The first time I went surfing, it was completely unplanned.

A friend and I just happened to be visiting San Diego for unrelated reasons (to escape the California “winter”), and we were driving by a surf shop. On a complete whim, we stopped by just to ask about prices and potential lessons. Those who have surfed will know that surfing is an extremely inexpensive activity, and it was a very pleasant surprise. Renting beginner surfboards (soft tops) was $30; parking was $5. We shrugged and gave them $70.

Six hours later, I can honestly say it’s one of the most fun activities I’ve done.

Normally, there’s a rather steep learning curve to most activities, and you can’t start enjoying an activity until you get over the initial ‘hump’. A good example is motorcycling - until you get over the gripping fear and learn to relax, you will never feel at ease on a bike or understand why people ride these deathtraps. In many ways, snowboarding is very similar. Until you’re good enough to go fast, you’re going to be doing a lot of uninspired walking as you drag your board behind you.

Some activities, on the other hand, have a relatively low skill cap and are immediately rewarding. A good example is driving an automatic car. I learned to drive about as well as I do now in about three driving sessions. The first time I let my foot off the brake pedal and the car began to inch forward, an instant grin was plastered on my face. Driving was exciting for the first month or so, but it quickly becomes a rote task that we do only if we have to. In other words, while it provides instant gratification, it’s not a repeatably rewarding task (unless you’re driving a very niche, expensive car).

There is another happy medium of activities that are both immediately accessible and rewarding, but also have a high skill cap that reward diligent practitioners. Surfing, I find, is one such activity.

Surfing is a phased activity that slowly gets you acquainted with the ocean.

First, get used to the chill of the water. And then get over it. :)

Then, start making your way out past the waves. Honestly, this took me a lot longer than most people - and you have to learn very quickly to not fight the ocean. You’re not going to win. You get a feeling of going with the waves and getting used to their schedule as you inch your way past, and over them. Many beginners, me among them, try to just plow through the waves as if we’re going to keep our head up and dry the entire time. The ocean is a constant storm that you’re trying to leverage for your advantage. Sometimes, it’s easier to go under the wave. Other times, just accept that you’re going to be dragged back a couple feet.

Once you’re able to get about six-eight feet deep water, it’s time to get on the board!

Now it’s time to practice balancing and make sure you’re not going to topple over side to side. This is usually pretty easy with beginner boards, since they’re much wider and well balanced than the hard tops that real surfers use.

In each phase, there’s a new challenge that isn’t too hard to master, and is immediately rewarding. Simultaneously, the skill cap for surfing is pretty high as far as casual activities go. Mastering consistently timing waves, being able to consistently stand on your board as the waves approach, and then turning. Each phase unlocks more fun and enjoyment, and also a sense of satisfaction.

One of the things that surprised me the most was how sore and exhausted I was. The first time I surfed, I was out in the ocean for about five hours, and by the time my friend and I returned our boards and showered, we were famished. We ate an extra large deep-dish pizza by ourselves along with four donuts. My calves were incredibly sore, which made sense given that we were just falling off our boards and jumping back on, over and over, for five hours. And my nipples were incredibly sensitive! Turns out ‘soft boards’ still aren’t that soft, rubbing your chest against a board for a couple hours will cause your them to peel.

And, of course, swimming is an incredibly good exercise.

Surfing was a welcome surprise to my life, and I’m happy to say I’ve since become comfortable even in the rather frigid waters of San Francisco - wet suits are really neat and do a surprisingly good job of keeping you warm.

If you’ve never tried it, give it a shot. You may find, like I did, that it breaks the typical Silicon Valley monotony quite well.