They, whoever "they" are, weren't kidding when they said the learning curve on a mat is steep. Getting out to the lineup is more than a notion until you're really comfortable with fins . . . and waves that break on your head . . . and a surf craft that does not seem to duck dive (not that I know how to duck dive).
However, the more time you spend in the water, the more it starts to click. This was only my second mat session, but I actually felt like I knew what I was supposed to do. I couldn't quite do it though. There's still the matter of trying to find your sweet spot on the mat. Oh, and the issue of steering. When I'm on a surfboard, I can easily tell a left from a right, and surf accordingly. I've not reached this stage on the mat. My primary goal at this point is to catch the waves. I'm so intent on finding a wave to catch that I'm incapable of also deciding which way to go. Cos once you're in the wave, you're hanging on for dear life.
The cool thing about the mat is how forgiving it is. If you catch a wave at the last possible moment, you're not going to be driven headfirst into the ocean floor. As long as you stay on the mat, you're guaranteed a ride. On a surfboard, a last-minute attempt to catch a wave is either going to end well or end in disaster. If you misjudge the takeoff, you're doomed, right? On the mat, you might not get in the pocket, but you'll still glide along the top of the wave. That I like.
On a day when I wanted to be in the water, but didn't feel like surfing, the mat was a perfect alternative.