Ricky and I had been staying with a close friend in Cascais when we got the email confirming my first Combadi experience. Miguel, Yannis man on the ground in Portugal, had been in touch to say that challenge one was on the table and challenge one was, surf lessons.
Baleal Surf Camp was to be an hour and a half north of Cascais, Lisbon. Very excited and filled with anticipation we hit the road to journey to our first ever surf experience. I was a little nervous as I have never been that good at swimming and although I love the sea and being in the water I had never quiet mastered my fears of what lies beneath. So fingers crossed for no seaweed and clear water.
As we sped down the motorway we were making excellent time when embarrassingly we broken down just ten minutes from the location. Silly old kitty had forgotten, in her excitement, to fill up with petrol. No real adventures have ever gone smoothly. With a few phone calls later we were tucked up in our hire car in our yellow vests watching an episode of Family Guy on the hard shoulder. An hour later a very nice Portuguese man arrived with his toe truck and dropped us the four kilometers up the road at the local petrol station. With a full tank we finally arrived at the infamous Baleal Surf Camp.
It wasn’t hard to find the location as you have to drive through Peniche before you get to Baleal and Peniche is also a Surfer town. All you see on the way in are surfers and their surf boards, skaters of all ages and the huge amount of cars lining the roads and filling the car parks. The explosion action is filled with colour, dredlocks, hoodies, salty hair, tanned skin and all in the glair of beautiful sunshine.
Seeing as we had missed the lesson we had booked for the day, we decided to walk over to the owners bar, Bar do Bruno, and grab a beer to really get into the feeling of the place. With the sun setting on a slightly cloudy day, I started to feel a bit nervous to what tomorrow would bring. Everyone on the beach looked pretty experienced and I didn’t even know how to put on a wetsuit.
It was Monday morning and we awoke fresh faced and ready to get stuck in. As we arrived at the surf club we met with our instructor, Stephen, who got us into our wetsuits. The deck above the beach was covered with the surf camp group and dozens of them getting zipped up in there suits, grabbing boards and charging down to the beach. Ricky and I weren’t able to join the surf camp as we only had two days left in Portugal before we were due to fly to Greece. Instead we were given two lessons in a small group of 4 people (which was a real treat).
The lesson began with us each taking a surf board and walking across the beach to a good area where we would be away from the crowds and have space to learn. The surf board was big and heavy and I ended up carrying it on my head as this was much easier. Once Stephen found us a spot we immediately launched into the warm up where we were to stretch, jump, run and squat to get all of our joints fully functioning and ready to be thrown around in the waves. This was not a small affair. After feeling very warm we lined up our boards and sat down to listen to Stephen explain the rules of the water and how best to paddle, “pop” and then balance on the board.
Our first challenge was to get the “pop” right so we started by practicing this on land. Apparently there are two ways in which you ride a board: goofy or regular. And this is all determined by your first “pop” which is surf speak for jumping onto the board. Naturally, I was goofy. In life I tend to be back to front so it was no surprise that I was riding my board the opposite way to regular!
As soon as the formalities were over it was into the water and time to give it everything. Diving through the waves I began to really love it. The sea, the waves, even the sun came out after the morning’s cloudy start. I especially loved being in a wetsuit as there is something fantastically comforting about feeling protected in the water; you feel safe like you have armor on.
Paddling out we stayed where our feet could touch the ground in order to get the basics down. Stephen came over to me first and asked me to lay on the board in the starting position. Hands either side of my chest and my back up, he turned the board and pointed me towards the beach. “Ready?” he asked, “ready for what? Surfing… yer OK.” Watching the waves we let a few big ones come and go until he was satisfied with the right sized one for me. After a while he spotted my first wave: “OK, Kitty here it comes… just remember how to pop and stay low… 3, 2, 1 – POP”.
I was moving, fast, the wave was carrying me and I needed to pop up. With everything I had in me I pushed hard with my hands and launched myself up. For a moment I thought I had done it; my feet had touched the board and after a split second it was… splash! In to the water I crashed hard. This was awesome! Brushing myself down I grabbed the board turned around and paddled back out to the group. I could see that this was going to take a lot of practice. But, what a thrill. I imagined that this was much like snowboarding where apparently you spend most of your time on the floor, the difference here being you spend most of your time eating sand and face planting into the water!
Two lessons and four hours of solid surfing later I managed to catch a wave and ride it standing up, staying low all the way to the beach. Not bad for my first day out in the water. Walking back to the bar with every muscle aching, and a slightly sun-burnt face, I felt like I had really done something with my day. I had learnt many new skills, worked my body harder then most of my workouts ever did, and I felt like I’d been immersed in nature. I was filled by the beauty of the day and left with an overriding desire to do this madness again and again and again.
As we arrived at the bar we pealed back the wetsuits, washed our surf boards and took a seat on the decking ready to eat. I have never been so hungry after a day at the beach! The fresh fish burger felt like a rewarding feast to feed our worn out bodies. In true surfer-ville style a local surf dude took a seat and played the guitar as the sun was setting on a perfect day.
Looking back at what I learned from the experience I would say it was about empowering your mind to take control of your body. In order to surf you need strength, agility and shear determination – and this only comes it you are committed to the experience. It was a battle of my will power in order to stay focused and believe in my ability to get up on the board, balance and ride the wave. The day was a real physical experience that allowed me to connect with my longing for physicality on the road and to learn something new about what I am capable of. One that I would definitely do again and highly suggest to anyone!
The Surf classes experience has been kindly offered to Kitty, our Combadi blogger & experience “tester” by our Surfing Portugal partner, Baleal Surf camp, offering an amazing Yoga & Surf week in November.