I grew up in a family of six, struggling to make ends meet under my dad’s meagre salary. My childhood was spent playing basketball with my brother and attempting to catch air on a bicycle that my dad had welded together.
My only knowledge of surfing was looking at pictures of surfers and thinking how bizarre it would be to ride a wave of water.
We had once taken a family vacation to the beach and I remember my dad telling us how dangerous the undertows and the currents were. So my memories of the beach were building drip sand castles
while my mum cautiously looked out to make sure I wasn’t washed away by some freak wave.
When I was 16 my parents decided to move. No not close to some ocean like you might think, but rather to Clarksville, Tennessee where I started mountain biking and BMX bike riding to get my kicks.
Surfing requires fitness
In my sophomoric college years, some friends invited me to go to the outer banks of North Carolina to rent some surfboards and go surfing. We had no idea what we were doing and the small messy waves beat us up and tossed us back on the beach. I realised my surfing fitness and skills were severely lacking.
We all ended up with serious sunburn and bloody nipples from board rash – in other words, a total failure. Yet what would one expect from a group of good old boys from Tennessee?
After that experience, I pretty much wrote surfing off as unobtainable for someone like me. Hell, the closest ocean was a nine-hour drive anyway.
After I graduated, I met a girl. We decided to spend a year teaching English abroad and settled on Thailand. By chance, I found a job in Phuket even though my eyes were set on Chiang Mai because I had heard they had some excellent mountain bike trails. But Phuket it was and after a year we decided to stay another, then another and so on. I discovered that mountain biking wasn’t much fun when most of the trails are so saturated that you end up sinking to your hubs in mud.
I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to walk into a little surf shop in Bang Tao, perhaps it was boredom of not mountain biking, but I walked out with a discounted bodyboard and no idea that I also needed flippers to catch waves.
I caught a few “waves” that rainy season, mostly shore break foam, but I remember how exciting it felt to be pushed by nature’s energy back to the sand. I still wasn’t “hooked” and my bodyboard got more use as a scratching pad for our cat than it did for tearing into waves.
Working out the beauty of surfing
Then some of my wife’s friends visited (I ended up marrying that girl) and a mate started reminiscing about surf stories in France and Australia.
Maybe it was the way his eyes sparkled or how he couldn’t believe I had given up on surfing, but I started to feel I was missing out on something special and came to realise there must be more to surfing than bloody nipples and bodyboards with cat scratches.
He told me that a longboard or SUP would be the way to go if I wanted to try and catch the mushy and often small wind swell waves that Phuket offers. Then he said – but you can go to Indonesia, Bali, Sri Lanka, Maldives and a little surfing voice lit up inside of me.
I was 28 years old when I bought my first board – a big old SUP that could also be used for fishing and snorkelling and excellent for surfing paddle fitness. Standing up on the thing was not as easy as I thought. Again, my surfing skills and fitness where seriously challenged. Luckily I had four months of flat season to learn how to balance before the rainy season arrived.
Learning to surf is no easy task, I can assure you of that; however, a few months later I stood up on a wave for the first time and the feeling was nothing short of amazing. I was officially hooked.
I learned something that rainy season. You are never too old to learn new tricks, and that despite my landlocked upbringing I had a deep connection with the ocean. In fact, I believe we all do if we just give it a chance to reveal itself.
It’s difficult to imagine living anywhere without an ocean now. I have since bought a long-board and a short-board and even took up skateboarding when I turned 30 and bought a board that emulates surfing so I could train my legs during the dry season.
Since I caught my first wave I have surfed in California, France and lately Bali. So if you’re reading this and surfing is something you always wanted to do – start! You’re never too old to try something new and you never know what new trick may change your life.
A word of advice – get your surfing fitness up from the outset, it makes a huge difference to catching more waves and enjoying your ocean time.
Hayden Rhodes (Club Manager of Phukets Finest Health Club) is the creator of Surf Training Secrets. If you love surfing or snowboarding and want to get surf fit fast and build a body to last, go visit SurfTrainingSecrets.com