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Salt Water Dreaming: Learning to Surf on Waikiki Beach

Posted on November 5, 2013

-by Elysia McMahan

Like anything in life, you can think or talk about riding a wave until you’re blue in the face, but actually paddling out and experiencing it firsthand is another thing. And what better place to learn than on the island of Oahu?

Sun, surf and sand. Does it get any better than this?

For me, learning to surf was half terrifying and half a dream come true. It was also a lot harder than I had imagined. But there was something magical about being out on the water, getting “owned” by the incredible power of the crests and troughs of the ocean, and then serenely waiting for the right set of waves to approach while sitting on my board and taking in the beautiful panorama of Waikiki and Diamond Head.

I remember looking down at my watch after getting settled into my hotel room at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach and feeling really nervous about my upcoming surf lesson with Faith Surf School. I even had a few moments of anxiety and thought about canceling my opportunity to get a little more saltwater in my veins. Don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely stoked to finally be brave enough to expose myself to one of Mother Nature’s most majestic elements, but I was afraid I’d drown, get knocked out by my own board or someone else’s, or simply be an epic fail and not catch a wave.

Luckily, I soon found myself walking along the scorching hot sand toward a little tent, where my surf instructor Kealii “the King” and professional photographer Atilla Jobbagyi awaited my arrival.

“We strive on quality and make sure to give customers a great experience so that they come back. Quality is truly everything, man. We have a 99 percent stand up rate on the first lesson. That remaining one percent either gets injured or gets seasick. You’d be surprised at the number of people who get seasick when the waves are smashing. But the proof is in the pudding. We have three fishing net locations along the beach that have been bringing people in for years,” says Jobbagyi. “Are you ready?”

Kealii couldn’t have been more excited to show me, and a fellow traveler from Japan, a personal and memorable 5-star ocean experience. Though it sounds obvious, lessons are important. Armed with my bikini, rash guard, and of course, my enthusiasm, I got on my board for a lesson in paddling techniques, stalling, how to fall off my board, avoiding other surfers, and ultimately how to stand up in five “simple” steps.

After about 15 minutes of practicing on the sand with our soft foam boards, we ventured off into the Pacific.

While paddling out into the ocean, I had to keep reminding myself to be committed in order to make it past the breaking waves. I knew if I had any doubts or began second guessing myself, I was guaranteed to get slapped around, pushed back to shore, and left exhausted.

We were in about waist deep to shoulder deep water the entire time, so my fear of drowning stood on the sidelines, but I soon learned that surfing is a lesson in humility. Before paddling out, I wasn’t expecting to be good in a day, a week, or even in a year. I understood that it takes years of dedication to master the sport.

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About First to Know: First to Know focuses on entertainment, travel, relationships and everything in between. It’s sometimes sassy, often silly, a little edgy and always fun.


  1. My husband and son took paddle surf lessons from the same dude when wow were at the Outrigger this past March on spring break vacation! They loved him and they had a great time paddling around for a lot longer than the original time paid for… I can see the hotel in the background of one of the pics, and counted up 7 floors to find our room. Oh how I miss that place! We are going back again in 2 years. Maybe the. I will try lessons too!

    Comment by Trish — November 8, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

  2. And what about sharks in this area?

    Comment by Sandy — November 8, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

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