I decided to try surfing at El Palmar beach, near San Carlos, Panama. It was fairly close to Panama City (about an hour and a half drive) and had the exact name I was googling: Panama Surf School.
Panama Surf School is owned by Flor. A life long surfer who’s son is an up and coming pro already competing internationally. The school is almost right next to the beach. When driving down the road to El Palmar, off the Pan-American highway. Simply turn left at the fork and look for her sign. The school and all the gear is setup in her backyard. Complete with bathroom/change room, a shower, places to sit as well as some extras for the beach you can rent for $5.
Flor’s knowledge of the local area is second to none. She arranges her classes according to the tide of the beach and knows what kind of board is best suited for you. I was best suited for a long board. We completed a couple of techniques on land first just so we could understand the motions you go through to stand up on the board. Flor will also make sure you are stretched and loose before going in the water. Surfing is physically demanding!
The first thing you learn is how to lay on your stomach and balance on the board. Typically, a line is down the center of the board to show you where to position your center of mass. This is also the first lesson for every new technique in surfing. It’s not as easy as you think. One on your stomach your feet need to stay slightly elevated but together at the centre with your stomach making contact with the board. This is also your paddle position you use to swim out.
I got up on my 3rd attempt. You do this by doing the pop. The pop is where you transition from on your stomach to standing on the board. The trick here is not to just bring your body on top of your feet but to bring your feet under your body in the proper stance. Too far forward and your weight will actually make the nose of the board dip under water and you tumble, too far back and you may get up but the nose of the board points at the sky and you just slip off.
Also, there is a sweet spot for catching the wave. If you try to catch it too early the wave will not break yet and it will simply roll under you. Too late and you’ll just be in the white water with only the residual energy from the wave behind you. The hardest part for me was knowing when to get up and to paddling fast enough to catch the wave. However out of my few good waves I caught, I even made a slight turn to the right to get more of it. Pretty cool moment.
I found my second surf lessons harder than the first for two reasons. #1) I was physically spent. After my first lesson earlier in the week and all the activities at Nitro City my muscles were fairly fatigued. #2) Was knowing what to do but execution was off. It’s a mental game. I know the motions to go through but I’m still not getting it right and that’s frustrating.
There was a difference this time though, I still used a long board but this time it was fiber glass. This kind of board helped because during my first lesson it reacted with my skin and gave me a rash on my arms. I cheated a little bit to get going again. I didn’t pop up, I kept one foot in the back and squated on my knee.
There are a few things I really need to work on to surf again.
Thanks to Flor for her patience. If you’re going to Panama, stop at El Palmar and check out Panama Surf School. It’s a great beach, not too crowded and has perfect beginner waves.