20 Best Surfing Islands

A Perfect Misconception

Our jaws fall simultaneously as Ryan, Taylor, and I watch left-handers reeling down the reef with no one out. We spend all morning in the waves, soaking up the surf miracle and high-fiving the friendly locals who paddle out too. Ryan and Taylor get some brilliant rides. I, on the other hand, am having a hell of a hard time.

My fun-loving surf buddies from back home arrived a few days ago on a backyard-built plywood speedboat they had hired at the nearest island with an airport. They hauled an impressive array of edible goodies and fun surprises from the Land of Plenty, too. I was both thrilled and impressed they’d figured out a way to find me out here in the middle of nowhere. But I should have known, these two are always game for an adventure. The surf even turned on to welcome them.

“Perfect waves,” I mutter bitterly after bubbling up through the whitewash with another bleeding scratch. I had thought that surfing picturesque waves like these would be easy. I was so wrong! These fast, shallow reef waves leave no place to be but inside the tube.

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Tube riding has always been elusive in my surf arsenal. It was easy to dodge the frightening vortexes in the softer waves of California. This is a whole new wave world to me and, after a morning of scuffles with the reef, I’m gravely discouraged and covered in scrapes. Despite the pleasantly warm sea temperature, this is no place for a bikini I already ripped the butt out of my favorite surf shorts. I continue babbling negatively to myself as the surge sucks me back out through the partly exposed fingers of reef. There is just no way around it at my skill level of backside tube riding, I am going to hit the reef. Rather than call it a day when I obviously can’t find my rhythm, I stubbornly force a few more waves.

Sensing my frustration, Taylor talks me through the process. He’s a regular-footer too. “Okay, Lizzy, you gotta take off behind the peak, and just lean into the face when it starts to pitch in front of you. Use your right hand on your rail for stability.” Easier said than done, I conclude, after a few more trips over the falls. After traveling over 9,000 sea miles in search of waves like these, I’m disgusted that I can’t even properly ride them!

Another clean line rises and shifts in front of us, putting me in the perfect spot. The massive local guy with a mohawk nods at me, signaling me to go. “It’s yours, Lizzy. You’ve got this one,” Ryan encourages.

I have only a second to judge the takeoff. A little in, or out? Deeper or more on the shoulder? I turn, put my head down, and stroke hard to get under the lip. The wave and I stand up in sync, and my feet glue to the top of my board. I stick my left arm in the face and watch the clear sheet of water launch out. But as the lip comes down, I realize I’ve aimed too low. It nails me on the head. The wave grabs me we go up together, out together, and down together. The reef catches my bare back while the wave drags me shoreward. When I sputter to the top, I see that my hands and feet are now bleeding too. Ryan signals to be sure I’m okay. I give him thumbs-up, but fight back tears. Not from the pain, but because I’m trying so hard and failing so terribly.

Back aboard Swell later, I’m still grouchy. Ryan scrubs my back wound with iodine, while Taylor pleads, “Lizzy, you can’t expect to be able to ride waves like this your first time. It took me years to figure out backside barrels.”

I refuse to give up. The next day, with the salt water stinging in my wounds, I finally lock into a tube and come out unscathed. The boys cheer and we celebrate that evening with a bonfire and music on the beach, even though my battles with tube riding are far from over.

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