Illustration by Bouklao.
It’s hard enough making friends at a new school without your first class being swimming in P.E. where you don’t have trunks and the teacher has to find you a child-size skin-tight second-hand pair of bright red speedos within the arenaceous accumulation of decade-old sporting equipment, in front of everyone.
As you can imagine this would put any pre-pubescent 14-year-old boy in an awkward position. And that position was about ten feet away from classmates on either side as they lined up awaiting orders by the pool, their occasional stares and giggles only compounded in my mind by the further potential embarrassment of the fact that this boy basically can’t swim.
As you can imagine this would put any pre-pubescent 14-year-old boy in an awkward position.
My upbringing in the forest fun of the UK was in stark contrast to the Sahel-sea-dwelling Egyptian teen and I had never really had the necessity to be a fish, as I was born a human man with arms not fins. Our amphibious days are long behind us. The physiology just threw me off. As did the mechanics. When exactly am I supposed to breath? How am I supposed to float? Mish fahem.
I was placed in the appropriate lane for someone of my discourse, along with a student who was pulled off a wheelchair minutes ago and was accompanied by an aid.
Thankfully the P.E. teacher, slowly becoming my arch nemesis, was kind enough to separate us all into different lanes based on our swimming ability. Of course this meant I wouldn’t need to embarrass myself. Instead I was placed in the appropriate lane for someone of my discourse, along with a student who was pulled off a wheelchair minutes ago and was accompanied by an aid.
Having affirmed to the rest of the class that I am indeed unable to swim and have a dirty crotch and small willy, I went on my merry way, flapping up and down the lane occasionally splatting water from my lungs and grabbing hold of the rail, rather jealous of the help my new differently abled friend was getting.
In the changing room after, my new friend who spoke with a slow slur and whose glasses magnified his eyes tenfold, invited me over to his house to play Minesweeper on Windows 98. I gave him a philanthropic yes. The interaction occurred in front of everyone. Naturally it took quite a few months to get over this aqueous hurdle and become anywhere near cool.
You know what is cool? Surfers. Surfers are cool. Effortlessly fucking cool. I want to be effortlessly fucking cool.
You know what is cool? Surfers. Surfers are cool. Effortlessly fucking cool. I want to be effortlessly fucking cool. Following on from that P.E. class I made every effort to learn how to swim properly, breathing and floating and everything, and because of these early age deficiencies I’ve always fantasized about the idea of getting into watersports, as it’s so far away from something I would expect of myself.
14 years later I was in Dubai and jumped at the chance to take my first surfing lesson accompanied by a pretty and effortlessly cool friend. We arrived at the beach-side space where there was one other student awaiting to take the lesson with us, a striking French woman. Determined not to make a fool of my self with such an audience I started some light conversation about their various surfing abilities, which were relatively non-existent, so thankfully we would all be in the slow lane.
My upbringing in the forest fun of the UK was in stark contrast to the Sahel-sea-dwelling Egyptian teen and I had never really had the necessity to be a fish, as I was born a human man with arms not fins.
The instructor arrives, wet suit wrapped around his waist, I assume in order to squeeze the faultless mass of muscles to the top of his body like a tube of toothpaste. He looks like and sounds like Tom Hardy. He goes through the same surfing small-talk with the girls except this time they’re twirling hair and batting eyelashes and it takes him about five minutes to acknowledge my existence at which point he cuts me off mid sentence while I’m bragging about how I used to skateboard, to show the girls his Instagram profile.
The instructor arrives, wet suit wrapped around his waist, I assume in order to squeeze the faultless mass of muscles to the top of his body like a tube of toothpaste.
Instructor graciously takes some time off cavorting to get our gear ready. He hands over the wetsuits for us to slip into. I glance in the mirror admiring how defined my physique looks before the girls begin staring and giggling. It seems I was handed a female wet suit.
“Ha! You look nice in pink!” bellows the instructor, almost maliciously. I flashback. I am 14 years old again and scared to go in the water.
We get underway with the preliminary induction to surfing, sprawled out on the boards on the beach. “Pop up!” The girls awkwardly fumble their way up into a strange feet-together stance on their boards as he heaps praise on to them “Wow, you’re a natural!” Meanwhile I perfectly balance myself up in one swift motion. “And how was that?” I ask him, acutely aware of how emasculated I am in effeminate spandex asking this Alfa for approval. “Yes, sure. That’s fine,” he dismisses.
Finally in the sea, I knew this was my chance to shine, my chance to make up for more than a decade’s worth of aquatic embarrassment. In your first surf lesson the instructor is supposed to start off by giving your board a push when a wave comes. For ten minutes I was floating about about whilst Instructor was flirting about, giving the girls a push one at a time to try and get on the board, but surprisingly the time he had taken on shore to tell us all about his social media posting strategy did not in fact help their ability to surf.
It seems I was handed a female wet suit.
Taking matters into my own hands, I put myself into position and signaled to the instructor that I’m going to give it a go. The girls cheered and shouted my name. “Go, Timmy!” With the enthusiasm level of an underpaid nanny at a playground, Instructor calls out “Alright mate, go on then.”
I feel the wave slowly lurking up under my board and begin paddling, waiting to slip off any second to an all familiar laughing track. I’m still going. I pop up quickly. I’m still on the board. This is actually happening. I’m on the board, moving forward, towards the shore.
Their focus lies intently on the Instructor’s tricep showcase.
You ask any beginner surfer and they will lash superlatives at you about the first time they finally catch a wave, the unparalleled exhilaration and freedom of feeling one with the motion of the ocean. Now to catch a wave on my first try was sensational. I flash forward. I am 34, living off the coast of Indonesia spending my days surfing gnarly tubes and posting pictures of them to Instagram.
I put my focus on hold for a second to look back at the thunderous applause from the instructor and the girls, amazed by this boy wonder, this prodigy of the sea, this effortlessly fucking cool human. They’re not even looking. Their focus lies intently on the Instructor’s tricep showcase. I attempt to call out but it’s too late, my position has shifted and the surf board comes out from under me, smacks me on the head and I bail, spastically reaching out, arms waving, looking for a rail, sputtering water from my lungs. This, they witness. As do the 10,000 other people later on his Instagram where I am tagged. One of the likes being my old friend from the slow lane at swimming class.
Queue laughing track.