The Importance of Being a Beginner

The Importance of Being a Beginner

by Ben Natusch

For a long time, I have believed that to be an effective instructor, one also needs to frequently be a beginner.  Without trying new things, it is too easy to slip into a mindset where things just make sense.  It becomes easy to forget the uncertainty, frustration, fear, success and excitement experienced by the students we teach.  To help maintain this mindset to better allow me to understand what my students might be experiencing, I try to pick up a new activity every few years.  This forces me back into the mindset of a beginner and helps me relate to my students.

For the past year, I have been surrounded by surfers.  It has always looked like a fun activity to me and with my current location near the ocean, it seemed like a great activity to pick up.  I had some friends help me pick out the gear I would need to get started; a wet suit, booties, gloves, and a hood.  Since one of my buddies had an extra board that he was willing to let me learn on, I decided to wait until I had figured out the basics to start thinking about getting my own board.

As soon as my wetsuit had arrived, we started making plans to get out and start surfing.  The surf forecast was looking pretty good for the weekend so we decided to meet up on Saturday morning for my first surf session.  Going into it, I was excited but also a little nervous.  I didn’t really know what to expect and had a lot of questions.  While I had done a lot of kayaking in colder conditions, I had very little experience with wetsuits.  Since the forecast was calling for temperatures in the 30s and snow, I was nervous about being cold in the water.  I wasn’t sure how warm my wetsuit would be or if the thin layer of merino wool I wore under it would be enough to keep me warm.

I had watched a few youtube videos but really had no idea what I was doing.  Fortunately I had some patient friends that were willing to teach me the basics and coach me through it.  After spending a little time on the beach, we moved into the water.  I quickly found that at least initially, my wetsuit kept me warm and I was not instantly freezing like I had worried about.  After working our way out into the water, we spent some time catching some whitewater waves.  I fell in a lot and felt really slow and unstable trying to pop up to a surf stance.  After many failed attempts I did manage to stand up and ride a few waves in.  I was still surprisingly warm although it was far more tiring than I had expected.  After surfing for about an hour, we met up with some other friends and decided to take a break and head to a different beach. 

At the second beach, the waves were a little bigger and a little more intimidating.  After watching a lot of waves and seeing some of the better surfers do some pretty cool stuff, I started paddling for some waves.  I still didn’t have the timing down missed a lot of waves.  Occasionally I would start too early or too far in and the wave would break behind me giving me a fun little pummeling.  I don’t think I caught a single wave at the second spot but I definitely learned a lot.  I had also worked through some of the factors that had made me nervous the night before and that morning.  I am still nervous about surfing near other people but I now trust my gear to keep me warm and have a better understanding about what this whole surfing thing is all about.  Most importantly, I can’t wait to get back out and have already made plans to head back out for my second day!

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