It’s not often I turn to the Bible for advice, but when it comes to the question “should I try and stand on water?” the Good Book is unusually consistent and inarguably sensible in providing an answer. If you need to get across a body of water, do a Noah. Get a boat. On no account attempt a Jesus. If people were meant to walk on water, Jesus wouldn’t have bothered. He would have swum through solid rock or shackled supercharged salmon to his sandals instead so as to impress his “oooh”ing bystanders. That’s the trick to becoming a deity: you don’t get worshipped for doing something any old man and his monkey can do.
Which knowledge explains why I was so lip-chewingly, gut-sickenly nervous while waiting to step onto the water last weekend. It wasn’t because I was a pathetic coward. It was because even with the reassuring constriction of a life-jacket and the knowledge that untold thousands had safely done before what I must now do, being pulled across the water in an upright position at high speed still seemed an unnatural way to spend a morning. And the fact that, unlike Jesus, I would have a board to balance on in no way made the objective of achieving uprightness on liquid seem any easier. Quite the opposite in fact: I had not long been in the water before I concluded that my chances of being able to stand and flit across the surface would be a darned sight improved if I didn’t have to drag the equivalent of a block of cement along by my feet.
For having your feet incarcerated inside a heavy rigid object effectively immobilises you from the waist down. As the cable line tautens and you are jerked forward, all exhortations to “JUST RELAX!” go out the window as you endeavour to hold your legs at such an angle that will leave your feet neither ploughing a yard below the surface nor protruding a yard above it. If you succeed in this regard and manage to surf your murky pond, it will be but a short-lived triumph. You will eventually sink, either by toppling over or because the line slackens, and then you must drag yourself back to the line and paddle-turn yourself in the right direction, as helpless as a knocked-over Weeble toy. That is, if you are fortunate enough to land on your back. If you fall forwards, as I did the very first time I fell, then before you do anything else you must roll onto your back. Which took me a good five minutes of ineffectual flapping and twisting and crying for help and thoughts of “this surely can’t be how it all ends?”
It was whilst in the midst of thus giving a convincing imitation of a swimmer caught by a shark that I realised wakeboarding had fulfilled my expectations to the letter: it was utterly horrible. In all honesty I can declare that of all the new things I have done so far this year, wakeboarding is the one I have most dreaded going through with. In fact, it’s the first I almost chickened out of, and although I’m proud therefore to have done it, in hindsight I’d have been better off if the coward had won.
The entire experience is unpleasant; even when successfully squatting or standing you cannot give yourself over to the thrill of the ride as your arms are being torn out of their sockets and the single thought revolving inside your head is “any second now I’m going to fall”. And then you fall. And then you get a mouthful of muddy lake and a handful of muddy vegetation, and the natural human panic instinct is triggered by both, and you flounder and splutter and gasp desperately for air. At least that trauma is short-lived, unlike the aftermath of pain. Fifteen minutes of wakeboarding, two days of feeling like you’ve been beaten blue by a champion boxer, and one week of bloodied hands.
The irony is I wasn’t even meant to go wakeboarding. I had planned on water-skiing, but when I turned up quayside the intimidatingly cool surfer types looked me up and down and declared I’d find wakeboarding easier. That’s the last time I trust an adult wearing Fat Face clothing or sporting suspiciously sun-bleached hair in Surrey. For it turns out these are the sorts of people who tell you wakeboarding is “easy” and that a wetsuit with a gaping slit down the side looks “fine”.
And these are the sorts of people who claim that you’re “getting better!” every time you plunge gracelessly into the water. According to my instructor, the more often I fell, the better I got. Well if that’s the name of the game, then it’s a rather stupid one. Because I may not know my Bible, but I do know that Jesus didn’t get where he is today by repeatedly falling headfirst into a puddle.