Rob and I wrapped up our stay in Germany with a jerk, a swoosh, and a fly! Remember that Australian guy we met at the pancake restaurant? As it turned out, he needed two volunteers to take on his boat and teach how to wakeboard. He explained that it was to promote his company in a local water sports magazine. There would be no pay, but it would be free. Um, yes, we’d love to be your models! The requirements were that we both be beginners to wakeboarding (check), we both be willing to plunge into the cold water of the Rhein (… check), and smile for the camera (check). I had to chuckle at the irony of vacationing to get away from it all only to be doing a photo shoot our first week in.
I’d never been wakeboarding before, and Rob had been once but never gotten up. I was a little nervous as we pulled up to the shop, windows decked out in Billabong stickers and Rip Curl posters. For a moment I was fondly reminded of Huntington Beach. Clint, our very cool Australian teacher, greeted us in board shorts, flip flops, and a baseball cap. He is quite possibly the coolest person in Germany, and he’s not even German. Okay, I have to share a guilty observation… Have I mentioned how very hard it is for the Germans to pull off cool? They are friendly, innovative, efficient, and very helpful. But cool is not an adjective I’d use to describe them. There is no chill, hip vibe emanating from these folk. Maybe it’s their erect posture, their hips that don’t seem to sway when they walk, their impassive faces and the socks with shorts. Fashionably, they try, but, well, it’s just not quite working. :/ Am I awfully shallow for noticing that? Rob was the first to say it out loud, so at least I’m not alone!
Inside the shop we were introduced to Franz, the journalist/photographer/editor of the magazine we were doing this for. He promptly gave me his life story in five minutes: he was originally from Luxembourg, and now lived on the German border with his wife and daughter; he is friends with Clint Eastwood whom he met at Eastwood’s house in Carmel, but socialized with when Clint was filming at his explosion studio in Luxembourg; and he was a champion barefoot water skier.
Once outfitted with borrowed wetsuits and board shorts, Rob, myself, Clint, and Franz walked down the dock and into the pimpest boat I’ve ever seen. The wide leather seats were white in that brand new, unscuffed way. Speakers and bass boosters gleamed from all corners, and Clint said the only rules on his boat were to “take your shoes off and make yourself at home.” I curled up toward the front, smiling as I watched the willow tree-lined riverbank pass by. The Rhein is very wide, murky green with a current faster than it looks. Clint turned off the boat’s engine at a buoy and allowed us to drift as he explained to Rob how he should stand up on the wakeboard, since he was going first. He yelped (just a little) as he sank into the cold water, and I gleefully kept my Flip camera on him as we pulled further away until he was a distant blob on the surface attached to an orange string. With the first thrust of the engine, Rob twisted into a splash, but on his second try he popped up. And stayed up. Impressing all of us on the boat, he remained gliding behind us, even tentatively managing to swerve a little into the frothing wake. Boy, he was going to be a tough act to follow.
After Rob had a few more good runs and only a couple other crashes, it was my turn! Aaaaaa! I began to pull on my wetsuit when Franz stopped me, telling me that it was very trendy in the European wakeboarding community to wear your board shorts outside of your wetsuit. I stared at him, wondering if he was joking. Clint nodded his agreement, agreeing that there was no practical reason for this, it was more just a style. I was reminded of my sister and her snowboarding friends’ strange affinity to ride in size XXXXL t-shirts–aka, “tall tees”–layered in bright colors over their jackets. I am still half-suspicious that Clint and Franz were pulling a fast one on me, but I yanked the wetsuit over my bikini and compliantly pulled my bright green board shorts over the wetsuit. I felt like a huge dork, but when in Germany…
All right… The water was not that cold. It wasn’t warm, but maybe by European standards it was freezing compared to the temperate waters of the Mediterranean. Used to the frigidity of the Pacific, and my last in-water experience being at Hermit Falls in Angeles National Forest where it feels like practically ice melt, the Rhein River was nothing to gasp about. I definitely crashed several times, but amazingly I did manage to get up twice! The first time didn’t last long, but the last time I rode almost the whole length of our designated section of the Rhein! I was exhilarated, “Highway to the Danger Zone” playing in my head as I focused on just staying up. For some reason I was reminded of a time when I rode bareback on a friend’s horse, standing up circus-style. Maybe it was the precarious balance, the feeling of holding reigns in front of me. I only let go of the rope’s handle when a series of waves coming off a turn intimidated me (I’m sure real wakeboarders are thinking, “But that’s where the fun is!”).
On my last I attempt to get up, something happened in my lower back that introduced me to a pain I’ve never known. I instantly understood what people were talking about when they said they’d pulled their back. I let go of the rope and attempted to stretch myself out while floating on my back. All I felt was pain. That was it for me. Feeling like a baby, but knowing if I continued to wakeboard I’d really fuck something up, I regretfully told Clint I had to get back on the boat. I could hardly move as I climbed back in. Bending over felt like a giant had his foot on top of me and was trying to weigh me down until my face met the floor. Still, totally worth it.
That was on Tuesday, and today is Saturday. Rob and I are both still sore, our muscles stiff in places we didn’t even know could ache. I wonder when we’ll feel normal again. My lower back is very sore, making me groan every time I sneeze, cough, or even laugh. I’ve gotten really good at pulling myself up from squatting position using my arms. I lean over with my elbows balanced on my knees, and in a trailer with plenty of cabinets near the floor, I do that a lot. I convince myself that taking it easy will make my back heal with time, but part of me fears I’ve ruined it for life. I imagine telling my kids, “And that’s how Mommy pulled her back, when she was 24 wakeboarding in Germany.” Rob and I have decided that at some point on this trip we’ll see a chiropractor.
I’d like to take a moment to share with you all how cute our RV is! It’s brand new, I believe we’re the first ones to rent it. Knowing this reassures me when I use its little toilet, or rinse dishes in the sink. Rob even brushes his teeth with the water in the bathroom. I can’t bring myself to go that far, probably because I’m reminded of being in movie set trailers with water that just plain smells bad, but the bottom line is that our RV is perfect. Not too big, not too small, plenty of pookas and nooks and crannies in which to store everything we have and then some. We did have to make a stop at IKEA to pick up a few basics, like a frying pan, utensils, pillows, etc., and now that we have almost everything we need, I feel like I can relax into my little home for the next month. (We still have to buy a teapot, as we’re both avid tea drinkers and trying to neatly pour hot water from a saucepan into our thermoses is getting old.) I love nesting, making things cozy and comfortable, putting everything in its place. I’m such a girly girl for this stuff. I even bought a vanilla cake scented candle to light at night.
However, as wonderful as our little RV is, I have to say that when I came up with this idea I was not taking into consideration just how narrow and ancient the city streets are in Europe. The German autobahn is one thing. Driving through Prague was quite another…