A walk down Bali’s Kuta beach and I’m faced with an onslaught of double-digit IQs. The prejudice might have arisen out of flat foreheads and wide-open mouths being evolution’s signals for dumb. Or it might be the bigotry born of jealousy of all those ripped bodies and tanned skin.
Surfing is the ultimate victory of the jocks over the geeks. If you intellectualise the why of surfing, and the learning of the art, you have already lost it for you are not cool enough. As a geek, the rational thing to do is to pretend to be a surfer …. And that’s exactly what we set ought to do.
There is something about taming the waves on a ridiculously large board that screams cool! Even a real surfer’s wipe-out looks rehearsed. It requires an improbable mix of those skills and attitudes that are not at all natural for a middle-class Indian kid.
My father’s refusal to let a wet sandy Vikram back into the car after a trip to the beach took the fun out of entering the water and made it an act requiring great contemplation. Let us say I’ve overcome that by now. But swimming in a surf beach is not just swimming – no goggles, ridiculously salty water, unexpected slaps of waves all make you want to rush back to knee-deep waters near the beach. High fitness levels, upper-body strength, a devil-may-care attitude to scratches and bruises are not inbuilt qualities in folks like me. Most importantly, the grace, balance and co-ordination needed for surfing can only be found naturally in kids who grow up doing stunts like walk on thin ledges, skate-board and jump off walls. Kids who did their home-work on time and attended violin classes are much slower in getting the hang of surfing.
Nevertheless I wanted to learn the basics and so I signed up for a class.
Additional adversities to my surfing dream included an unhealed motorcycle injury on my knee (Oh yes! You need your knee for surfing). My bandana disappeared in the waves really early and left my long hair to join salty water in annoying my eyes. But remarkably I was standing up on the board in no time! Had I already figured this one out?
The “Instructor” (a local teenager) thinks I am ready for step 2 – paddle yourself to get the start as the wave hits you on your backside. Wipe-out de un! Try again with a bit of preparation. De deux! While I was going through hell, Brit (who’d been struggling until then) went past me in a perfect illustration of how to surf! He decided to step up by entering deeper waters – and quickly regretted the decision after being dragged under water for almost a lifetime.
In a while, we were tired, defeated and famished and sounded the retreat.
The next day we went surfing, I’d developed the illusion that all I needed was a board and time in the water. What followed was a frustrating couple of hours in the ‘wrong’ part of the beach. Surfs were rare and when they came, they took you down really fast. We hardly made a stand! I actually felt like I was unlearning what I’d figured out the last time, and the pro-surfers were making the feeling worse by zipping in and out around us. We made our excuses and left.
Conquering the waves will have to wait another day. And until then, we have these lucky pictures to get our entry to the cool kids club.