I’m going to start this off by saying that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a ‘sea’ person. I’m not even a ‘water’ person, unless feeling at your absolute best lying in a two hour bath counts. I’m not a strong swimmer, I hate my head going under water, and the smell of chlorine gives me hideous flashbacks to being forced into a nasty school swimming pool in an ill-fitting swimsuit. And when my sister told me that the family had booked a paddle boarding lesson on Valencia beach I realised this was going to be a chance to improve on something I’d been trying to work on for a while: feeling comfortable in the water.
Visiting a hotter country on a regular basis has helped me so far. My family live in a house with a pool (perks of living in Spain) so there’s only so long I can resist the pull of cool water when it hits 42 degrees outside. I started off not wanting to put my head under water, then I crossed that bridge and there’s even evidence of me under water with my sister’s waterproof camera. That hadn’t happened for a years. Next, the sea. Alcohol helped with this one. I sank a large glass of agua de Valencia on my birthday last August and suddenly going for a swim in the sea didn’t seem as terrifying as it had for so long. It helps that the Mediterranean around Valencia is very shallow – you have to go out incredibly far for it to even start reaching your chest. It also helps that the sea floor was clear and the water not too murky – things lurking under the sea is not far under my overwhelming fear of spiders. I had a good old splash around for an hour and loved it, though I didn’t put my head anywhere near the surface.
So now I think you’ll see just how the idea of me going paddle board surfing in the ocean is bizarre. I said an enthusiastic yes without thinking about it and only really started panicking when I saw the rolling sea. Bugger. I’d have to go in the ocean for this and I hadn’t really factored that into the equation. When I watched a few beginner’s paddle boarding classes on YouTube they had all been on calm lakes in midwest America, where men with snapbacks and board shorts jumped gracefully onto boards and paddled away dry as a bone.
And yet I still went ahead with it. I still pulled on a wetsuit (workout number 1) in Mediterranean Surf School’s chic, surf-hipster shop, still dragged a huge paddle board out to the sea (workout number 2) and still got into the water.
It helped that the lesson was more than just get up on the board and go. Antonio, our lovely instructor who spoke fantastic English to guide us through the whole thing, immediately got us comfortable with the boards and the water by, well, making us fall off them. Apparently my Mum, watching my Dad and sisters and I from her dry, safe spot on the sunny beach, said she couldn’t quite believe the sight of me plunging repeatedly into the water and coming up smiling. But once you’ve crashed under once and have to immediately start scrambling across the board again, falling in just becomes part of the fun. We learnt to stand whilst someone else held the board, how to fall off, how to balance as we turned, how to catch a wave, how to surf kneeling and standing (tiny waves, but still) and only at the very end we then – totally knackered and chests billowing as best they could under the wetsuits – grabbed the paddles and did some kneeling and stand up paddle boarding. I think I spent in total 90 seconds in an actual stand up position with a paddle in hand. But surfing? I actually managed that pretty well. I loved it. Maybe one day I will live that brief teenage fantasy I had of living in a beach hut in Hawaii listening to Jack Johnson in a hammock.
Antonio was such a kind, considerate teacher, though I truly hated him for a moment when he asked us to take our boards back up to the their beach lock-up. Turns out dragging a ten foot paddle board up the width of Playa de Patacona after two hours of paddle boarding in the baking sun is an actual form of torture.
But on the other hand, one of the most satisfying sensations is unzipping your wetsuit down the back, getting back into your clothes, and flopping down in the sun with sea-salty hair and a glass of cava.
If you want to try out something fun but physical, definitely try paddle boarding with Mediterranean Surf School. It’s only €28 each for a two hour lesson with board and wetsuit hire (if needed) included, and you can find their shop on Avenida Mare Nostrum at the back of the Playa de Patacona.