-Start Relays.)

Actually though, it was madly fun. James and Carl were really nice, and helpful and encouraging, and not at all surfer-dude too-cool-for-school. I even started to get the hang of things and managed, on one notable occasion, to get to my feet and ride for about 2.5 inches before the water ran out and I was at the beach, whereupon I hopped off the board quite jauntily and pumped my fists in triumph.

But it was also really exhausting, so near the end of the two hours (Two hours? It felt like a week and a half) I was getting a bit punchy and committed a grave surfing sin. James had made a point of telling us that we should always make sure not to hold the board broadside between ourselves and an approaching wave, or the wave could cause the board to smack into us with, er, a tiny bit of force.

So naturally that's exactly how I ended up. I think I'd just got upright again after spitting out a gallon of seawater, a bundle of seaweed and a starfish or two (Did I mention that the sea tastes yucky?). I grabbed my board to head back out and was stuck in exactly the wrong position when the next wave hit. I think the board must have caught my right thumb and bent it back at an unnatural angle, because once I'd gained my feet again I realized that something was quite wrong. I wisely retreated to shallower water, and James came over to check on me, though I could tell the thumb wasn't broken or dislocated, or even respectably sprained, since I could sort of move it. He made me sit with my hand in the water to keep it cool, and I elected to sit out the rest of the lesson, and was grateful for the excuse.

After we'd finished I went and hung out with the instructors and lifeguards for a bit, because they were friendly and had icepacks. Then there was the tricky matter of getting out of a damp wetsuit with only one functioning opposable thumb. Finally I made it back to the hostel and downed 3 ibuprofens and had a well-earned lie-down while waiting for the drugs to kick in. The swelling went down enough that I could use my hand again in time for supper, and so I was able to hoist my pint of Guinness and handle cutlery. I had a celebratory sticky toffee pudding (sub-par, I am sad to report) and retired for an early night.

Saturday morning the swelling was back and the whole meaty part of my thumb had turned into one big, festively coloured bruise.

See? Dramatic! In fact, the bruise shows up better on camera than it does in real life.

The ibuprofen didn't helping with the swelling much that morning, but I could move the thumb reasonably well, and was able to close all the zippers on my bag when I vacated the B&B, which I'd been worried about the night before.

So now I've got a swollen, semi-functional right hand, and an interesting story. I can only hope that the injury will turn into one of those things that lets me predict when a nor-easter will be a-blowin' in. "Ach," says Pam, " I think we're in fer a spell o' bad weather. Me old surfin' injury is actin' up!"

* I know, I know - there are lots of times coming when I won't be able to roll out of bed and check my email before getting dressed. I know I need to get used to that. Just leave me to my fantasy for a while longer.

** In my defense, when I was handed the suit it was inside-out. And it was a much more interesting colour on the inside than the outside.


Karen said...

I hope that your list of things you would NOT be doing on your around-the-world trip grows and grows.

Chris said...

"Ach," says Pam, " I think we're in fer a spell o' bad weather. Me old surfin' injury is actin' up!" <-- Haha! too funny!

Unknown said...

Oh noes! I guess it's good to have a war wound tho. And the 'surfing in Ireland is how I was wounded' bit will have legs.... I surfed in Devon -- they've actually got decent waves AND you can go for a proper cream tea afterward.

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