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Learning to Surf, 200 Miles From the Nearest Ocean

I paddled hard to stay in front of the two-foot wave, repeating the sequence of movements I’d just practiced on land. Press hands beneath shoulders, keep chest up, drive knee forward, plant back foot, then pop up into a crouch like a sprinter ready to take off. As I eased onto my feet, the wave crested and propelled me forward: I was surfing! My heart fluttered.

And then I was flopping backward into the face of the wave.

I’d traveled to the two-acre wave pool at Waco Surf, a water sports complex in Waco, Texas, chasing an unfulfilled childhood dream. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, and every summer I vowed to learn to surf, but without access to boards and lessons, the goal always eluded me. Now, as an adult, I was determined to change that through three days of lessons. A freshwater wave pool, it turns out, was a perfect place for this newbie to get her surf legs.

“One hour of surfing waves in the pool will give you more experience than an entire summer in the ocean because you’re catching waves every five minutes,” said Will Rolph, a 41-year-old visiting from California who grew up surfing at Newport Beach but had traveled to Waco for the wave-pool experience. “In the ocean, you might have to wait another hour, or your next session, to get another shot.”

The writer picking out a soft board for her surfing lessons.Credit…Nitya Jain for The New York Times

From turf to surf

My surf experience began on land with the hourlong Beginner Surf Academy class (from $49, but must be booked with a Beginner Wave Session). Three other students — a middle-aged couple from Austin and a young professional from Houston — joined me on the wave pool’s sandy beach. Michael Irvine, a 20-something instructor with chin-length sandy blond hair and an easygoing attitude, showed us how to paddle on our soft boards then pop up into a surfing stance. “Most people feel more comfortable with their dominant foot on the back of the board,” he explained.

After stretching and practicing for a while, we lugged our boards into the shallows of the pool to work on paddling and pop-ups there. Then we were ready for the waves.

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