Shawn Griffin surfing in Santa Cruz, California | Photo by Ellen Baker

“One of the best aspects of Sacramento is that it is close to the ocean and close to the mountains.”

Sacramento’s golden ticket: a gateway to nearly every adventure sport you could ask for. Mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, trail running, climbing, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, rafting … and then there is surfing. Surfing tends to be the easiest sport to try once and never again, or never try at all. Why is this? Sharks? Cold water? Lack of access to information? A near-death experience that one time you tried? All valid answers.

My first surfing experience involved a board far too short, which led me to nearly drowning (I never could hold my breath for very long). My second experience, three years later, left me with a bloody lip and a black eye from the board abruptly uniting with my face underwater. The third time I went surfing, my board and I traveled far beyond the breaking of the waves. I’m pretty certain I didn’t even attempt to catch a wave. I just sat out at sea looking for otters, drifting in and out of day dreams with the soft ocean currents. It was then that I claimed to love surfing.

Myself and Sara Roudebush in San Luis Obispo; day of my bloody lip.

Years passed and I was asked, “Do you surf?” My response: “Yeah, I dabble.”

In what world I recalled, I cannot say.

My fourth time surfing was with the cute boy who had asked if I surfed. I didn’t see him much in the water that day as I spent what seemed like hours battling my way through the underwater forest of kelp beds. My point here is, unless you’re a modern-day Hercules, becoming a surfer is hard work if you’re not living on the coast, surfing nearly every day. Coming to terms with the fact that you might be a beginner forever is the first step to becoming a “real” surfer. Eventually, you will find yourself getting into waves—perhaps not yet standing on the board but gaining excitement of understanding the wave. This is what puts beginners in the perfect scenario.

Perhaps it’s difficult to understand at first, but the perpetual beginner brings a perpetual psyche, and perpetual psyche is what athletes spend their lives searching for. So, my fellow beginner-to-moderate Sacramentan surfers, not only do we hold the key of psyche that most surfers dream of having, we also don’t need to spend our retirement money on board after board because that Wavestorm from Costco works quite well for us every single time. We don’t have to deal with locals who start fights, because we are not good enough to be on their wave. Forget about the 5 a.m. alarm, because the tide doesn’t matter where we’re going.

For those who have yet to break into surfing, here are a few tips on becoming the best beginner you can be:
White water:
Start here. The “inside” (closer to the beach) where the waves have already broken, is a great place to learn how to get into waves.

Wetsuits: If it flatters you, congratulations—you’re one in 100. If you can get it off alone, congratulations—you’re on the road to success.

Picking the best location for your ability:
Do your research and make sure you are on a beginner wave. The wave depends not only on the location but on the weather, wind, swell direction, swell angle and a whole slew of other weather-pattern-and-meteorology-related dependents. See or

Take a lesson:
It will save you many a solo session. And maybe a fat lip.

Look left:
In California, the majority of waves break to the surfers right. Before paddling for any wave that is breaking right, think, “look left.” If someone is there, sit back on your board and allow them to take the wave. In other words, the surfer closest to the peak of the wave, the first point at which the wave breaks, has the right of way.

Respect the locals, hold onto your board, wait your turn, apologize.

Unknown surfer taking an unexpected plunge.

So there you have it; push me into a wave and hand me a cocktail, because damn it feels good to be a beginner, forever.

**This piece first appeared in print on page 11 of issue #295 (July 3 – 17, 2019)**

    Ellen Baker

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    Rock scrambling, exploring and taking photos along the way.