Hi everyone!! It’s been another amazing day here in SoCal, and I am very aware that as the days and weeks slip by that I am busy being here, and not writing as much as I had planned; but ‘being’ just seems to be my priority, and there’s been a lot of ‘being’ to be! Today though was an especially awesome day, and one I want to commit to memory through written word, a reminder to read again when I need to remember how awesome it felt to face a fear, and how much I loved my first surf lesson!
I love the ocean, if you didn’t know this already, ‘welcome’ you must be new here! I dream about it when I’m at home in London, and feel most at home on a beach than anywhere else, and although I can swim I’m not terribly confident in the water. In Greece, where I have spent many happy times, I swim in crystal clear waters that are often have a pond like surface; here in Socal I could watch the waves gracefully arc and fall for hours, but have never ventured out to greet them, until today that is. Today I took my very first surf lesson, and pushed through my fears and self-imposed limitations as I swallowed my pride, and a more than a mouthful or two of salty water, to attempt something I’ve been telling myself for years that I would have tried if I was younger. Well I’m never going to be younger again than I am at present; but my courage found a friend in a patient and kind teacher, and it seemed like an adventure with my name emblazoned on it.
Growing up inland, I never really learnt to swim proficiently, it was only in my late 20’s that I learnt to breathe as I swam the length of the pool, albeit with my head out of water like a swan. Then in my thirties, after being seduced by the Greek sea, I took a single lesson to acquire a better technique (with the help of goggles), and can swim a reasonably acceptable breast-stroke back and forth across my favourite bays, watching the fish that glide beneath me. This gave me a taste of a calm, serene world that I fell in love with, an escape from the ridiculous chatter that pollutes my brain and a way to reconnect on a deeper level. However as my travels took me to shores of ferocious oceans (Bali, Australia, and California), my love of the deep remained in the form of a spectator, as I watched and admired the surfers from afar, enchanted as they played so elegantly amongst such unharnessed power.
I really never thought I’d be brave enough, or that I could be fit or agile enough, or indeed any kind of enough to put my life out there, leashed to a board, an inanimate object amongst the frighteningly fierce forces of the deep and daunting depths of the ocean. I’ve read too many Tim Winton novels and seen too many surf movies (Point Break, Lords of Dogtown et al.) where the dangers have been spelt out explicitly to enhance the drama; and I’ve met strong (sometimes cute) men in Bali, propping up bars with their ‘survivor’ stories, scars and injuries. However, there is something enticing about the sport; the freedom and oneness with the ocean, not to mention the ‘aloha’ culture and the tanned lithe bodies, and as I’ve been watching the waves here in Laguna the temptation has been calling, quietly yet persistently.
So when I met L a surfer-girl from Hawaii as I sat with coffee at ‘Brooks’ one morning, I was instantly charmed by her courage and dedication to a sport that steals her from her husband for hours daily. He surfs too, and shapes boards for a living, but his love of the waves cannot compete with his wife’s dedication, her escape and coping mechanism for any stress she’s encountered. Chatting one day, L’s husband asked if I’d give her a nutrition consultation, and since I cannot take payment (without a US work permit) she suggested a surf lesson in return. It was a pleasure to share my knowledge and understanding, not to mention my passion of healthy eating, yet part of me was unsure about accepting the lesson. However, L has a very understanding and patient character, someone I could trust, and hence it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
So today we met early, emboldened with coffee and well wishes from fellow wave watchers in Laguna, and drove up to Newport where the water is shallower for further, and there are less rocky outcrops to encounter. We drove through the cute homes on the Balboa peninsula and took the 3 car ferry across to the island, praying patiently to the ‘parking Goddess’ for a space near the pier for L’s flatbed truck that suits her immensely, despite her petite frame and feminine appearance. We changed into wetsuits, luckily we are the same size although I’m six inches taller, and once I’d got that far (one doesn’t merely dress but struggles into neoprene I discovered) I realised I was committed, and there was no going back without the burden of a regret too heavy to carry.
We practiced on sand initially, the jump from paddling whilst lying to standing, and I discovered I’m ‘goofy’ which means I’m left-footed, despite being right-handed, rather than simply as inelegant as the Disney character might be if he surfed; and I’m sure he’d be far more elegant than I anyway. We waded out, jumping the galloping white horses of waves that tumbled over each other and into the shore, then turned to present our backs to resist them as they got stronger, before launching ourselves over them as we progressed further out, deeper and deeper out of my comfort zone. I am not adept at keeping my eyes open under water, and struggle to clear the drops that cling to my eyelashes on surfacing; so feeling disorientated and utterly vulnerable I climbed to sit on the board as L held the nose steady for me, as steady as she could out of her depth between the sets. It took a while to get my position, evidently I need a longer board to stand on since I’m tall, but the light board we took today was a perfect introduction to feel the waves, learn to catch them as they crested, and practice paddling; and as soon as I caught my first one properly, somewhere between realizing that the sensation of joy that was propelled by the energy of the sea playing with me, I knew the desire exceeded my fear, and I was eager to try again and again. I did have some epic wipe outs, and felt incredibly impuissant in the force of the waves as they pounded my body, and tasted the bitter salty water that stang my eyes so viciously. Yet each time I recovered quickly, and got back on the board to paddle over the breakers to wait for the next wave I might try and ride on. After several hours I felt fatigue creep over me, and as we returned to the beach I felt myself grinning all over!
There were several novices in the friendlier water by the pier today, and we acknowledged each other’s progress and somehow avoided colliding and injury. And as we rinsed the salt from our wetsuits in the shower after our efforts, it felt somehow surreal that I too had partaken in this activity rather than just watching from the sidelines. As if I couldn’t quite believe that I had been the girl in the water, afraid but stubbornly determined, as if I had observed that part of me between feeling the sea carry me and giggle as it playfully pushed me, in the manner of my father swinging me around as a toddler.
Today I had my first surf lesson and it was awesome! I faced a fear and although I’m still afraid, I know how it looks and feels, I experienced it’s textures and tasted it, to discover that it’s something I can cope with, that yes it will knock me down, but I can withstand more than I thought, and for now I’m ready to get back up again, and I’m ready to be that afraid again, as soon as possible! Maybe you have a fear that’s not nearly as scary close up as it seems from afar, I guess the only way to find out, is to plunge right in and take a closer look! ‘Stoked’ and happy, and so very grateful for my kind and patient teacher : )) Blessings & love, Hxx
Photo & words: Hayley Darby ©2013