The last time I was on a surfboard was quite a few years ago. Some friends and I were camping in Tofino, on Vancouver Island (BC, Canada) and there were two guys who knew how to surf, plus me and another dude who had no idea what we were doing. We rented gear from a local surf shop and the guys who had surfed before told us they’d give us a lesson. Well, after 20 minutes of flailing around in the whitewash, the guys who knew what they were doing abandoned us in pursuit of bigger and better waves, and my buddy and I lasted about 30 more minutes and then decided we were tired of choking on seawater and getting smashed in the face with our boards. We went in to the beach and drank beer for the rest of the day. It was still a fun trip, but I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything about surfing. A second trip to Tofino a year later produced similar results. After that, I went to Mazatlan in Mexico for a vacation and rented a surfboard for a day, but basically did a lot more flailing around and decided I just wasn’t meant to surf.
Flash forward to last week, when I headed back to Vancouver Island to Tofino’s little sister, Ucluelet (affectionately known as Ukee to the locals) to visit one of my best friends for a long weekend. He is a surfer, but I was happy to stay home and hang out in the hammock while he went out to catch some waves. Then he introduced me to his roommate, who happened to be the legendary Andy Herridge from Wick’d Surf Camps, a new-ish surf shop that is absolutely killin’ it on the Tofino/Ukee surf scene. When Andy offered me a lesson, I jumped at the chance to head out with such a highly recommended instructor.
When the day and time of my lesson arrived, we headed down to his shop in downtown Ukee. Right away, I spotted brand-new wetsuits and surfboards – after working in some sketchy dive shops, one of the first things I check out in any shop is their rental gear fleet and what kind of shape it’s in. Andy fitted me in a 4/3mm wetsuit and I felt a bit like the Michelin Man since I am used to heading into the ocean in not much more than a rash guard and shorts. He told me I wouldn’t need a hood or gloves as the water was unseasonably warm (at 15C/59F… I am used to 28C/82F water!) I filled out the requisite paperwork, waited for the other students to get geared up and off we went to Wickaninnish Beach, but not before Andy offered us some of his homemade lemon/coconut energy balls. (And I can totally vouch for these being homemade, because I was staying at his house and saw all the ingredients!)
Once we arrived at the beach, we met around Andy’s truck to get our Wick’d rash guards on. The beach is inside Pacific Rim National Park, and they have regulations that make surf shops and their students wear colored rash guards on top of their wetsuits (every shop has a different color) so students are easily identified. After that, Andy had us carry our boards to the beach and he started our lesson. One thing I’ve learned as a dive instructor is that just because someone is amazing at what they do, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a good teacher of it. That’s not the case at all with Andy – I saw him tailoring his instructions to each of the 4 students and using lots of different techniques to get his points across. He started with a thorough safety briefing about currents, diver etiquette and bailing off your board without giving yourself a black eye.
After we promised to make hilarious dismounts to keep Andy entertained, we moved onto our boards to learn paddling and ‘pop-ups’ (how to get up on your board to ride a wave) on the beach. Andy’s energy level while giving group and one-on-one instructions was impressive and infectious. We were all giggling away and doing our best to mimic his ‘surfer pose’ every time he yelled it at us.
We practiced our paddling and pop-ups over and over until we were told to put our leashes on (how the surfboard stays attached to you – it goes around your ankle) and we headed into the whitewash. The first wave that broke over my face was shockingly cold, but I swear, right after that first wave I never felt cold the entire time we were out there. I’m sure it helped that it was a sunny day (I got a lovely burn on my face!) but learning to surf is such physical work that there is not much chance of getting cold, even in colder water.
Since our group was on the bigger side (4 students), Andy would help one person at a time while the others tried to get up on their boards and ride the whitewash in. Even though he was focusing on the person he was helping, I saw him keeping a close eye on the other students and calling out instructions if needed, or snapping a pic if someone got up on their board. He always had a thumbs up and a ‘yeahhhhh buddy!!” for everyone.
I quickly got bored of trying to get up on the little whitewash waves (sorry Andy, it’s my ADD) and snuck away into deeper water while Andy was helping one of the other ladies. He spotted me and I thought I was going to get told to come in, but he swam out and helped me get my board into even deeper water to catch a green wave – this is what they’re called before they start cresting and turning into whitewash. I got up but lost my balance and ended up bailing, and Andy was right there to make sure I was okay and to offer suggestions on how to improve. I did get points for my excellent dismount though.
I have no idea how much time passed as I tried again and again to perfect getting up and riding a wave, all with Andy’s encouraging shouts in my ears. The other students in the class were a blast and we were all laughing and bailing off our boards all over the place with each other.
At the end of the session we went in and took a rest on the beach while Andy headed out into the bigger waves for a quick rip to show us how the pros do it. I have seen him surfing a few times and he is amazing. We goofed off and watched from the shore, and then stole his camera for some selfies.
After we made the long walk back to the truck (carrying the surfboard after surfing is not nearly as easy or fun as it is beforehand) and stepped into Andy’s post-surf 5-star service area, AKA the back of his truck. He’s thought of everything – he has a solar shower hooked to the side of his truck to rinse off, and once your booties/feet are clean you move onto his ‘no-sand-zone’, which are carpets where you can stand/sit to take off your wetsuit. All your rental gear gets tossed into a box – he takes care of all the rinsing and drying back at the shop, where his ingenious ‘drying room’ ensures you never have to do the dreaded donning of a wet wetsuit or booties… trust me, it’s awful. Then he handed all of us glasses of coconut water to rehydrate. Such thoughtful service! Coming from working at a luxury resort and a demanding valet dive shop in Roatan, it was really wonderful to be on the other end of high-level service.
I was physically wiped out for the rest of the day but couldn’t stop talking about how much fun I had and thinking about when my next surf session would be. Later that night, Andy emailed us students all his pics from the day, posted some of them to the gallery on his website and even created a short video (I’m the very last student in the video with the glorious dismount!):
I can’t speak highly enough of Andy and about what an awesome lesson I had with him. He’s thought of everything and built his business from the ground-up exactly the way he wants it, and it works. He works two jobs and is crazy busy, yet still has an insanely high energy level, super positive attitude and really is able to let his passion for surfing and sharing surfing with his students shine through. Every time I got up on my board I saw Andy giving me a huge grin and a thumbs up and hollering, “yeahhhhh buddddyyyyyy weeeeeeeooooooooooo!” and that made the other 10 times I bailed totally worth it. All four of us managed to get up on our boards at least a few times, and that doesn’t always happen when you’re first learning how to surf. It was such a rad afternoon.
If you’re looking to learn to surf in the Tofino or Ukee area, you need to go see Andy at Wick’d Surf Camps. He does private or group lessons for really reasonable prices (especially given all the extras that are included!) and can tailor it to beginners or more advanced surfers. There are also longer surf camps available for all ages. If you’re already a surf god and just want a local guide, Andy also does guided surf trips and will show you best spots. And for those of you looking to get your zen on both in the waves and on land, there are surf & yoga packages available, which I will definitely be taking advantage of next time I’m in town.
I can’t think of a more fun afternoon that I’ve had in quite a while. Andy made the day a blast but still informative and helpful, and I felt like I improved a lot in just a couple hours. I am itching to get back on a board and try to conquer some more waves! I can’t wait until I can get back to Ukee and out in the water with Andy. Now I see how surfing can be just as addictive as diving.
Get hooked up with Wick’d Surf Camps:
You can check out Andy’s website at www.wickdsurfcamps.com (see if you can find me on the ‘Gallery’ page!). Get in touch with him by email at email@example.com, by phone at (250) 266-0338 or stop by and see him at 1559 Imperial Lane. He’s also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube. Make sure you let him know Rika sent you 🙂
I was a guest of Wick’d Surf Camps for my lesson, but it was as a favor to a friend, not in exchange for a post/review. Even when I tried to tip Andy afterward, he insisted on trying to give me a shirt for it. Such a solid dude. Anyway, even though you guys know that you always receive my honest opinion no matter who is taking care of the bill, I always like to be transparent about this kind of stuff.
A special thanks to one of my fave dudes on this planet, Ryan, for hosting me in Ukee, taking all the beach pics of the surf lesson, and for making me get my ass in gear to go take the lesson!