Riding the Waves in North Africa

Growing up in New York City, I never really learned how to swim. Maybe I shouldn’t blame the City. Other kids learned… it just somehow skipped me. And I skipped it. As a result (and as an adult), I had an irrational fear of any body of water where I couldn’t touch the bottom or hold on to a ledge. So the ocean was definitely something I avoided. Gah, it terrified me.

But by 2008, before moving to Italy, I had enough of the fear and decided I had to take swimming lessons to try and overcome it. How could I live on the Mediterranean and not know how to swim? Honestly.

My swimming teacher was extremely patient with me; case in point, it took at least FIVE hour-long lessons before I’d let him take the noodle away (yep, that’s right). By lesson ten I was far from an expert swimmer, but I was finally comfortable in the deep end of the pool, far from the ledge. No longer afraid of drowning, I thought I may just be flailing around from point A to point B, but I could probably save my life if I had to. Even then, neither the pool nor the Mediterranean is an ocean. I had more work to do.

img_3391When the opportunity came up to take surf lessons in Morocco over New Year’s in 2015, I saw my chance. Jessica and I had been trying to figure out what to do for the holiday, and we’d had such a great time in Essaouria before, we booked it. Now, truth be told, the overall package we got wasn’t really our style, but the surf lessons and mellow-ish waves here were just what I needed.

Again, I had an extremely patient teacher. My gosh, I’ve been very lucky in this regard — or maybe the extreme look of terror on my face keeps them in line. While the beautiful Yusef would push me physically and emotionally into what seemed like massive waves, he also gave me just the right amount of reluctant praise when I *almost* stood up.

With his hands on his head in frustration, he would yell: STAND UP. STAND UP. I appreciated that, but riding the waves in on my knees was just fine by me… and I’d laugh hysterically the whole way because I couldn’t believe what I was doing. Of course, Yusef couldn’t help but smile and concede, “good job.” I was absurdly giddy with my baby steps.

And I really didn’t care about standing up. Just being in the water and not screaming at the top of my lungs in mortal fear was epic progress.

photo-1As the week went on, the numbers in our group dwindled. Many went home post holidays, others got sick or injured. Ironically, I was the only one standing in the end.

Since I alone couldn’t occupy all of the lesson time any more — I tried, but I was also pretty bruised up by this point — we would hang out on the beach, take walks, and eat delicious tagine with our new friends at the aptly named Cafe SansStress.

Spending this time with Yusef, we learned about his background as a Berber — an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa who he described as being very “Swiss” in their attention to detail and precision. That made perfect sense with the way he taught us to surf.

I haven’t been surfing since, but as the Amigas can attest, I’m so much more comfortable in the water than I used to be. And that’s made our summer adventures all the more fun. Frankly, I can’t imagine now being in a stunning place like Croatia and not getting in the water, even if I can’t touch the bottom or hold on to anything — I owe that freedom in large part to this special time in Morocco.