Raglan: Never too late to learn

By Vicki Virtue

Pain is an inevitable part of learning to surf - but it's worth it, writes Vicki Virtue.

Learners work on their stance under the watchful eyes of their teachers at Raglan Surfing School, Ngarunui Beach. Photo / Derek Flynn
Learners work on their stance under the watchful eyes of their teachers at Raglan Surfing School, Ngarunui Beach. Photo / Derek Flynn

"It might pay to take some arnica cream." As they say, mothers know best and this advice from mine proved to be wise. When your age begins with a four rather than a two, the effects of getting battered by a surfboard have more impact.

So off we went to Raglan, excited about our first surf lesson and hoping the arnica cream did what it said on the tin.

It seemed straightforward on solid ground. Our young, fit and tanned instructors took us through our paces. A couple of long paddles with your arms, then press up with an arched back, knee forward, followed by the other foot and then, voila - stand up with your knees bent, one arm and your eyes pointing to where you want to go and the other keeping you balanced. A couple of practice runs and we seemed to have it sorted.

So into the surf we went, boards tucked under our arms. Actually, the softboards they give beginners are more the size of a canoe, so it took two of us to carry them.

Stick to the small, broken waves, was the advice from our instructors. Ready for action, we floated our boards into waist-deep water, spun them around and paddled with the first wave that came crashing towards us.

That's when things got tricky.

As I nose-dived off the front of my board, I remembered not to put my weight too far forward. As I toppled off the side, I remembered not to hang on to the rails (sides) of the board. As I got whacked on the head, I remembered to put my arms up before surfacing. And as my dodgy knee slammed into the sand, I remembered that I am indeed 40.

And then I stood up and glided shakily ashore. From that moment, I was hooked. For an hour and a half, we rode the waves. Sometimes we'd stand up and sometimes we'd get flung off, but for 90 minutes we smiled.

That night every muscle in our bodies hurt. But the thrill of the ride had us back out in the surf at 10am the next day.

The instructors were impressed with our enthusiasm, if not our skill. But practice, we reasoned, would make perfect.

It didn't take long to figure out the big waves weren't for us and attempting the unbroken ones was just asking for trouble. Catching the same wave as the gun surfers was a good strategy. By the time it reached us, it was manageable - and their ability to avoid us was substantially better than our ability to avoid them.

After two hours, we flopped, exhausted, on the beach. Half the ocean had gone up our noses and we'd swallowed the other half. But we felt great.

By day three, our tender limbs hadn't improved much, but our technique certainly had. We were hardly Kelly Slater (nine-time world surfing champion, for you non-surfers), but having started our journey wondering if we'd get up even once, we were pretty chuffed with our new-found skills.

Surfing is also a fantastic activity for a rainy weekend, like ours was. When you're out there on your board, it makes no difference where the water is coming from. Given our unpredictable weather, it's nice to be able to pre-plan a beach excursion without a cancellation clause.

Raglan is a great place to learn to surf. The waves aren't as terrifying as some other West Coast beaches and the town has a great, laid-back holiday feel to it, with plenty of good cafes and bars to choose from for some apres surf.

The area attracts surfers and travellers from around the globe, so you won't be alone learning. It's well set-up for beginners. Ngarunui beach is the place to head if you're a novice. The Raglan Surfing School has a trailer on the beach where you can hire all the gear and arrange lessons.

For some inspiration, head down to Whale Bay and watch the experienced guys surfing off the rocks. It seems a distant dream when you're learning, but who knows - it might be me one day.

If you can drag yourself away from the surf, there are plenty of other things to do in Raglan. A drive around Mt Karioi offers spectacular views of the coastline. And if you haven't completely tired yourself out surfing, you can make the three-hour climb to the summit, embark on a horse trek, hire a kayak, rent a bike or just relax on the beach before wandering around the art galleries.

So trade in the Corolla, get yourself a Combi and head to Raglan to catch some waves, dude.


Getting there: Raglan is a two-hour drive from Auckland and 45 minutes from Hamilton.

Surf lessons: The Raglan Surfing School is a professional outfit that caters for beginners to experienced surfers. It hires out boards and wetsuits. Check out the school's website, email info@raglansurfingschool.co.nz or call (07) 825 7873. The school can also arrange accommodation for you.

- NZ Herald

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