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Mon, June 17

Around the Bluhmin’ Town: Catching a wave at Imperial Beach

Judy Bluhm, Courier Columnist

Judy Bluhm, Courier Columnist

I am a surfer. Alright, I should clarify: I have surfed. Yes, dear readers, I caught one wave, hung ten and went on the long board. In other words, I spent a couple of days in Imperial Beach and have figured out the art of paddle, wait, stand and pray. Oh yeah, and I got to wear a wet suit. Which in my opinion, is the ultimate spandex “outfit” that makes everyone look fabulous. I was walking on the beach and a woman in her mid-50 had a little sign that said: “Surfing lessons for women.” I stopped to chat. Her name, Bella Splash, intrigued me. She charged $40 for an hour lesson and had several surf boards and wet suits to choose from. I have surfed over the past 20 years, mostly with grandsons who ended up mastering the sport. But I usually paddle out, stand up and fall off the board. I never took a lesson. What did I have to lose? (Except my life).

Bella Splash, lived most of her life in Des Moines, happily married to a doctor until she found out he was having an affair with a friend. So the former Betty Brown did something amazing. She headed to California, learned to surf and changed her name. She teaches surfing to “empower” women. Evidently she thought I needed a lot of empowering, because she spent two hours with me.

Bella showed me how to handle myself on the board. Standing, balance and “being centered” is everything. Oh, and catching the “right wave” is key. Not powerful enough and you do not get the right “send off.” Too big and you will certainly crash. Bella said since it “takes years” to pick the right wave, just follow her lead.

Before I ever entered the water, Bella had me stand on the board. Lay, kneel and stand. We went through that drill dozens of times. Hmm, I have not taken the technique seriously! Bella talked me through the correct posture and how to properly stand on the board. She said if I catch “one good wave” I will experience the “ultimate” in freedom. Gliding on a wave, being in the present moment, pure joy and exhilaration, is what she was selling. OK, I was skeptical.

And then it happened. Bella shouted, “This is the one!” And all of a sudden we were paddling back toward shore as a giant wave came rushing in. A small miracle occurred that day. I paddled, got on my knees and with Bella yelling “Now!” I stood up, riding on the top of a shimmering wall of water, for one blessed minute, I “became” a surfer. No worries, spray of water, blue ocean below and flying on the edge of a wave heading into shore is about as good as it gets.

I left the beach pondering “Bella’s Rules” (for surfing or life?). Choose the wave wisely. Then commit. Keep moving forward. Don’t look back. Stand tall, chin up. Be fearless. Never let age stop you. Embrace the moment. Feel the joy. Seize the day. Enjoy the ride.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at


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