Waving not Drowning

waving not drowning

‘If there was blood in the lungs, then this lower part would be flat, a flat line, see, because the blood would pool down the bottom. And here, we don’t have that shadow, so there’s no collapsed lung. And we can see all those things like trees, so lungs ok. Cannot see rib fracture and anyway rib fracture no treating, only time! So, you’re ok for flying!’ The doctor grins at me, showing gleaming white teeth as he closes the fisher price guide to basic anatomy and triumphantly hands me my very own CD-Rom of my X-ray. In the last minute, I’ve learnt more about how my body works than in an entire UK state school GCSE Biology class. Above all, I’ve grasped the concept that alas, I can’t swing an extra couple of weeks here in gorgeous Sanur, Bali on ‘medical leave’.


I’m in hospital in Kuta, forced here by a sudden realization that when it suddenly gets hard to breath maybe an intrepid girl should get checked out by medical expertise beyond google and NHS online, particularly when said intrepid girl is getting on a plane soon. One particularly chilling forum post left me cold as I read about a woman on a plane with a collapsed lung. Ah….ok, maybe, then….plus it’s always good to check out medical facilities when you might end up living somewhere in the future doing fun stuff EFL.


The cause of this injury (and many others, eight bruises – one over 5cm long and a glorious rainbow medley of teals and peacock blues, plus one graze last count), is tremendously rock and roll. These are surfing injuries, baby. And the possible-lung-crusher was actually achieved on my very first surf lesson, just I was so much in pain from all the other minor injuries I didn’t really notice it until the second day. Brutal sport, man.


Since a young age, I’ve harboured dreams of living by the ocean, sun-soaked hair, running down to the turquoise glinting sea, bronzed and toned, hoping on my board and catching some waves before breakfast. Instead, I grew up with my local beach of Skegness, far more likely to catch pneumonia than waves, and nobody would dream of going near the sea until at least the midday sun had a chance to melt the icebergs bobbing around on its murky grey surface. So, I find myself fast approaching my mid-thirties without having achieved full bronze surf goddess status as yet and trying to make up for lost time by starting surf lessons at the tender age of 32.


With age, it is said, wisdom comes, but more than this comes a keen awareness of just how many ways one can injure, wound and break oneself. In my youth, I’ve had my daredevil moments: I’ve abseiled, parachute-jumped, rock-climbed and am (perhaps more accurate to say was?) an actual ice-skater who can do those spinny jumpy things and everything, but as I get older, I’ve had to balance my incessant thirst for the adrenalin rush of a rollercoaster with a disturbingly accurate ability to recall in graphic detail just exactly how many breakable bones there are in my body (answer: a lot). My eagerness to sign up for surfing classes whilst basking in the giddy light of my 2016 aim to ‘do some adventurous shizzle’, was only briefly ahead of my recollection of how much continual drowning and mass consumption of a salty cocktail of seaweed and saltwater sucked last time I tried it a decade ago in Newquay.


However, as those of you who have had multiple children can apparently attest, the body’s pain memory is devastatingly brief, and before I had time to say ‘cowabunga dude’, I found myself trying to squidge on slimy rubbery black shoes (super sexy) and trying to lift a board a zillion times my weight onto my head whilst trying to retain some shred of balance (my lofty earlier aim of maintaining dignity long gone) whilst stomping through sand, tripping over seaweed and trying to arrive in the sea unscathed and without tripping up on my board’s leash. After inelegantly yoiking myself onto the gaudy boat a sudden flicker of concern grips me as I recall that since my primary sport is running, my current upper body strength, is likely to cause some minor issues in what is, essentially, an arm-ish (albeit not Amish) type of sport.


The first day sees me mostly learning how not to drown. I’ve learnt, remarkably quickly, that the best way not to drown is not to do anything fancy on the board, except possibly to lie down on it. This, however, seems to clash somewhat with my instructor’s preference for me to man up and actually, you know, try to learn to surf. We compromise by me taking a wave, wiping out, not entirely drowning, and then insisting on ten minute breathers before the next one. After further instructor-persuading, I raise the stakes to kneeling on my board. I achieve a comfortable kneel-lean-surf skill that, frankly, leaves me able to not-drown, survey the stunning scenery volcanoes snoozing behind skirts of palm trees, and even check out some fishes. No dice with the instructor, however, as apparently traditionally surfing involves actually some attempt at standing on the board. I half-heartedly limp about on the board, each time belly flopping spectacularly into the water, inhaling the entire Lombok Strait, and looking busy a few more times before the boat fortunately turns up and it’s time to go back to the shore and revel in not drowning for a few hours. My companion tells me not to overthink stuff, and that surfing always sucks on the first day. Overthink? Moi? Totally not my style. That night I dream of tsunamis and sharks.


Day two and apparently the waves are a bit naff. I’m not sure that’s the technical term that was used, but have already decided that it’s too much cognitive overload to learn not only how to surf but also the lingo. Naff waves sound spectacular to me, though, as it might mean less drowning. I am handed again the student book (surfing homework!) and this time actually try to make sense of the weird ocean diagrams. A couple of years back I took a certificate in Oceanography and remember being absolutely baffled by the section on waves. I mean, it’s just a big whoosh of water, right? Sometimes small, sometimes big. Bob’s your uncle. But, alas, it looks like wave-knowledge might be kinda important for surfing. My head spins with terms like ‘the gutter’, ‘the channel’ and ‘the rip’ – which I have spent most of my life in fear of, having watched one too many Hollywood beach movies, but now I learn is the surfers’ friend and is basically a conveyor belt-ski-lift-wotsit. In the light of the excruciatingly long ‘paddles’ back to the reef breaks, a conveyor belt sounds like a bloody great idea. I make a concerted effort to understand more and am relieved to see that all I really need to achieve for my level 1 surfing ability is to stand up on the board. I decide to get an attitude adjustment and aim to nail that in today’s class.


Two hours later and I am radiantly beaming ear to ear having caught my first real wave, and actually really truly and in all honesty stood up and wiggled around a bit on my board. And more than once, I’ll have you know. I am 100% hooked and ready to quit my job to move to the beach permanently and hook up with a bleach blond surfing husband. My instructor today makes soothing noises which helps me to believe that I am not the suckiest surfing beginner ever, and I leave feeling on cloud nine. I bounce back to my hotel and vow to learn to turn on day three and then obviously become major surfing heroine.


But the surfing gods evidently had other plans for me. Maybe I was just too damn awesome and they got jealous, and so decided to gift me with the mother of all bruises, the boob bruise. A mere twinge in the afternoon develops into a full-blown blatantly-death-lung-collapse-twenty-ribs-fractured-foh-sure injury. I whinge and moan my way through the evening, and finally falling into bed that night notice that I’m actually not really breathing much at all cos it kinda hurts, man, and that I’m feeling kinda light-headed and giddy. That night I dream of iron lungs and rugby tackles and in the morning woefully phone to cancel lesson 3 (the one where I wow them with instant turning), and try to convince my health care insurance to cough up for a hospital visit. And here I stand, coming over all weak and feeble, gaining a medical degree by proxy, and finding out that I haven’t punctured my lung, but I do have something deep tissuey and contusiony and am definitely a brave brave mouse and that the surfing, alas, must end here for now. But stay tuned. It’s only a matter of time before I am surfing diva.



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