Rainy day surf camp in New Zealand
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Betsy Welch, a former Spanish teacher at Vail Mountain School, is traveling to New Zealand and points beyond this winter. Each week we’ll run an article and photos about her travels.
NEW ZEALAND ” This story begins, and ends, in the rain. Like a song that you can’t get out of your head, the rain was stuck on repeat. It was coming down so hard the day that surf camp began I could barely make out the bus driver’s greeting through the sheets of water between the bus and I as he pulled up to the hostel.
“How ya goin’ mate?” (Um, pretty wet, mate.) “Just chuck your bag anywhere.”
Anywhere did not present many options, and I crawled over a gaggle of legs, backpacks, and Dutch guys who had a little too much fun with permanent markers the night before. The challenge was finding a seat which was a) somewhat dry and b) not in the direct line of one of the many cascading waterfalls of rain coming in through the windows, ceiling, or seat in front. Since I was completely soaked anyway, I settled on an aisle seat across from a girl cuddled up in the fetal position (what did they actually do at this surf camp, anyway?) where the rain trickling in from the emergency exit only further drenched my left knee instead of my head or whole body. I asked the two blond girls sitting behind me if they knew where we were going or when we’d be getting there. They had no idea. Neither did the guy in front of me. Neither did the bus driver who was using a roll of paper towels to periodically wipe the windshield, which was totally fogged over. Just kidding. I learned from him that we were headed to Crescent Heads ” about 6 hours south ” where most of us would begin our surf odyssey.
Although no one dared ask it, the question lingered in the air like cheap cologne in a dive bar: would we still surf if it kept raining? After lunch, our surf guru Lathan instructed us to “grab a wettie and your sunnies, and hop in the Troopie.” Translation: “yes, you are going surfing, get a wetsuit and your sunglasses and get in the truck.”
Obedient campers that we were, we marched like little rubber duckies into the Troopie. Though I had surfed a few times before, most of the group had very little experience so standing on the beach and looking out at the sets of waves coming in inspired a few “whoas” from the crew. We all practiced paddling and standing up on our boards on the beach and then headed into the surf. The rain gods waited until we were all in the sea before they opened the heavens up, but it didn’t matter anymore because we were all stoked, man!
Each day played itself out as essentially a better version of the one before. We awoke with the dawn, fueled up with a healthy brekkie, and eagerly anticipated the surf report from our instructors. Resigned to the uninvited presence of the rain, we quit trying to stay dry and soon realized that the conditions were near perfect for our surfing abilities. We began to understand words like swell and offshore and could identify the most energy efficient place to paddle out. Surfing both in the morning and after lunch allowed us to experience the tide at different points in its constant incoming and outgoing rhythm. We got braver every day, closer to surfing “greenies” ” the waves before they broke and became crumbly and white ” even though this meant more wipe-outs, too. The sky continued to strum its symphony of rain, but we were too busy surfing to care. Our shoulders and arms ached, and little red rashy bumps appeared in random places (like my belly button). Swiss Tom’s toes got smashed (Scheisse!), all the girls had bruises on their hips, and Sean’s nipples were chafed. Comparing sea scars became a daily ritual, as did playing drums, guitar and drinking games around the campfire at night.
My surfing improved ten-fold during those six days of surf camp. I averaged about eight hours in the water every day, and by the end I had caught a few greenies and was comfortable paddling out to the back, even if it was just to bob around and stare into the endless blue-green sea around me ” or to get completely and thoroughly smashed by an unforgiving wave. Sometimes I surfed alone, giving myself pep talks when I crashed and hooting and hollering when I caught a killer wave. I paddled with my German roommates Anne and Ute, and we laughed as the waves knocked us back to where we’d begun. And I rode the last waves of the day with Swiss Tom and German Holger when everyone else was too knackered to go back out. As we rode back to camp together, sticky and salty from the sea and rain, we reflected on our progress and laughed at our wipe-outs. Using a plastic water bottle as a microphone, we did mini-interviews with each other, learning new facts about the places we came from. In many ways, surf camp encompassed all that is good in life ” yummy food, new friends, physical exertion, and healthy challenges. We all dreaded getting back on the leaky-roofed bus and leaving our plentiful paddling days behind. The sun was going to come out, we knew it, and we were about to catch the biggest waves of our lives …
Surf camp ended a week ago. It’s still raining.
Contact Betsy Welch with suggestions, comments and publishing contracts at email@example.com.