A novel way to pump those biceps

Who knew that it's muscle, rather than balance, that's the key to surfing?

Just imagine you're skiing down a mountain, and the mountain is moving beneath you. That's how surfing was described to me.

Hmmm, I thought. Skiing down an immobile mountain is hard enough. What was I about to do? Tightening the straps on my bikini, I reassured myself that a face full of earth would not be waiting when nature decided to dominate.

I had come to Mexico to learn to surf. The spot I chose is known for some of the best surfing in the country - a beautiful stretch of beaches along the Pacific coast just north of Zihuatanejo.

Many people know Zihuatanejo from the rendezvous in the final scene of "The Shawshank Redemption." Undoubtedly that's how this tranquil fishing village looked back in the 1940s, but not today. While it in no way rivals the Mexican mega-resorts of Acapulco and Cancun, it wasn't the deserted-beach environ I was looking for.

So I made my way north to the small pueblo of Troncones, where animals are more plentiful than people and the beaches are definitely deserted. Even if I hadn't come here to surf, I would have come here to veg.

Troncones is home to several hundred people, most of whom used to be farmers and fishers until tourism came to town. The mountains that fall into the sea are lush and green and teeming with mango trees, coconut groves, and an incredible array of colorful birds.

But don't be fooled by this town's sleepy exterior. There is plenty to do if you're up for it: hiking, mountain biking, bird-watching, spelunking, horseback riding, fishing.

However, the pristine beaches are still the main attraction, so it is here that you will find the handful of restaurants and comfortable bed-and-breakfasts, mostly owned by Americans and Canadians.

I chose to stay at La Casa Delfn Sonriente - one of the few with a pool - essential during the hot and sticky summer months. (Nothing is more refreshing than a quick dip in the pool after a long day at the beach.) This was off-season for romantic getaways, but on-season for surfing (though locals will tell you the surf here is good year-round).

Troncones is a good base camp for surfing in this area. Name your conditions and you can find them here, from laid-back longboard spots for beginners to fast-paced shortboard spots for experts, and everything in between. You can reach most locales within a half hour - though Glen Novey, my instructor and owner of La Casa Delfn, would often surf right out in front of the B&B.

I was confident before I came. Maybe I even bragged a bit. "I think I'll be a good surfer," I told more than a few friends. "It's all about balance, and balance I've got. Just call me a sure-footed mountain goat."

I'm here to tell you that surfing is about all kinds of things, the least of which is balance. I was in for a hearty helping of ego stew.

Now, let me retain at least a bit of my dignity by saying I had no trouble getting up on the surfboard. I stood on my first try (I told you I had good balance). It was everything else that gave me grief: judging which waves to catch, fighting the strong currents and riptides, struggling to the water's surface under crashing waves, and the incessant paddling.

Oh, the paddling.

What I soon learned was that surfers are not only skiing down moving mountains; they are climbing up them as well. Minus the rope tow.

Let me give you a scenario: Grinning like an idiot, I strap the leash to my leg, run into the water, and point my board toward the other surfers. Then I paddle. I paddle some more, get tired, rest, begin paddling again, and realize I'm back where I started. When I finally reach the other surfers, I am no longer grinning.

After a bit more rest, I try for a wave (this is when you really have to paddle). Maybe I catch one, just as likely I don't. Either way requires more paddling to get back to where I started. After several more attempts, my arms are so tired I can't push myself up on the board anymore.

I'm ready for the hammock, so I head to the shore. Just then, the perfect wave approaches. I figure this is it for the day, so I give it all I've got.

This one I catch and, on the ride into shore, I'm squealing with glee. Suddenly paddling doesn't seem so bad. I turn my board around and head back out; the hammock can wait.

The grin has returned.

Troncones' Web site can be found at www.troncones.com.mx

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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