the beaches in Senegal can be beautiful; this man is selling baby birds (which you buy and release for good luck)
We began surfing the first weekend we arrived in Senegal and even went surfing on Christmas. Perhaps it says something about the challenges of the sport, or something about our mutual challenges with physical coordination, that we are still taking lessons two and a half years later. In the intervening period, we’ve grown to be experts in the different stages surf lessons follow.
Mary calls this warm-up exercise ‘practice eating sand’
The first stage of surf lessons are uniformly hilarious, and anyone who enjoys physical comedy would like being a spectator. A horde of white people descend on what was once a local beach, contort themselves into matching black neoprene suits, and splash about in the chilly water while grimacing and trying to avoid the plastic sacks, pieces of styrofoam, and tiny trash particles that float past. This is the warm-up “swim” that begins every surf lesson.
Following the swim is the highlight of this stage: a changing array of bizarre exercises led by one of the surf instructors. Stand on one foot and hop up and down! Kick your butt while running backwards through the sand!
raise the roof!
After the beach-bound humiliation ceases, what follows are two hours of seemingly endless paddling interspersed with:
- tossing water in handfuls behind you as you frantically glance back over your shoulder to see if you can catch an on-coming wave
- being thrown off your board by a wave you were not trying catch
- being thrown off your board by a wave you were trying to catch
- being left behind by a wave you were trying to catch
- catching the wave you were or were not trying to catch and enjoying ten to fifteen seconds (maximum) of bliss.
Mary is getting better at surfing and is ready to graduate to the next beach
Even when one is finally up on the board, the feelings of bliss are tinged simultaneously with paranoia …
- Are my feet placed correctly?
- Straighten up!
- Are my eyes pointing where I want to go?
- More pressure on the front foot!
- Wait–is this a wall of water or a reform wave–maybe it’s supposed to be more pressure on the back foot?
And then it’s over, and you start paddling again.
although not known for his form, Benjamin can see all the other surfers within 2 miles when he gets up
But those ten to fifteen seconds are pretty good–even if they only occur maybe five times each lesson. (In two hours, one might actually end up standing on a board for a total of two minutes maximum–if it’s a particularly good day with predictable waves and a helpful instructor.) Thankfully, the recollection of getting up and riding a wave lasts longer than the memories of endless paddling For Benjamin being able to say, ‘I got up on the board five times today!” is a great feeling that lasts the rest of the weekend. Mary tends to think more about the ones that got away. [This won’t surprise those of you who know us well.]
“let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learnin’ how, come on a safari with me”
An array of extraordinarily fit young man (Senegalese or French) serve as surf instructors and offer you “tips” after each attempt.
Mary’s favorite tips: “Yeah, you should have caught that wave,” and “You were supposed to stand up.”
it’s good that our surf instructor, Rene, can dodge flying surfboards
Benjamin’s favorites: “Next time, try not to fall off the board,” and “If you don’t fall off, surfing is more fun.”
The instructors also offer invaluable little pushes–which is really what one pays for with the twenty dollar lesson, in addition to the board and the wetsuit.
These pushes can mean an additional period of respite during the endless paddling phase (a little tap on the back of the board that doubles the effectiveness of each stroke) or an extra source of power during the frantic flailing phase (when you are trying to match the speed of the oncoming wave).
a rare moment when the beach is quiet
Lately, Benjamin has taken to lounging on the beach while Mary takes surf lessons. Herein lies the appeal of living near the beach–being able to go to the beach, read, relax with a cold beverage, occasionally go surfing, and be back home in five minutes whenever you’re ready to leave.
Relaxing is only part of that equation, however, as going to the beach in Senegal means there’s loud music playing from the beach restaurants and a constant stream of vendors involved anytime one chooses to recline. The vendors sell everything one could possibly never ever need on the beach: remote controls, baby pigeons, cell-phone chargers, second-hand t-shirts, pirated dvds, baseball caps, and the ubiquitous carved wooden African crafts. A vendor appears about every two minutes, and they often queue up to speak with you if another one already has your attention. Here’s Benjamin’s half of a typical conversation:
vendors get right up in your face like a pirate! (this one is selling pirated dvds)
- No, thank you, I don’t need a Yankees cap today.
- No, the hat I’m wearing right now is nice, and I don’t need a second for my wife.
- No, she is not coming. She is surfing and doesn’t want a Yankees cap.
- No, we don’t have children who want Yankees caps. Thank you.
The most unlikely wares these vendors sell are definitely the giant plywood boards full of seemingly random remote controls for all varieties of televisions, VCRs, and other electronic devices (need a garage door opener?). They’re in plastic bags, of course, because they have to be protected from the sand before they’re attached to the boards by rubber bands.
It would be appealing to have a different sort remote control at the beach. This magic device would enable a beach visitor to fast forward past all the vendors that come by, mute the bass pounding hip hop music from the beach restaurants, freeze frame the great surfing moments, and pause the beautiful views of the waves–which remain very appealing for two people who didn’t grow up near the ocean.
we’ve yet to master the one-handed beach handstand, but we do appreciate it when we see it