Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Beginners are people too

Rob checking out the breaks at San Onofre

Back in September, I traveled to Orange County for a week long surf trip. I am a complete novice, despite growing up 2 blocks from the ocean, and having a "surf Dad". I figured surfing couldn't possibly be as difficult as everyone claims. After all, I have balance and strength from climbing and skiing, and I swam competitively for years. In fact, I was delighted to paddle out through the waves with ease the first time I got on the board. Catching one of those suckers, however, was an entirely different story. I was quickly overwhelmed by the size and power of the waves, particularly because I was now attached to a large, cumbersome, and frustratingly buoyant object. Most of the tricks I had learned while body surfing were rendered useless by my longboard. During those first few days, my inability to avoid wave crests by duck diving was a constant source of annoyance.

Needless to say, surfing is _not_ easy at first. Compounding matters was the intolerance of "kooks" like me by the more experienced surfers. As I improved enough to actually catch and ride waves, I was often bowled over by more aggressive surfers who appeared to deem me unworthy of the wave. I found myself paddling further and further away from other surfers, only to find some surf stud or another who seemed to relish showing off by how well he could outmaneuver me on the unwanted breaks.

Of course I should have expected all of this- having heard stories of such behavior in surf culture. But experiencing it firsthand was something completely different. As a "chill" climber, I fancied my sport immune to such antics. Not so. My experience in California made me that much more attuned to similar treatment of our own climbing "bumblies". Since the summer I have watched a fair number of instances where new climbers were shunned, ignored, or patronized by the elite.

I am equally guilty- a while ago I found myself saying nothing, and even worse still, considering packing up and leaving, as an inexperienced top roper was endangering himself on a climb. Rather than explain that using the bolt hangars as holds was probably one of the best ways to lose a finger while climbing, my first instinct was to leave before I witnessed a body part hurtling to the ground In the end, I'm ashamed to say that I never attempted to correct the new climber's dangerous habits. This time he survived unhurt, but I can't help but think about how I could have prevented him from possible future injury.

Sure, we've all experienced the frustration of attempting to help someone who is completely unreceptive to suggestions. And of course it isn't your responsibility to keep others safe, but how much effort does it really take to point out a more efficient or safer practice? It's then up to the other person whether they heed your advice. So as a reminder to all of us who have forgotten how perplexing a new sport can be: please show a little compassion- we were all newbs, kooks, or bumblies at one time.



Blogger testmonkey said...

Speaking as a newby kooky bumbly: amen.

11/28/2006 8:31 AM

Blogger backcountry freak said...

yea, that pretty much described my first experiences surfing....and backcountry skiing. Great post Sarah!

11/28/2006 9:44 AM

Blogger Sarah said...

Thanks. I think it's good to remind ourselves to be patient and accepting... in all aspects of our lives, but sometimes most especially when our (beloved) sports are concerned.

11/28/2006 2:31 PM

Blogger summitbum said...

Surfing is the hardest sport in the world glad you were able to try.

12/01/2006 10:31 PM

Anonymous Sharvey said...

Beautifully written and so very true. Being my first summer surfing as well, I was more pounded by the waves than bubble bursting surf-nazis. We sometimes forget that it's not someone's skill level which is important, it's the fact that they're outside living the good life. In today's sedentary culture that should always be applauded. For a little east coast action, try the Outer Banks of North Carolina next summer. Great post.

12/04/2006 9:50 AM

Anonymous DSD said...

Hi Sarah,
Very nicely written... I have often experienced these kind of attitudes when out trying a new adventure experience... It has been those persons who recognize a 'novice', and who reflect on their own beginnings, who have then shown me what step to take next... I have great respect for
such persons. And, I have often mused, how isn't it the person who themselves maintains a real 'beginners mind', truly the one who masters their chosen experiences.....
"Summit Stones & Adventure Musings"

12/21/2006 7:40 AM


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