Bianca Coleman

IF YOU’RE going to learn something new, you may as well be taught by a world champion.

Dawid Mocke leads the current 2012 World SurfSki Championship, a title he has held for three years. His wife Nikki, with whom he runs the Surfski School in Fish Hoek, is no slouch herself, having competed in the Beijing Olympics in canoeing.

Even if they didn’t have these credentials behind them, novices will soon be put at ease by Dawid’s fun, down-to-earth manner. In fact, everyone hanging around at the Fish Hoek Beach Sailing Club on a Saturday morning is friendly.

It was a blustery day with distinctly unfriendly banks of cloud boiling over the mountain ranges between the city and False Bay. The sight of the choppy ocean and cold wind which had flags flying stiffly at 90 degrees from their pole didn’t make me feel any better, especially since brief research had armed me with the information that surfskis are narrower and less stable than kayaks.

It turns out surfskiing is an all-weather activity. Furthermore, everyone kept reassuring me, these kind of conditions were the best and the most fun.

As a beginner, you do the “Ocean ABC” course, which comprises an intro session, followed by four paddling lessons, each approximately an hour long. ABC stands for awareness, balance and control. There were more Cs under each heading, like craft, conditions, companions and there is a heck of a lot to take in. Enough to fill a 14-page booklet you get to take home to study.

Not being a person who does this kind of thing often enough to warrant owning a wetsuit, Nikki kindly outfitted me in a very unflattering pair of polka dot shorts and a bright orange top which would allegedly keep me warm. After coffee and egg ‘n bacon rolls, and signing indemnity forms, Dawid convened the lesson on top of the grassy knoll. I was glad I wasn’t the only newbie with concerns about rough seas and sharks.

Honestly though, once you get out there, these are the furtherest things from your mind because you’re concentrating so hard on remembering everything Dawid has just told you about how to get on the narrow six-metre long craft, how to operate it, and how to paddle.

The intro lesson is mostly theory which is why you’re encouraged to return as soon as possible. It doesn’t have to be on consecutive Saturdays, but it’s recommended you don’t leave it too long.

My question was “what is the difference between a surfski and a kayak?” Besides being less stable, which I already knew, it’s also a lot faster. A surfski is designed for speed and distance. While getting out and back in through the waves is a big part of the learning process, being out in the open sea is the goal.

Dawid is a good teacher. He holds your attention by explaining things in an easy-to-understand way, repeating the most important bits, and tossing out questions to make sure you get it.

In the first lesson you don’t get to spend much time on the surfski. A fair portion of what remains of the hour is actually spent in the sea, falling off and losing your ski, getting knocked off your feet by waves and swallowing a lot of salty water. Well, that was me.

Even when I was floundering about, swearing that the rudder on my surfski must surely be broken because why wasn’t the darn thing going in the direction I wanted, I realised I was having a great time. I can’t wait to go back to finish the course.

To book your lesson, call 021 782 4311 or e-mail thepaddlingcentre@gmail.com. See www.surfskischool.com for more information.

l Some Holiday EsCape Times activities are sponsored by the suppliers.