There are no literal translations in Italian for surfs up or hang loose, dude. But there is always the smile that wide-eyed, open-mouthed look of pure joy that every surfer gets when catching that first wave of the day. There may not be any language that can adequately vocalise the feeling, but surfers do their best from the coast of California to the beaches of Lazio with a loud woo hoo. And you dont need 501 Italian Verbs to figure out what that means.
But wait just a minute. Surfing in Italy? That sounds like snowboarding in the Sahara. But believe it or not, thanks to the surf-pop culture from the United States, Italians are hitting the waves those less-than-a-metre choppy walls of water they call waves.
Its easy to be a surfer in California or Australia because there are always waves, says instructor Andrea Grandolfo of NDfly. Here you must really love surfing. For us, its just about being in the sea. Thats our spirit. We may only have two good days a year.
A good day for Grandolfo would be filled with the kind of two- metre, smooth-breaking waves you see in surf movies. Still, if conditions are right, surfing off the Lazio coast can be fun, and provide a great opportunity to take a lesson.
In Torvaianica, a small beach town south of Ostia, Grandolfo lies on his stomach in the sand, explaining the action of popping up on a surfboard. He effortlessly demonstrates the fruits of years of surfing that have taken him to Australia and other surf spots around the globe. From flat on his stomach, he sucks his knees to his chest, spins 90 degrees to the right, drops his right foot behind him and plants his left foot in front. His knees are bent, his arms outstretched for balance, his skin tanned and his hair long. He is the perfect picture of a surfer.
Grandolfos students, a pair of Italian teenage boys dressed in the latest surf fashions, have less success. They drag their feet in the sand and look a little wobbly when they finally complete the manoeuvre.
Grandolfo guides them, making a few tweaks here, a few changes there. Soon the kids are popping up like seasoned vets. Now they have to perform the manoeuvre on a surfboard while riding a wave.
The three paddle out from the shore together, swimming through breaking waves until they reach the outside the spot offshore from where you see all the waves breaking in front of you. The sun sets in the distance and the sea dances purple and orange.
They make their move, paddling back towards shore and the breaking waves. Occasionally a swell looms behind one of the boys. He thrashes, strokes and paddles, trying to get enough speed to catch the wave. It lifts up the back of his board, thrusting him forward, and he pops up, not perfectly but well enough. He stands for a moment, long enough to show that toothy smile, then he loses his balance and falls into the churning sea. There are admittedly more spills than thrills this evening, but that special woo hoo is audible even from the shore.
Surfing has been traced back to the giant wooden boards ridden by ancient Polynesians. Italy, however, traces its surfing roots to windsurfing. This is an exhilarating option in Lazio, for when the afternoon winds pick up, windsurfing is quite a ride.
Take a surfboard, stick a pole in the middle and attach a sail, and youre ready to windsurf. While surfing has been described as riding waves, windsurfing is like being pushed by gusts of wind. The sail pulls taut, and off you go, skipping over waves and water, all the way to Sicily if youre not careful.
But its the latest surfing craze kitesurfing that is taking most of Grandolfos time these days. It is a hybrid of wakeboarding the recent fad in waterskiing where you ride on a single wide board and windsurfing. It is a hypnotising and dangerous new adventure sport that is, well, taking off on coastlines around the world.
Kitesurfers strap their feet onto their board, usually about the size of a wakeboard, and put on a harness that is attached by four small cords to a kite, which looks like a small parachute. Wind fills the kite and it launches into the air. Kitesurfers use a bar on the harness to steer the kite left or right, zipping over waves, using them as launch ramps to soar three metres, sometimes six, sometimes even higher, into the air, before floating peacefully back to the sea.
Grandolfo loves his new sport but recognises the dangers too. A friend of his had his hand tangled in the cords and lost a finger. Another kitesurfer fell into the water near Ostia, was dragged along by the kite and, unable to detach himself, drowned. Grandolfo takes his lessons slowly. His students spend two days perfecting the use of the kite before they even try on the board. Only after the complete course of five lessons, including classroom work and safety precautions, do his students take to the skies.
As much as Grandolfo enjoys kitesurfing and windsurfing, they are just to pass the time until the next good swell hits Lazio. Then he pulls his long hair back, waxes his board, and dives into the sea as the sun rises. Afterwards, he will run for a cappuccino. This is, of course, surfing Italian-style.
NDfly, Lungomare delle Meduse 218 / 228. Torvaianica.
For information tel. 338 / 1112681, firstname.lastname@example.org
or see www.ndfly.it.