it’s impossible to be cool and complain about how much something weighs.
Surf school starts in the sand.
To be clear: it starts when you hump your 35lb board over half a sandy mile from the surf shop to the surf line. I’m not saying that the board was heavy—it’s impossible to be cool and complain about how much something weighs and, let’s be honest: I’m determined to sound very cool while I describe my first time surfing—but I am saying that the sand was hot.
Crazy hot. Cook an egg hot. Motorcycle muffler hot. Erase all creases in your feet and leave your footprints untraceable by the FBI hot.
“I pray thee, good Mercutio the day is hot” hot.
So, yes: surf school starts in the sand. And, after schlepping my board across the blazing beach in Salyulita, a Mexican town north of Puerto Vallarta, I am ready to be in the water. But first: a tutorial-- in the cool sand, thankfully under the shade of a gathering of palms in the midafternoon sun.
In the dappled shade, we stretch, boards beneath us, practicing our strokes. We are told to pop up on both feet and to be aware of how being too far back on the board will apply the brakes while being too far forward will bury the nose. We get safety tips: Dana tells us to keep the board between us and the beach. Gary warns us to keep the tether from our ankle to the board clear of our other foot. “You don’t want to be under a wave with your legs tied together.” Sounds like good advice.
And, in about 7 minutes, our instruction on land is over.
“Let’s go,” says Dana, not waiting to see if we follow. She and Gary zip up their form fitting wet suits and lead us straight out into the surf—and, the newbs that we are, simply walk behind them. And, within 15 minutes, everyone has gotten up and surfed at least one wave. The whole lesson took fewer than 25 minutes. Announcement: I am a surfer now. A surfer who surfs.
And that’s what I call good game.
These surfing instructors put on a teaching clinic that morning. It was goal oriented, student centered, and teacher led. It had authentic assessment, practical applications, and demanded performance from every pupil.
They didn’t overdo the help because they didn’t offer much. Or, at least, not much help that impeded our own process. Sarah and Molly, for instance, just wanted to do it their own way. Chris had some questions about fine points. Scott wanted to jump straight to pulling off 360s. The point is: the teachers weren’t interested in doing anything other than help each of us in the way we needed to be helped.
“Let’s go,” says Dana, not waiting to see if we follow. She and Gary zip up their form fitting wet suits and lead us straight out into the surf.
They didn't see us as students. They saw us as surfers.
Gary and Dana anticipated our questions but left room for our own discovery. They promised us nothing but believed in our reasonable ability to do anything we tried. They seemed utterly unattached to our respective failures but were the first to yell “you look beautiful up there!” or “lean into it, you’re killing it!”
Our surf instructors were great teachers for the most important reason: they didn’t see us as students.
They saw us as surfers.
And we, seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of our beautiful teachers, believed them.