It’s not the nicest of beaches, but Cherating left a mark on me.
And I’m not just talking about the scar on my knee.
“I think it’s going to be super hard, have you seen how they push themselves off the board?”
“Our arms will be aching from all the paddling out to the waves.”
“We’re so gonna get smashed by the waves, repeatedly.”
My cousins and I got two rights and a wrong.
Unconvinced of my upper body strength, I was sure I would have difficulties pushing myself off the surfboard from a push up position to a standing position. Surprisingly, that was not the hard part. I had no idea how hard the hard part of learning how to surf in Cherating would be.
Cherating Point, the surf school we engaged, assigned three sunbaked instructors to initiate the nine of us into surfer-hood. We expected our instructors to start the lesson with a considerable amount of ‘Surfing 101’ theory. But after a barely audible 10-minute brief on the anatomy of the surfboard followed by five minutes of practicing how to stand on the board, we were told to get into the water.
“We go surfing? Now? But… I don’t know how to surf yet!” I guess Cherating Point’s surfing instructors have a throw-them-into-the-deep-end-and-save-them-when-they’re-drowning approach.
“The baby-sized waves today are perfect for newbies like you,” the instructors said with a smirk as we walked towards the horizon. They forgot to tell us that the very same baby waves will kill our arms and legs in the next couple of hours. It started the moment our surfboards touched the water. The waves were breaking at one point on the far left of the beach, near the cliffs. They were no more than two metres, the swell was up to our shoulders. The sea looked calm and inviting but the undercurrent was, mind my language, a bitch. It took me 15 to 30 long bloody minutes to fight the waves and undercurrent to get to the breaking point. Every three steps I took, the waves pushed me back by five. I sink two more deep footprints into the sand, and the cheeky undercurrent pushed me backwards by another three. When the sea calmed down, I rushed in 10 good steps just for one big wave to appear without warning and scoop me off the ground. The force made me lose grip of my surfboard, and the wave happily pushed my board a few metres back towards the shore, dragging me helplessly along with it by the cord that was attached to my left foot. When the current was done with me, I stood up, dusted the pebbly sand off my rash guard, and realised I was back to square one. Great.
As I start all over, I watched the waves mess with the persistence of other surfers as it did mine. Further up front where the water is deep, experienced surfers were catching big waves with ease. How the hell did they manage to paddle all the way there without getting smashed by the waves!?
By hook and by crook, I eventually joined everyone else who were already at the breaking point. The three instructors were there helping my fellow peers catch some waves. The most vocal instructor, a very tanned Malay dude named Juan Sparrow, saw me and literally caught hold of my arm before the waves swept me away again. “On the board,” he said and I hastily climbed on top of the bobbing surfboard like an elephant trying to dance ballet. I lay belly down on the surfboard. “Finally, I get to rest for a sec-” That thought didn’t last long. “Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle…” he said as he turned my board to face the shore once more.
This is it, I’m about to catch my first wave! My heart banged against my ribcage. I looked over my shoulder to see the fast approaching wave and the pounding grew 4 times faster. Juan was also looking at the waves, his mind seems to be calculating the timing. He held on to my surfboard as I assume position. “OK, ready,” The sound of the waves grew louder, my hands found the strength to paddle harder and faster. I dug my toes into the board. “paddle, paddLE, paDDLE, PADDLE…..” “STAND!” Once I felt a push behind my feet, my arms pushed my body off the board, my shaky feet planted itself on the unstable board and I try to find balance as the board curved towards the left to the waves’ delight. The seas must have felt sorry for me, or some miracle in the form of beginner’s luck must have happened, because somehow I managed to get good long ride on my very first try. This lasted for what felt like 30 secs to a minute before I tumbled back into the sand again.
It felt like I just swallowed a giant shot of adrenaline mixed with determination. Back at the shore with a great big satisfactory smile on my face, I grabbed my board with excitement and fought the waves for as long as it was needed, ready for another 30 seconds of surf. Juan was waiting for me back at the breaking point. “Long ride on your first try! Good job!” He congratulated me with a high-five and advised me to stand a little lower for better balance. Then, it was back to “Get on your board, paddle paddle paddle…..” That was the drill for the next few hours until our arms were all paddled out. I managed to stand on my board a few times, managed to fall a few times, and of course, got smashed by the waves more than just a few times. The instructors would always be at the breaking point waiting to give us a small push, ever ready with little tips on how to ride better on our next try.
After an hour and a half, the instructors left us all alone. I did more tango with the current hoping to be able to surf independently. With the instructor’s guide, I managed to stand most of the time, but I could barely catch my own wave when he gave me independence. I did however, awarded myself with a few scratches on my knee for the many times that I rumbled and tumbled into the sand. At one point, I drifted so far away from the breaking point that I could not see a soul around me.
By the end of our four hours in the water, our arms felt like jelly from the afternoon of paddling and current-fighting. But we were determined to conquer the waves the next day.
Surfing had been one of the most physically challenging and enduring thing that I have ever experienced. The waves and currents in Cherating brought to life by the monsoon season were merciless, but I love it. That gruelling fight with the waves makes you realise how powerless and puny you are in this universe, and your inflated sense of self that you’ve been holding on to dissolves into the water. You are at Mother Nature’s mercy, but when you catch that wave, you and Her are in harmony for those few fleeting minutes.
The determination of the human spirit struck me the most during our two-day surf lesson. I shared the wavs with a good handful of other fresh fishes that day, but that was not all that we shared. We shared the same frustration when we sparred with the waves. We shared the look of defeat when we fell off our board. We shared the same tiredness when we gasped for air in between receiving blows from the waves. But after each fall, we shared the same persistence as we clutch their surfboards like we would our heart and head back to the brutal breaking point. There was no giving up. And we would repeat all that pain and frustration again, and again, and again with no complaints until we get that sweet satisfaction we set out for. Being able to stand on the board and focusing every ounce of energy on our balance; being able to feel the ebb and flow of the ocean under our feet, and that sweet sense of accomplishment when we caught a wave…
An experienced surfer dude somewhere must be laughing at me now. Because honestly, the waves in Cherating is nothing compared to the big waves in Bali or Hawaii. But for a surf-gin, the current was pretty mean that day. And it was that brutal-ness that amplified the sense of satisfaction by that much louder. Now with the surf season ending in March, my only problem is, when can I surf again!?
Tip: Girls, wear surf shorts that goes past the knees and a bikini/bra top with good, secure padding.