My neck hurts, my calves hurt, whatever is inside the knuckles of my fingers is throbbing, the bottoms of me feet hurt, my throat and sinuses sting, my butt muscles ache and I can’t lift my arms above my head because my shoulders are temporarily paralyzed and…I can’t stop smiling. This is what happens when a middle aged lady takes surf lessons. It’s exhilarating!
Hendaye is to France what Vancouver is to Canada. The very bottom left corner. The southiest and westiest you can get. Only here there’s no duty free groceries and Yankee beer across the line. There’s Spain. You can paddle board over there across the river in 5 minutes. I was naively surprised to find that they also have soft white sand beaches and surf that’s perfect for a newbie like me. The waves are about 2 meters or less, well spaced so you can get your mojo going and don’t smash you into a razor reef or rocky shelf. Just soft forgiving bouncy castle sand. For neophyte surfers this is perfection. It’s also fantastically gorgeous which is an added bonus.
Hendaye is prime Basque Country. Ox-blood red shutters, separatist notions, grilled squid and dense almond cake. The Basque think of themselves as a unique society, Basque first and French second. They have their own language, food, traditions, music and style. Think of those crazy dudes running with the bulls in Pamplona wearing white pants and shirts with a red cumberbund, tie and beret…that’s Basque. Many of the men have an X in their name which sounds like soft version of our ‘ch’. Sorry Brad and Angelina (Maddox, Pax, Knox), the Basque beat you to it. We stayed at the AirBnB apartment of a lovely man named Fantxo (pronounced Fancho) who told us all about the area, cool things to do and the mysterious origin of the oldest language in Europe (nobody knows?) which is approximately 7,000 years old. The words seem reminiscent of Greek or Hawaiian or at times Russian. Here are some examples:
- Bai = Yes
- Ez = No
- Kaixo!, Agur! = Hello
- Agur!, Adio! = Goodbye!
- Ikusi arte = See you!
- Eskerrik asko! = Thank you!
- Arratsalde on = Good evening
- Mesedez = Please
- Barkatu = Excuse (me)
- Aizu! = Listen! (To get someone’s attention, not very polite, to be used with friends)
- Kafe hutsa nahi nuke = Can I have a coffee?
- Garagardoa nahi nuke = Can I have a beer?
Fantxo also hooked us up with his buddy Manex (sounds like Manesh) who runs a terrific local surf school Ecole de Surf Hendaye, and would give us a good deal on lessons and boards. So far we’re loving these X-men! Helpful, kind and interesting. Though I was realistically concerned about a) drowning b) permanent disfigurement and c) utter humiliation, one of the goals of this trip is to play with Lyla rather that just watching her have fun alone so it was time to buck up. It didn’t hurt that our French surf instructor Julian had the bod of a young superman and when asked about the custom he admitted that he was always commando under his very tight wetsuit. “Mais oui, all zee time”.
When I told Julian I was scared he said basically ‘don’t worry Taza, nobody dies’. Very reassuring. So off we went, boards on our heads like surfer dudettes, into the glorious Atlantic surf. As Julian had promised the waves were a perfect 1.5 meters today and no wind, ‘zee best for learning’. First step was simply body surfing which was fun and frolicky. Timing the waves, getting used to the sensation. The massive weight and power of the ocean urging you along and there you are just letting go into it. Surrendering. Back to the beach for a few pointers from SuperGarçon and we were on our boards paddling out to sea. Yikes! But you know…once you stop telling yourself you can’t or you’re too told or uncoordinated or not strong enough or you could shatter your femur and have to be medi-vacced home and I hope our travel insurance pays for that… blah, blah, blah and just be ‘in’ the moment a funny thing happens. You CAN! You really can do it.
After about 45 minutes of epic fails pummelling myself like those poor souls on Wipe Out Canada I was exhausted. I felt as though I’ve been in a tumble dryer for an hour. I couldn’t try as hard any more. So, I didn’t. That’s when I started to get the feel for it. The balance, the timing, the nerve. Dangle your toes off the foot of your board. Tighten the core. Paddle. When you feel the surge of the wave beginning to push you paddle really hard then do a bit of an up-dog. Left foot up, right foot forward, look straight ahead at the beach and assume surfer stance…et voila! I. WAS. SURFING!! Look ma…no hands…surfing, all the way to the beach. Wahoooo! Then the best thing happened. Lyla and I caught the same wave. We surfed side by side hooting and hollering together all the way to the golden sand and elegantly stepped off our boards in unison. High 5!! “Way to go Mama, nice!” she said with a huge fresh air grin on her newly freckled face. THIS is what our trip is all about. Learning together, being scared together, growing together, being together. It was a charmed moment I will lock in my heart and never forget. I can’t because I still can’t lift my arms above my head or bend over to tie my shoes.