The elusive pop-up

Get down on the floor, belly down. Slide your hands to under your ribs at both sides. Now launch up and try to get your feet to land where your chest just was, all while pivoting your torso so you’re now facing to the side. Now do that on a surfboard as you’re skimming quickly along moving water.

Considering a lot of people can’t even do a push-up, this was a big ask for an obese girl. My boobs were so heavy I was toppling over every time. So whenever I went surfing, I’d just use the easy-peezy method of sliding my knees forward and then slowly getting to my feet, which made for a wobbly take-off and even wobblier standing attempt.

Truthfully, I was kidding myself for thinking I’d be able to continue the knee-first way of standing up. The knee-first technique works great in white water and on those lovely soft foam boards surf schools supply. When I transitioned to a fibreglass board, I encountered a snag and it wasn’t seaweed.

By employing the knee-first technique, I was dragging my back foot along the board to stand. The bruising and the ‘nugget-ing’ (a lump the size of a golf ball on the arch of my foot) that resulted was quite painful and made surfing more difficult than it needed to be. Hitting the back foot is, quite bluntly, a sign that you’re getting up wrong.

The knee-first technique may work for beginners on soft boards, but the second I got my fibreglass board, it didn’t work so well anymore – not to mention that I’m now going out in waves that break even faster so I need to be up as quickly as possible.

So I did pop-up after pop-up on the floor. I stuck a line of sticky tape on the floor to make sure I was centred and my feet were landing where they were supposed to. Surfing uses a lot of muscle memory. So in the beginning, it’s so alien and strange that we flounder along thinking ‘how the hell are we supposed to stand up on this thing’ until our bodies begin to recognise this new movement known as popping-up. Then we “just stand up” (Ask a seasoned surfer to explain in detail the steps to popping-up. Watch them struggle. It’s kind of funny.).

I’ve ridden horses since I was a little tacker. It’s second-nature of me to ‘put the leg on’, ‘use my seat’ and ‘keep the contact’. I can sit on my horse bareback and canter along without even a second thought. My muscles remember what they’re supposed to do. I don’t think about adjusting my weight to keep balanced – I just do. For this understanding of muscle memory, I feel as though my surfing will improve faster.

So I lost weight (yay), which does make the pop-up easier once your boobs shrink and you’re not so top heavy – haha – and it also increased my agility and flexibility, which are major assets to surfing. I also practised. I did so many pop-ups on the floor that I started to feel that I was getting it. Then I went surfing. The first thing I did was drag my back foot and fumble around so much that the wave ended before I even stood up. Why? Because of muscle memory. It can also work the opposite way that we want it to. It forms bad habits. I’d been using my knees for so long that it was now habit and was harder to crack. Just doing pop-ups on the living room floor for two hours wasn’t going to fix it.

I get frustrated so easily with myself with surfing. I look at and compare myself to pro-surfers too much. I want to be out there doing cutbacks off the lip, charging barrels, doing floaters and 360s, so a struggle to even pop-up correctly bugged the living (obscenity) out of me. But the only way I can ever progress is to kick the habit and work on pop-up correctly.

So I surf. And I surf again. And I surf again. I go out in the waves and I don’t come into the beach until the waves either die or I get a really good wave that feels ‘right’. A while back, the day after a good surf session, I wouldn’t be able to put a shoe on because my back foot was so swollen and sore. Now all there is a little purple spot the size of a twenty-cent coin. I smile to myself and zip up my surf bag and shove the board in the car, ready for the hour+ plus trip to a surf beach. Nailing my pop-up may not come as quickly as I’d like, but it’s the one basic thing that is a necessity to proceed up skill levels.

I get in the car and turn up my music and drive out my driveway. I wonder how many perfect pop-ups I can nail today. 100? 150? Why not?

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