One of the things I’ve always thought was quite unfair, considering how much I love travelling, is that I get incredibly bad motion sickness on almost every form of transport. Boats, buses, planes, cars, pick up trucks…you name it, I’ve probably been sick on it. Which means that standing between me and the joy of arriving in a new place is always the number of hours I have to spend feeling rubbish beforehand. In the words of Alanis Morissette: Isn’t it ironic?
But funnily enough, getting motion sickness on a surf board wasn’t really something which had crossed my mind. To be honest, that was probably more to do with the fact that I was too busy panicking about: 1. The extremely tight wetsuit I had to try and squeeze myself in to; 2. My well-documented lack of co-ordination in almost any sporting activity; 3. The fact that my “English-speaking” surf instructor seemed to speak mostly in Spanish.
Taking a surfing lesson was the first task I attempted on my 30b430 list and, having spent a day wandering around Lima wondering what on earth I had let myself in for during the next nine months, I really wanted it to go well. It was only as I was paddling out to sea with my instructor Felix (a mission in itself when you’re lying flat on a board almost twice your height and you have no upper body strength) that I thought to ask about what I should do if I fell in. I was frantically trying to remember the four steps that he had taught me back on the beach, when I suddenly had a vague recollection about the dangers of a board hitting you on the head.
Seeing as Felix didn´t seem to understand my question I tried to act out the scenario. “Si yo…[miming falling in] que…should I do?” After a few attempts at the worst game of charades ever in the history of man, I just decided I´d have to figure it out when the time came.
We turned our boards around and Felix told me: “I will push you and when I say ´paddle´, paddle as hard as you can.” Before I could even take that in he had let go of me and all I could hear was a small voice behind me shouting “paddle, paddle!” No sooner had I done that then the instruction changed to “jump, jump!” I was so panicked I instantly forgot all about the four steps and tried to jump wildly onto the board, completely losing my balance and instantly falling in.
As soon as I hit the water, images of a surf board crashing down on me filled my head and I started flapping around madly in the water – I have no idea what I thought that was going to achieve. Luckily the next moment Felix was by my side “Emily, tranquillo, tranquillo”. I dragged myself back onto the board, feeling anything but calm. Felix high-fived me. “Very good, very good,” he beamed. I had a feeling that this may have been a slight exaggeration. “And now we paddle again.”
Eventually, after several failed attempts, just when I was losing the will, something amazing happened – I stood up! Just for a second (and I was so surprised that I screamed and instantly fell off) but it was such a great feeling that I had to try it again. So for the next hour we repeated the routine. We paddled out (by far the hardest bit – three years of yoga classes had apparently done nothing for my upper body strength), sat on our boards while we waited for a wave – during which time I´d have an impromptu Spanish lesson as Felix chatted away to me – and then I’d paddle with all my might and try to stand up. Sometimes I fell in and sometimes I made it. But the times when I managed to stand up felt fantastic.
However, as the lesson continued I started to get that familiar feeling in my stomach. I tried not to think about it at first but the longer I sat on my board the harder it was to ignore the fact that we were just going up and down, up and down. “Um…”I tried frantically to think of the words in Spanish before the fact that I had to clamp my hand over my mouth gave it away.
“You feel sick?” Felix asked, looking concerned. I could just about nod a ‘yes’. “Ok, but not on the board,” he said, instantly cancelling out any sympathy. I didn’t want to be the baby that ended a surf lesson early thanks to feeling a bit sick. But after a couple more attempts I was ready to call it quits.
As I finally dragged my body back on to the sand I had to refrain from kissing the ground. “Don´t worry,” Fernando, the owner of the surf school said, “És normal – next time will be better.’