Pop-up pirate

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  June 19, 2010

As I approached the surf, I braced my feet for the water's first few cold licks. But I found myself striding into the shallows, barely noticing that I was wet. The few tendrils of water that got in through seams at the suit's knees and ankles were more refreshing than cold. Wetsuits work! I thought. With my board in the water, Boutet gave me some space to jump on and paddle out. As I did so, I caught glimpses of the shoreline to either side — truly, from a surfboard is one of the most tremendous ways to appreciate Maine's coast.

I dawdled a bit, observing the other women as they lay on their boards, watching for waves behind them, waiting for Boutet to call out, "Go, go, go!" Then, they'd paddle wildly for several seconds before popping up (or trying to). Those who successfully stood up seemed to experience a brief moment of hesitation — the Holy Shit I'm Standing on a Surfboard moment — before either riding the wave or collapsing unceremoniously into the ocean. Some failed to get up at all, tumbling immediately into the surf. In all cases, they emerged from the froth with an expression of wonder. (Wonder that they were still alive? Wonder that they'd actually ridden a wave? Wonder that they were surfing at all? I was about to find out.)

"Okay, Deirdre," Boutet called from 20 feet away. "Come over here."

I paddled over and she held the front of my board; I looked toward the beach while she watched the waves coming toward me. And all of a sudden:

"Now! Go!" She let go and gave me a hard push from behind.

I started paddling frantically as I felt the wave swelling under me. And just as it was about to break, I did as we'd practiced on the beach — planted my hands in a push-up position, rose to one knee, brought my other foot up behind me, and . . . STOOD UP! On the surfboard! In the water! It was not graceful and it lasted but five seconds (if that long). But there I was, standing on the water with only three inches of board between my feet and the wave. Then I fell off. This, too, lacked grace. The saltwater filled my nose as I tried to remember Boutet's warning about holding onto your board. I surfaced and stood up; Boutet was cheering. I felt great. The wonder I'd seen on those other faces? It was wonder at feeling so intensely connected (mentally and physically) to an activity — from the moment I started paddling to the moment I emerged from the water, sputtering and grasping for the board, surfing was a visceral experience.

I made about a dozen more attempts. Some were successful and some were not. I saw a veteran ride a wave like they do in the movies, and I saw another student get a bloody nose (she loved it — evidence of the viscerality!). My arms and shoulders got incredibly sore from paddling. I took one particularly nasty fall that made me feel incredibly bad-ass (and incredibly full of saltwater). I was chastised by Boutet for one etiquette faux pas (paddling in front of someone who was trying to catch a wave). I saw some Portlanders out in the surf, ones who'd already been turned onto the joys of New England surfing.

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