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Saltwater Dreaming: Learning to Surf in Waikiki

Like anything in life, you can think or talk about riding a wave until you’re blue in the face, but actually paddling out and experiencing it firsthand is another thing. And what better place to learn than on the island of Oahu?

Sun, surf and sand. Does it get any better than this?

For me, learning to surf was half terrifying and half a dream come true. It was also a lot harder than I had imagined. But there was something magical about being out on the water, getting “owned” by the incredible power of the crests and troughs of the ocean, and then serenely waiting for the right set of waves to approach while sitting on my board and taking in the beautiful panorama of Waikiki and Diamond Head.

I remember looking down at my watch after getting settled into my hotel room at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach and feeling really nervous about my upcoming surf lesson with Faith Surf School. I even had a few moments of anxiety and thought about canceling my opportunity to get a little more saltwater in my veins. Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely stoked to finally be brave enough to expose myself to one of Mother Nature’s most majestic elements, but I was afraid I’d drown, get knocked out by my own board or someone else’s, or simply be an epic fail and not catch a wave.

Luckily, I soon found myself walking along the scorching hot sand toward a little tent, where my surf instructor Keali’i “the King” and professional photographer Atilla Jobbagyi awaited my arrival.

“We strive on quality and make sure to give customers a great experience so that they come back. Quality is truly everything, man. We have a 99 percent stand up rate on the first lesson. That remaining one percent either gets injured or gets seasick. You’d be surprised at the number of people who get seasick when the waves are smashing. But the proof is in the pudding. We have three fishing net locations along the beach that have been bringing people in for years,” says Jobbagyi. “Are you ready?”

Keali’i couldn’t have been more excited to show me, and a fellow traveler from Japan, a personal and memorable 5-star ocean experience. Though it sounds obvious, lessons are important. Armed with my bikini, rash guard, and of course, my enthusiasm, I got on my board for a lesson in paddling techniques, stalling, how to fall off my board, avoiding other surfers, and ultimately how to stand up in five “simple” steps.

After about 15 minutes of practicing on the sand with our soft foam boards, we ventured off into the Pacific.

While paddling out into the ocean, I had to keep reminding myself to be committed in order to make it past the breaking waves. I knew if I had any doubts or began second guessing myself, I was guaranteed to get slapped around, pushed back to shore, and left exhausted.

We were in about waist deep to shoulder deep water the entire time, so my fear of drowning stood on the sidelines, but I soon learned that surfing is a lesson in humility. Before paddling out, I wasn’t expecting to be good in a day, a week, or even in a year. I understood that it takes years of dedication to master the sport.

Let’s just say I had my fair share of falling and coughing up salt water after getting rag dolled. I even walked away with a nice souvenir: a minor hematoma on the left side of my head after my board kicked back and knocked me in the skull. Having to walk up to the lifeguard tower after exiting the water to ask for a couple ice packs was a little embarrassing, but in retrospect I realized that ripping on a few good waves made up for my mistake while paddling out.

Who knew you could ride a wave backwards?

It pushed me both physically and mentally but my first lesson also made me feel incredibly alive. It taught me to trust my instincts a little more (as well as the ocean) and to stop second guessing myself.

It was all worth it.

There were a few moments when I was able to catch perfect spots in the line up. Keali’i had me paddle at just the right speed to catch the momentum of the swell, I pushed up, landed my feet in the exact spot we had practiced and then…pure bliss. When I felt the wind and salty ocean spray on my cheeks, I finally knew what it was like to experience the rush of riding a wave, as well as just sitting there waiting for one and taking in the awe inspiring view.

It’s truly an amazing gift to be one with the sea and to reap the rewards of being open to trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. I am surprised at how often the things we don’t think we’d ever be able to do ignite a burning passion within us when we simply get up the courage to try them with an open mind.

I can definitely tell you I wasn’t a natural, but I thoroughly enjoyed my first time out on the water.

Now it’s time to buy a surfboard and religiously check the surf forecasts every day! No, I’m just kidding. But my love affair with the Hawaiian Islands did just get a bit more intimate and I will be attempting to conquer some waves again in the near future.


Faith Surf School is owned and operated by the Moniz family and is Hawaii’s largest and most popular surf school. With three amazing beachfront location in on Waikiki Beach, they offer both group or private instruction to cater to all your surfing needs.

Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach 2169 Kalia Road Honolulu, HI 96815 (808) 923-3111 Twitter: @OutriggerReef

For more information about O’ahu, please visit their official website: Twitter: @oahuvb Instagram: OahuVB (877) 525-OAHU

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