I sat nervously by the window -- tapping my feet, biting my nails, and peering outside every time I heard a car pass by -- waiting to be picked up. This went on for 15 minutes. I’d get up to take a swig of water, pausing momentarily to remember to flip on the filtered water if I didn’t want to be sick with diarrhea, and then sit back down to start the cycle all over again. You’d think that I was waiting for a blind date, my limo for prom, or a hired driver to take me to dinner with the President. I wasn’t. Finally, I heard the faint sound of Bob Marley in the distance, followed by the heavy sound of an engine approaching. Before it even stopped out front I had grabbed my backpack, keys, and was out the door. It was the first day of surf camp in the Canary Islands on the island of Fuerteventura.
I had no idea what to expect from a six-day surf camp in the Canaries. I was in a country I had never been to, in a region that is visited by few Americans, and attempting a sport that had been relatively foreign to me, having grown up in rural North Carolina. However, living within walking distance of the beach in California, I was out of excuses. Nonetheless, the philosopher that I am, had no shortage of questions going into it. Would I catch a wave? Would I quit after the first day? Would I see a shark? Would I get eaten by a shark? At what point is it acceptable for me to give the “shaka” greeting? If no one saw me ride a wave, did I actually ride it?
For those of you who’ve heard of the Canary Islands, it’s probably Tenerife that you’re familiar with, which is the largest and most popular island. However, the smaller island of Fuerteventura has made a name for itself for its water sports due to strong wind and large waves. Windsurfing and kiteboarding are even more prominent then surfing, as Fuerteventura is home to the annual Windsurfing and Kiteboarding World Cup, which I attended. While any given day may see 100 kiteboarders taking off from Flag Beach in Corralejo, Fuerteventura, surfing is just as apparent. Just north of Corralejo is a section of shoreline that is referred to as the North Shore. It was only appropriate then that my surf camp was with Aloha Surf Academy.
I’ve often been asked over the last few weeks why and how I chose Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands as the place to participate in a surf camp, especially since I live in a major surfing destination, California. However, I also live just miles from the largest Chinatown in the world and that doesn’t mean I’m consequently going to pass on visiting China. I was already planning a big Europe trip when Northern Spain was recommended to me by a California surf instructor as a good Europe destination for learning to surf. However, I wasn’t getting a sense of confidence when researching surf schools in Northern Spain, so I broadened my search to the Canaries. The first email I sent out was to Sophie of Aloha Surf Academy and in her response she had already identified local accommodations, flight choices, and airport transportation for me. With customer service like that, it’s easy to say “yes”. Yes to what I thought could be the best week of my life.
“How ya feeling?” I cracked my eyes open, turned my head slightly, and responded to Sophie with the “so-so” hand gesture. It was toward the end of day three and I had yet to stand up on the board, but that wasn’t my current problem. After starting the day with inflammation in my right tricep, I had just minutes prior gotten a surfboard to the top of my nose when a large wave surprised me after yet another failed attempt at standing up. I think the others watching me may have thought I had a concussion, being my symptoms included a migraine headache, lightheadedness, and dizziness, but I had had a concussion before, and this wasn’t it. Yet the thought of giving up never even crossed my mind.
Hands, feet, sky. These were the words I had to keep saying to myself, so much so that I think I actually responded with “Hands, feet, sky” on the last morning when Alex picked me up. It was day six and the final day of surf camp. Tomorrow I’d be going from beaches, wine, and tapas in Spain to medieval buildings, beer, and chocolate in Belgium. Today was the day. I had stood up the day prior, but only long enough to fall back down. I would get about 75% of it right, but there would be that one thing I didn’t do, like looking down or not bending my knees, that would be my downfall, literally. But today was the day. I felt power, energy, and confidence that I hadn’t felt since the first day.
Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“SPENCER!” I looked up to see Alex yelling my name in excitement and my friend right beside him cheering me on. I was up, riding a wave, and ride it I did, for several seconds. After the initial shock, I felt comfortable enough to let out a bigger grin, shout a “wahoo”, and do a fist pump. I stood on the board until the wave petered out and then I jumped off. I looked to the shore, kind of with a face and mannerism that said “What now”, until Alex motioned me to go back out. It wasn’t long after that Alex called everyone in. I must have had the pitiful face of a young boy who had just been told that chicken nuggets were being taken off the McDonalds menu, because Alex motioned me to go back out as soon as I had turned to start paddling in. But I didn’t catch another wave; and I didn’t have to. I had accomplished what I set out to do.
- Take a surf lesson before signing up for a week-long surf camp. While I realize that this isn’t practical for everyone, due to proximity, I recommend taking a surf lesson first when possible. I took a three-hour surf lesson in Santa Cruz, California, just a couple months prior and I can’t imagine trying to stick out a six-day surf camp if I would’ve hated it after the first day.
- Give yourself at least four to five days, but maybe six if you have the tall frame and weak upper body strength of me. One to two days just doesn’t cut it. While a half-day surf lesson planted the seed, it really did little more then teach me the fundamentals. You may be able to get up on the first day, but it could be longer. The sooner you stand up, the sooner you’ll be able to learn other important surfing fundamentals, like turning, and this will take more then just a couple days.
- Make it a vacation. Let me tell you, after your first day of surf camp, you’ll feel like you need a vacation. I stretched my surf trip in the Canary Islands to be nearly two weeks so that I could have some time to enjoy relaxing on a beautiful island, eat some tapas, and see the sights. Other surfing destinations that have been recommended to me include Hawaii, Bali, and the Bay of Biscay in Spain and France.
- Make an investment. I’m not just talking about an equipment investment, but rather an investment in the experience. I’ve never planned a travel experience like I planned my surf trip and it paid off. While Aloha Surf Academy wasn’t the cheapest camp I came across, it wasn’t the most expensive either. However, what stands out was the experience and hospitality of Alex and Sophie, who greeted me as my surf instructors, but who I left as friends.
First couple photos are mine, but the rest of the photos and video are courtesy of Aloha Surf Academy.