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"To surf or not to surf" is not the question ...

By Veronika McKenney
(This story originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of the Great Life Hawaii magazine)

To many people, Hawaii is all about the outdoors, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean in particular. After all, Hawaii is associated with surfing worldwide – images of longboards and Duke Kahanamoku are postcard staples. Let’s be honest, the best thing about being stuck in the North Shore traffic (especially in the winter) is watching the colossal waves roll in and the brave souls riding them. If you are like me, you regularly check the weather notifications and the surf reports so, if at all possible, you can rush to marvel at the big surf. There is undeniably something magical about surfing – the sheer force of the ocean combined with the fragile agility of a human being.

To surf or not to surf was never a question for me. A water baby at heart, I have taken every chance to snorkel, swim and boogie board since arriving in Hawaii. To be in Hawaii and never try to surf equals a blasphemy in my books. I am no seasoned athlete. An outdoors person and a runner, I never skateboarded or snowboarded, neither would I list balance as my strength. Although very young at heart, I am no longer a spring chicken either. And as some of you know well, recovery takes so much longer when you reach your “shshsh-ties” so I rely on caffeine to jump start me every morning. Despite the aforementioned facts which some may perceive as obstacles, I was determined to prove you could always, always pursue your dreams. Also, if you cannot laugh at yourself, then the world is a rather sad place.

Before I describe my surfing experience, I have to warn you … I had fun. In fact, I had so much fun that given a chance, I would be sitting on the board right now, waiting for the perfect wave (then again, I have my work obligations).

As a surfing novice, I was advised to book a private lesson which, with a hindsight, was the right choice. After I arrived at White Plains Beach, my instructor Milton chose the right size surfboard for me. Despite being twice my size, the board was light enough to carry to the sand where we spent the first part of the lesson. Milton gave me a thorough overview of ocean safety, beach rules and surfing etiquette; as well as explained the basic surfing terminology so I could tell rails from tails. What followed were several “dry runs” which involved fake paddling and jumping up on the board to learn the right position (not too close to the nose of the surfboard) as well as posture for good balance. Be ready for a great workout and if you can, you may want to familiarize yourself with burpees prior to your lesson because that’s what, in simple terms, you will be doing a lot of. Planks are equally important – for going through the white water.

After what already seemed like a great workout on the sand, we made our way into the ocean to put theory to practice. Let me tell you, paddling may seem extremely easy from ashore … well, no matter how good a swimmer you are, paddling is art in itself. You are pushing your own weight combined with the weight of the board (which suddenly felt more like lead than foam) against the power of the ocean. Do not despair - it is hard but essential and eventually very rewarding work. All that paddling gets you where you need to be to catch a wave.

Once positioned on the line, Milton would wait for the right moment to push me and then shout two sets of key instructions … “paddle, paddle” and “stand up”! Once I stood up, it was all down to my balance. Sounds so very easy, does it not? Well, for the first two waves I did not manage to get up at all. I simply boogie boarded which really was not the objective, leaving me feeling like a failure. On my third attempt, I managed to get up and stay up for possibly a whole two seconds before having an epic wipe out. I saw that as progress, determined even more to paddle back and keep on trying. Trust me, you want that hard work of paddling to pay off. And it did! My Christmas came early … I stood up and stayed up until I, not the gravity, decided when to jump off. The euphoric feeling after riding a full wave for the first time is difficult to describe in words. Esthetically, it was probably a disaster but I could not care less. Many wipe outs followed; however, I managed to actually ride three waves all the way (yes, I counted each of them). And if I was not sore – both from laughter and the actual exercise, I would have stayed all day.

Don’t be fooled. One lesson is not enough. It teaches you bare essentials. It gives you a taste. There is so much more to master (like catching your own wave without a very helpful Milton pushing you) and so many more wipe outs are awaiting. Like anything else, to get better you must practice, practice, and practice.

But trust me - one lesson is enough to make you fall in love with surfing. I may be a kook* forever but as long as I have fun, it is all that matters.

So, go ahead and book your own surfing experience, be it a private or a group lesson. You live in the surfing paradise so why not live by the famous saying “When in Rome ….”


To book your lesson, please call the Surf Shack at White Plains Beach (682-4925) or Outdoor Recreation at Hickam Harbor (449-5215).

*kook = a rookie surfer or someone who isn’t very good at surfing (source:



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