• Emily McDonnell

#8: Striving to surf

My dream of travelling the world as a cool, elegant surfer has been doused with water…

Disclaimer: this is not me surfing.

I grew up as far away from the ocean as you could get in the UK, which meant a life on top of a surfboard was never realistically on the cards.

However, I persisted whenever I got the chance: a school trip to Wales when I was 13, a family holiday in Cornwall when I was 15, a girls’ escape to Taghazout when I was 24. But (surprisingly) these fleeting attempts hadn’t lead me to become a pro. I can carry a board under one arm and even look cool while doing it (harder than you think), I am able to pop up and catch small white waves, and I can balance for more than 10 seconds before spectacularly tumble under the waves.

Since my Moroccan surf adventure, I’ve always secretly harboured the idea that I’m actually quite good at surfing, but the thought of travelling and hiring equipment had always hampered my progress. So when I saw that an indoor surf arena had opened in the middle of Berlin, I was determined to go and unleash my inner surf goddess.

As you might imagine, surfing indoors on artificial waves is different to paddling around in the shallows of the ocean. Wellenwerk’s wave - for it is one, constant, 9m-wide, 1.6m-high wave - is going to take some time and practise to conquer. Luckily for everyone, I - along with my friend Amy - booked a beginners session: some part of my unconscious knew that this was where I belonged.

I’m not going to lie, looking at that wave, I felt pretty overwhelmed, especially when I realised that you begin your indoor surfing journey by clambering onto your board halfway up the moving wave…

First run: a group of 10 beginners side by side on the wave, holding onto a bar, trying to get a feel for the it and not lose our balance.

This was not what I had spent hours practising! I could paddle out, watch for a wave I wanted to catch, and ride it gently to the shore. The bigger waves were well out of my reach, and yet, here, I found myself wobbling around on top of a massive wave, while standing on a piece of foam in a swimming pool hundreds of kilometres from the ocean. I guess you'd call that progress.

Once I’d thrown myself into the wave to literally test the waters, it was time for the bar to disappear and me to show off my hibernating surfing talents. Well, as it turned out, I think my talents barely woke up: they made a half-arsed appearance. I tried, I tumbled, I tried again. Tightening my core, bending my knees, trying to keep a sturdy balance took all my focus, so I couldn’t tell you how long I stayed on that huge wave, but it was definitely longer than it could have been.

While I might not be ready to change careers just yet, at least I laughed a lot. I'll definitely be back to take on the Wellenwerk wave. But, perhaps, my inner surf goddess is waiting for warmer weather before she properly emerges, and all I should do is head to Costa Rica and let her out… I’ll keep you updated.

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