Learning to fail on a bodyboard

I’ve been dabbling at bodyboarding for several years, but things have now taken a turn for the serious. 

(Read: What I have learned while wearing a wetsuit)

My technique has always been to wade into the water as deep as I feel safe, wait for a wave and then jump into it. If you know the patterns of the water, this is not a hard way to have fun in the sea, even if you are using the ancient supermarket bodyboard given to your son when he turned 13.

While I’m fooling around in this way, I spend a lot of time watching other people, and other bodyboarders. At Surfer’s Corner in Muizenberg, where my son Jack and I get our ocean fix, there’s a shifting population of women bodyboarders, all equipped with fins and hoods, in addition to the usual wetsuit and board.

I get some equipment

I’ve watched them with an odd mix of feelings: why do they need all that stuff (isn’t it cheating, in a way?) is interleaved with curiosity as to how it all works. Most of all, I’ve been sure I was happy to dabble.

Then, Jack prodded me a bit.

For Christmas in 2022 he lashed out and bought me a proper bodyboard – a 42-inch RYD board. Suddenly, I felt as though I wasn’t just playing any more – I had a proper board!

I kept on doing my jump-into-waves thing, though, until a trip to a wetsuit factory shop in Cape Town, where we met the God of Salespeople.

He joins a pantheon of gods that watch over Jack and I: the God of Parking (a tall, languid Congolese man), the God of Traffic (a small, portly, very cross and-red-faced man) and the Goddess of the Sea, who we saw at Muizenberg one day. We were drinking coffee, sitting on the sea wall, watching the passing scene, when a beautiful, golden-skinned woman in an iridescent blue costume, accompanied by two gorgeous young men, emerged from the water. Look, I said, turning to Jack, it’s the goddess and her acolytes. We gazed at her and then at each other, and when we turned back she had disappeared. This is a true story.

In the wetsuit factory shop, we were set on buying only one thing – a hood for Jack so he could spend longer in the frigid winter water. We emerged from the shop with two hoods, a set of fins, two pairs of booties and a set of fin catchers. By paying attention to our needs and finding exactly the right fit, the God of Salespeople started his day (and ours) well.

What to do, now I have the equipment?

Now I had the gear sported by all those other women in the surf, and no idea what to do with them.

I did know some things though. I am not a strong swimmer, and certainly not fast in the water. So I needed to beef up my swimming skills. I also knew that there is a body boarding tuition business in Muizenberg.

To up my bodyboarding game, I have signed up for a weekly adult swimming class, and a private body boarding lesson, with an eye to joining one of those groups of bodyboarders. 

In the process, I have been more out of my comfort zone than I have been in a long time. I hate getting water up my nose and in my eyes; I have never in my life been further out in the ocean than where I can stand. And yet, I am now doing all these things, as I ride waves of anxiety and nervousness at each new encounter.

My mantra as I splutter and muddle my way through is simple: to try not to compare myself to other people, to accept that I am terrible at all this and will need lots of practice, to just go to the lesson and learn what I can.

These are hard lessons to learn when you’ve been an A-type over-achiever all your life.

But here I am, learning to fail and loving it.

 Main picture:  Rui Silva sj, Unsplash

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