When I set out on this sabbatical, my biggest apprehension was that I would not make any friends. This is not because I am particularly unsocial or painfully shy. I can talk to people and natter away, but I do not know how to take it to the next level after. How do you ask someone for a drink or dinner without sounding needy? What happens if they say no? It is like dating in reverse. Instead of your gaggle of girlfriends to fall back on when things go wrong, you have your partner.
We spent one month in Biarritz, where we met some lovely people but we never made any solid connections. Arriving in Ericeira, I was concerned it would be a repeat of the same thing. Friendship is organic and cannot be forced. It requires effort and commitment on both sides which means the other person needs to be just as keen as you. It also requires time, something that is particularly difficult in a place where everyone is in constant flux.
I ended up meeting almost all of the people who I have come to consider friends while attending surf classes. This was partly because the atmosphere in a surf class is pretty genial and the pre-surf class rituals of putting on wetsuits and walking to the beach provide an ideal moment to chat and get to know each other. The other reason I think my friends ended up coming out of surf classes is the mutual interest.
Surfing can get a bit obsessive (ahem). You spend your day gearing up to go out, then you go out and give it your best try and then you want to talk about all the successes and failures you have had while in the water. Until arriving in Ericeira, the only other person I knew who cared about surfing like I did was my boyfriend. Suddenly however, we were being opened up to a world of equally eager, excited and ambitious beginner surfers.
We met one couple who’s level was similar to ours and who had the same passion for surfing as we did. It happened so simply. One day in the water, the girl paddled over and asked if we would like to go for Indian one night that week. I replied that we would love to. Suddenly we were meeting up and discussing what we had learned in the water, scheduling sessions we could go out together, bonding over the things we loved about surfing – the list of surf related topics seemed endless. The shared passion created a safe space, and slowly, organically, we started to talk about personal things, open up about who we all were.
It truly was the ultimate game changer. Suddenly the trip was more than a crazy thing we were doing. Making friends grounded us. Somehow the shared chats, the easily spent moments together gave a meaning to our adventure we had not yet found. Sharing surfing moments – be it the good or the terrible – with other people who cared and understood was the most liberating and exciting thing I had done since I started surfing.
The huge irony about making friends was that once we had made friends with the amazing couple, we started making friends with other people too. Suddenly the fear of refusal was reduced. I cannot say how wonderful it was to find people to celebrate my 30th birthday with who I truly liked and wanted to be with me. Spending an evening surrounded by new friends was the most uplifting thing I could ever have asked for.
When you travel you can easily feel quite lonely. Even if you are travelling with a partner (in fact, perhaps more so if you are travelling with a partner), it can feel quite isolated. To make friends, or even just friendly acquaintances helps smash through the isolation and make you feel more connected.
The first day I paddled out with my new surf friends, I felt my heart sore. The session itself was irrelevant (conditions were terrible), but just the joy of being part of a tiny surf gang, to head into the waves altogether and cheer and encourage and surmount together was magic.
Part of this magic is directly related to our surf level. There are a lot of people who surf in the world, and there are a lot of people who have tried surfing. What is much much harder to find, and infinitely more precious when you do, is people who are committed, who are willing to work hard, but who are still learning. I do not understand how there are not more of us out there – surely we cannot be the only adults learning to surf – but somehow the group of ‘committed but not quite there yet’ surfers is elusive. This made my friendships even more precious and special.
Not only have we made friends, but we get to be part of each others surf story. It may not sound like much – unless you are into surfing. And then it is the world.