When I first visited Liberia last September, I met 18 year-old Monrovian surfer Peter Swen. "Are you good?" he asked me, sizing up the 1970's 6" single-fin and the Byrne 6'2" hybrid fish I'd brought for the trip.
I was taken aback by his question, considering this was our first conversation, so I shrugged and said, "I'm learning" even though I wasn't. I'd been dropping into head-high waves since spring, surfing my local beach break consistently on a 9'' longboard nicknamed "The Dog."
But it was my first time on a shortboard, I'd never surfed a point break and there was well overhead swell in Robertsport, where we were spending a week on reconnaissance for our future move. I paddled out, caught a few, but mostly steered clear of the big ones, practicing my duck dive and figuring out how not to let double-overhead set waves break on my head.
Fast-forward to a few weekends ago, when I'd gotten used to the size, the point breaks and the shortboard, and started charging head-high set waves and throwing little turns. The first time Peter, who came out just for Sunday, saw me paddle and catch one at Shipwrecks, he lost it. "Elie! You're good!" he shouted at me as I passed him. "Look at you surfing, girl! You're surfing!" He hooted at each one I paddled for, made techno beat noises which I echoed when I made it back outside, and even obliviously called me into a few closeouts, he was so enthusiastic.
Peter and I are becoming surfing friends. He has a lot going for him. He's on scholarship for his last year of high school, lives straight edge on the missionary compound, and is rapidly becoming the best surfer in Liberia. In the future, he wants to become a defense attorney and be a leader in the surf community in Liberia. I think he'll do it. He's also started a blog I'm encouraging him with, typing and posting from the iPod his sister in Canada sent him. Check it out -- it's a fun read.