We went to El Salvador to surf. After a few weeks of lakes and ruins and volcanoes in Guatemala, we were beginning to miss the beach and from all reports the place to be was El Tunco. This tiny beachside town is the place to surf in El Salvador; when the surf is up the place swarms with locals and tourists.
The whole town is built around the beach and point breaks – they are the reason the town exists. In all seriousness, there are only three varieties of businesses lining El Tunco’s beachsand roads; board & wetsuit rental, surf clothing and food. So renowned is this place for its waves that it actually has roadside signs flagging a “surfers crossing” in the same way you might see a kangaroo or wombat crossing sign on an Australian highway. If you weren’t surfing you were probably sitting somewhere – by a pool, in a bar, or on the black-sand beach – talking about surfing over a strawberry milkshake (best drink in town!). The only other thing to do in town was head down to the beach in the evenings and watch the spectacular sunsets.
So A was in El Tunco to surf – and was happier than a pig in mud – and I was there to improve my surf skills. But there’s a major problem with learning to surf, apart from the fact that it requires effort, talent and dedication.
The other major problem is that there are a lot of other people who want to learn how to surf, and that all of these people who can’t quite surf but really want to all tend to go to the same place. So essentially you have a lot of enthusiastic people who can’t catch waves, duck waves nor steer a surfboard, all hanging out together…see where I’m going with this?
This problem was brought into clear focus for me when I went to surf down at El Sunzal point, with about 20 or so other beginners. I once again had a surf instructor, who again had agreed to just shout instructions at me, rather than push me on a wave.
I mentioned before that my arms just aren’t built for surfing and so it took about 20 minutes of falling off the back of wave after wave, until I saw my wave rolling in. It was mine. It just had to be mine. I was paddled with all my strength and then – YES! – caught the wave and – YES! – I stood up. I was elated, I had caught a wave BY MYSELF!
And then I noticed something directly in front of me. That something was another beginner. He noticed me at about the same time I noticed him and I think our faces were saying the exactly the same thing…Oh Shit.
I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t turn. He couldn’t paddle and he couldn’t duck-dive. Neither of us was able to think very quickly. In the end we settled on him half-lurching off his board at the last minute while I rode mine straight over the top of him.
I don’t quite know what happened next but in the collision our two boards went flying and I caught the nose of a surfboard (I think) where the nose of a surfboard should never go. Let’s just say if I was a man, I would have been weeping. We were both tossed and tumbled by the wave for the next few seconds before we both emerged yelling “Are you okay? Are you okay?”.
And we both were. Relatively.
I paddled back out to my cheeky surf instructor who – stunningly – congratulated me on surfing before suggesting I take a break so he could go and catch some of the good waves. I was actually too exhausted and too shaken to point out that I was paying him to teach, not surf. I called an early end to the lesson not long after; tired, sore and annoyed.
Not to be deterred I headed back out the next day – and this time I was going solo. That’s right, I went sans instructor. I strutted down the beach with my over-sized longboard, confident that I could repeat yesterday’s small victory of catching a wave without the collision.
I paddled out there, and waited. And waited. And paddled to one spot to catch a wave. And waited. And drifted. And paddled to another spot to catch a wave. And paddled. And waited. And paddled. And drifted. And generally just got bored by the whole damn thing and decided I would just go for a swim instead.
I was on my way back to shore when I saw the wave. Smallish, and nobody anywhere near me. Perfect. I positioned the board, readied myself, and was quickly flicked arse over and dumped on my head. It seemed today was not my day for surfing either.
Later I was relating the story to A.
“You know you’re not supposed to catch those waves that close to shore, they just close out and dump you,” he said. “And how did you hit your head? Why didn’t you put your arms out?”
“I was still holding the surfboard.”
“What? You’re meant to let go of the board and protect your head if you get dumped.”
“Hang on. You do also know to cover your face when you’re surfacing, so you don’t get hit in the face by a loose board?”
The look on his face told me the answer to this question was yes.
“Yes,” I nodded. “Of course.”
The surf reports for the next day were promising. The swell was going to be up, and tourists had not yet started flocking to the town for the weekend. It was going to be a good day for surfing; A was already up and on a bus to a point break by 8am. Turned out, it was also a good day for lying by the pool, sun bathing, playing cards, drinking strawberry milkshakes and spending a couple of hours with some local kids. Funny that.