My Foolproof Method for Learning Something New

Windsurfing

Throughout my life, I’ve perfected a method for learning anything – guitar, snowboard, driving, etc. Last week, I used it to learn how to windsurf. As usual, it went fantastic.

If you’re ready to learn something new, follow these simple steps, and you’ll have it mastered. Probably in a day.

Step 1

Go in with extreme confidence that has been fueled by lifelong dreams and YouTube videos. For as long as I can remember, learning to windsurf has been among my top 3 dreams (It’s right between hang gliding and getting a job at the CIA). I have spent HOURS watching windsurfing videos online, becoming more and more confident in my ability to do sweet spins off of waves if I ever got a hold of a board.

Last week, Deserae and I were in Aruba, an island that was having its windiest week in more than a decade. As we were driving back to the hotel from a long morning of snorkeling, I spotted a beach with signs advertising windsurfing lessons and an ocean with tons of people zipping around on little boards. I pulled over, explaining to Deserae that I “just wanted to see how expensive it is.” The next thing Deserae knew, her husband was giddily forking over $50 for a lesson and board rental.

Step 2

Listen to the first two minutes of instruction before tuning out. While he was setting up the board, the windsurfing instructor explained that the wind was blowing 30 mph out to sea. I wouldn’t get good enough today to sail back into it, so I needed to stay inside the buoys. If I went past them, I’d no longer be able to touch the bottom, and I’d have to swim my board back to land, which would be nearly impossible with this wind.

After he finished his set-up, he let me stand on the board and hold the sail. He gave me a bunch more instructions that I didn’t hear because I WAS STANDING ON A WINDSURF BOARD.

Step 3

Fail miserably. Those instructions turned out to be kind of important.

Step 4

Listen to instructions again, smiling and nodding like you understand them. The instructor patiently repeated all of his helpful hints about where to point the sail and how to stand on the board. I nodded to make him feel like he was doing a good job. I did not understand a word of it.

Step 5

Windsufing Fail

Step 6

Look for validation from the instructor when you fail 10% less miserably. After a bunch of falls and pointing the sail in random directions, I got the board to move! Like 2 mph despite 30 mph wind, but still! It was glorious. I finally fell off and looked around. Somehow, despite moving 2 mph for 10 seconds, I was a mile out to see. I saw the tiny speck of my instructor back near the shore and gave him a “Woohoo!” and thumbs up.

Step 7

Get no validation. He was too busy waving me back in by wildly flapping his arms to share my enthusiasm.

Step 8

Develop feelings of hatred toward the instructor, who can’t stop himself from showing off. After every fail, the instructor would get on the board and zip around to demonstrate how it was supposed to be done. I’VE ALREADY WATCHED THE VIDEOS, BUDDY.

Step 9

Watch the instructor’s happy, patient façade slowwwwwly slip away as you keep failing.

Step 10

Stand there helplessly as the instructor moves onto the next skill, ignoring the fact that you have not mastered the first. “OK, now that you’ve got going straight down,” he said while refusing to make eye contact, “We’ll learn to turn around.” Turning around involved a ballet move around the mast while holding a giant sail full of wind. I shook my head.

Step 11

Repeat steps 2-9.

Step 12

Cause the instructor to give up before the session ends. I was supposed to have an hour with the instructor, but 40 minutes in, he looked at his watch and said, “OK, you’re good to go. You have the board for another hour, so just bring it in when you’re done.”

“Oh wow OK. Uh, are you going to let me know when I have to come in?”

He smiled like he knew that I’d be lucky to last 20 minutes by myself, let alone a whole hour.

“Nope, just come in when you’re done.”

Step 13

Stubbornly keep failing for longer than anyone could reasonably expect. The instructor didn’t realize that when he said, “Just come in when you’re done,” I heard, “Keep the board until someone has to pry it from your cold, dead hands.” For the next two hours, I repeated the process of climbing onto the board, tipping it over and getting hit in the head with the mast over and over. Sometimes everything would come together perfectly, and I’d putz along at 2 mph, which was deeply satisfying until I got passed by someone going 50.

Step 14

Get advice from an old person who feels sorry for you. If you are pitiful and persistent enough, an old person will always feel sorry for you and try to help. This particular man looked like an old Mr. Bean. (Maybe it was actually Mr. Bean? I’m not sure how he’s aged.) While I was walking back to shore for one final run, Mr. Bean pulled up to me.

“This is your first time?” he asked with a British accent.

“Yup.”

“You need to hold your arms straight.”

“OK.”

“And you need to bend your legs.”

“Oh.”

“Your legs are weak, so you need to bend them.”

Thank you, Mr. Bean.

Step 15

Nearly kill yourself. Before Mr. Bean interrupted me, I was headed toward shore for one last run. I was winded, I was bruised, I was chafed beyond belief, but I had a plan. All day, I had fought the wind by going left to right as instructed, but for one glorious run, I would go straight out to sea, riding the wind as fast as possible. The plan was to fall off right at the buoy, and walk back to shore victorious.

But after my conversation with Mr. Bean, I decided to give left-to-right one last try. I got on my board, bent my knees, pointed the sail into the wind, held my arms straight and actually started moving. I kept picking up speed until I was flying. “WOOHOO!” I yelled. THIS was my lifelong dream. After a beautiful run, I jumped off my board…

…and couldn’t touch the bottom. I got so caught up in my ride that I didn’t realize that I was not moving so much along the shore as I was out to sea. I pushed myself underwater and realized the ground was at least two feet down.

I grabbed the board with one hand and took a powerful stroke toward the buoy with the other. I moved like six inches. I started adding kicks to my strokes. The wind pushed me out to sea. I closed my eyes and flailed and flailed and flailed. The flailing worked, just a little.

Step 16

Drag yourself, half-dead, back to shore. I spent the next 10 minutes and the rest of my energy flailing toward the buoy. Just about the time that I imagine the windsurfing proprietor was double checking to make sure I had properly filled out the waiver paperwork, I touched bottom. I walked the 100 yards back to shore in chest-deep water, trying not to think about the chafing that was getting worse with every step.

Step 17

Get validation from your wife. Deserae was waiting for me back at shore.

“You were great out there!”

“WHEEEEEEEZE.”

“Are you OK?”

“Do we have diaper rash cream?”

“What, why?”

“No reason.”

I waddled toward the windsurfing shack.

“How was it?” Deserae asked.

I turned around and smiled.

“It was the greatest thing ever.”

LIFE LESSON #68

The price of a moment of magic is three hours of fails and a tube of diaper rash cream. 

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