Surfing in Lahinch

I never understood why so many people loved surfing until last month. Growing up without access to an ocean, I went through the obligatory middle school phase of purchasing my first skateboard, riding around, and jumping off and onto sidewalks. Without ever having gone surfing (and realizing that skateboarding was the terra-based complement of the maritime sport), I was (wrongly) not amused by the idea of riding around on a surfboard toward a sandy beach. After a year’s worth of twisted ankles, cuts, scrapes, and bruises, I gave up the activity, and forgot about it altogether.

In April I visited the west coast town of Lahinch in County Clare with Fagan, a fellow Mitchell, Jonny D., and Sarah M. Unbeknownst to me, Lahinch was a popular destination for Irish people. The town attracts thousands of surfers, kitesurfers, and windsurfers throughout the course of the year. Jonny, who was Fagan’s visiting friend from college, grew up in California and was more familiar with surfing culture. As we soaked in the sunny day and observed the Irish visitors running around the beach, we decided that we would also try to surf.

As we rented our surfboards and wetsuits, the owner of the surf shop meticulously explained how it should work and feel. It sounded simple enough. You ride the wave as it’s approaching, paddle a bit, and as it’s crashing, quickly do a pushup into a standing position. He didn’t mention how tiring the process was. The cold waters were only cold on my exposed hands, and the shining sun kept me warm. In my first attempt I was only quick enough to ‘stand’ on my knees, and unlike skateboarding, falling off was quite simple and seemingly safe. In my second attempt to stand, I fell off sideways and got a mouthful of seawater. I was finally able stand on the board and surf on my third try.

I wasn’t riding alongside a ten-foot wave as you would imagine from watching any typical video footage of surfing. I lacked the long blonde hair surfer look, but I did have the tan (it’s genetic). I was unglamorously floating directly towards the beach trying my best to keep my balance, which was surprisingly not as difficult as I thought before. It felt glorious. Although I imagine it did not look great (who would on a two foot wave?), this was a moment where I realized how unique floating on water on a board feels. The hard surfboard under your feet is not held down to any particular object; it is moving along and resting across a fluid and fluctuating plane. I have always been a fan of frictionless sports. After my partially successful (at best) experience surfing, I added surfing onto my mental favorites list under ‘ice hockey’ and ‘skiing.’

I’m happy to have had this experience before the year ends. I have less than one month left in Ireland. Thankfully, we have a fairly packed year-end experience, which is exciting. In between large group meetings throughout the year, we have constantly visited each other in smaller groups or individually, but it will be good to be together again. We will be traveling to Limerick, which is where Fagan lived and studied, and will return to Dublin for our final ceremony. I always look forward to the following chapter of my life, but I am not quite comfortable with the thought of leaving yet.

About Yongjun Heo - University College Dublin

Upon graduating in 2009 from Swarthmore with a double major in Biology and Public Policy, Yongjun worked at the Institute for Population and Development Studies in Hanoi, Vietnam as a Luce Scholar. After his second year at Swarthmore, he traveled to Venezuela to assist a physician at a medical clinic in the Pemon indigenous villages of Uriman. His experiences led to his founding Pemon Health Inc., a public health organization committed to improving the health of the Pemon people through a college internship program that focuses on preventive measures to combat the causes of adverse health conditions. Yongjun has been awarded grants from the Clinton Global Initiative, Wal-mart Foundation, Project Pericles Foundation, and Swarthmore College. At the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative meeting, he was awarded a Clinton Global Initiative University Outstanding Commitment Award by President Clinton. In his final year at Swarthmore, he served as the Student Body President. He was also a four-year sprinter for the Men’s Varsity Track and Field team. Yongjun concluded his MPH program in the summer of 2011 and received his degree in December. He lives in San Francisco and Indianapolis where he manages Midwest Design Lab, a web design and development company.
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