Lessons Learned From Surfing
Our family decided, after a lifetime of holidaying in Miami, to give nod to my mother's West Coast background and try a season in California. It was quite different than what we’d been used to; wind, cooler air, and much more casual. It was wonderful.
I woke up each day to the sound of the ocean, the waves hitting the shore like a roar of thunder. It was enough to let me know that the water was right there, moving and all present. At breakfast each morning I’d watch the surfers patiently wait for the waves they’d catch and ride them all the way into the beach. I also watched them tumble, get hit by the big curls of water, get back up, and when they caught a good one, glide like it was magic carpet laid out just for them. It was mesmerizing.
I’ve had my experience with water… weekly warm baths, paddle boarding on Canadian lakes, opting for snorkeling rather than scuba at the Great Barrier Reef, swimming in numerous pools, and in the shallows of the ocean, particularly the warmer Atlantic. You see, I have an equal fascination and fear of sharks, particularly big whites. In the past, it has held me back from experiencing more time in deeper water. Not this time though, and not this trip.
I watched the surfers for one week and finally decided that I was brave enough to battle the water, the waves, and the board. I knew that I couldn’t do it alone for my first real time with non-South Beach waves (shout out to MIA and my lovely bro surf teacher!) So I called up my west coast trainer and convinced him that it would count as my workout for the day if he accompanied me into the water for my exercise and, to my delight, he was game.
Lesson 1: When you don’t know the lay of the land (or patterns of the sea) it’s necessary to go with someone who does. We learned this as kids, they’re called training wheels. Somehow we seem to unlearn this as we grow, placing value on independence instead. The truth is, we’re not all knowing. We need others because as human beings we’re biologically wired for connection. Someone who's walked before us and skilled to guide us; this can be a person/s, higher power, the universe, or even nature, what ever floats your boat (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!). Someone to catch us when the water pummels us or, who can see from yards away, which one to ride and which one to let go. Trying to do otherwise can be disastrous and much less meaningful (we’ll speak more of that latter point in lesson 5).
Lesson 2: Suit up. Throw on the wet suit, that west coast water is cold! Suit up for the environment that you’re going into. That’s basic self-care and the only real way to be able to focus on the task at hand. Sometimes suiting up means grabbing a comforting tea before heading into a challenging meeting. Sometimes it means calling on your peeps before doing something brave. Sometimes it means walking into a dark and unknown place and arming yourself with only your values to light the way. In short, suiting up is necessary when you challenge yourself to do something crazy like getting into the cold wet ocean with all of those sea creatures.
Lesson 3: Surrender to the flow. It’s the exact right act of courage. Acceptance is often the bravest thing that we do as people. You see, what starts as one thing may very well turn into something else… maybe even something greater? Although, we rarely know that in the moment, so stay open and flexible. For purpose of full disclosure, I originally asked my trainer to join me for a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) lesson in the wild water; 2 SUP boards, 2 paddles, 2 people, but tried as we might, the waves were too big. They kept on coming and hitting me off my board and pulling me closer to shore. This made it difficult to pass them to go for the peaceful ride that I had envisioned. So he suggested that we re-adjust. “I’m going to teach you how to surf instead.” My insides were jumping up and down. “Yes, please!” He took his board and our paddles to the beach and came back ready to do what we could, to surrender to the flow.
Lesson 4: When one surrenders, it doesn’t always make it easier, but it does make it better. “Hop on!" he said. I follow instruction and get on the SUP that has now miraculously transformed into a surfboard right before my very eyes. I am close again to the loud, huge, thunderous waves crashing sometimes right in front of me, on me, or with just enough time to duck-dive or lean my board up and messily fly over. I fall again and again. My board smashes me again and again. I get up and on again and again. “You’re a trooper,” he said. “The water’s cold, you’re taking the hits, and getting back up.” I laughed inside, if he only knew what I’ve experienced this year alone. I responded to him with a simple, confident, “Yes, I am.”
Lesson 5: Life is WAY better shared, and if you can bring someone along for the ride who's encouraging and supportive, you're one lucky duck. That day in the water was spectacular, somewhat terrifying, and completely exhilarating. I was all over the place but most of all I was determined to surf. Through the falls and the bangs my instructor consistently responded with, “you're doing so good” and “don't worry, I got you”. I felt safe and in good hands and that’s what gave me the confidence to let go of the fear and lean into the fun.
I caught one wave that day riding it all the way into the beach with an ear-to-ear grin, a deep exhale, and my hands up high over my head celebrating. When I stepped off my board after seemingly gliding forever, I looked back at the ocean and saw him smiling with his arms up, too!
May all of our challenges and successes be shared this year and beyond. May we all be brave and surf.