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28 Jul 2011 / Julie

on surfing and life

i went surfing last weekend. that’s me, there on the left. Serendipity had led me to find a woman (i hadn’t been looking) who offers private lessons or small group classes for women to learn how to surf. when i signed up for the class (8 months ago?) i was in a space where i needed to push myself out of every box i’d somehow ended up in and this opportunity looked like a perfect way to do that.

The ocean and i have an interesting relationship – one that has resulted in more than a few bumps, bruises, and at least one near-death and while i signed up to do this partly to get over that (as well as blowing the envelope up), I was starting to get nervous as we got closer to Go Day.

The Experience
Michelle (the teacher, in the back of the photo on the left) and all the ladies i surfed with that weekend were very cool, fun and supportive when i surfaced as the clear winner of the Need Some More Handholding award.

Day one involved us learning to stand up in the white water (pictured*). We’d bring our board out to her, lay on it, and she’d push us into a wave and we’d pop up and ride it. Or as close as we could get to that. Riding the white water was a ton of fun for me and i even made it to my feet a few times (as proof by the photos i won’t be showing you), even though i wasn’t able to sustain it very long (will be working on that next time).

My big push was to make it out to the lineup. The lineup is the calm area our past the breaking waves where surfers wait to catch the next wave. To get to the lineup you paddle out. Easy-peasy. Except that sometimes to get past the waves you have to “Turn Turtle” to get past a bigger wave so that you don’t get worked (being held under by a wave, something i’m too familiar with) or so it doesn’t push you back closer to shore. Turning Turtle is when you grab the nose of your board with both hands, flip upside down and take yourself and the board underwater so the wave will shoot you out the back of it where you can then right yourself and keep going out to the lineup.

This is where, when i got stuck in my own head, i ran into problems. For me, being underwater in the ocean means something is wrong and my body goes into mild panic mode. I explained this to the teacher and she repeated that she wasn’t going to make anyone do anything they didn’t want to do, but that she wanted me to push myself and try it. Well of course, that’s what i was there for.

Luckily, when i started to paddle out to the lineup, there was a serious lull and the waves were small enough for me to lift the board on top of them or left myself up to let them wash between me and the board rather than having to go underneath them. Thank you Mother Nature.

Here’s me out in the lineup: i’m the first one on the left.

Man, i could have stayed out there all day. Just sitting out on the board, breathing in the salt air, feeling the breeze, feeling like i was floating (well, i was) and just basically loving it. And we were out there quite a while just enjoying it because we drifted waaay the hell down shore and had to paddle, against current, back to our spot. (This is where i came out above the rest of the group – apparently i’m an excellent paddler – lots of strength and stamina- whoo! i attribute that to all the years i spent swimming against the current to get back in front of of my umbrella instead of risking going to shore and walking it for fear of being pummeled by a breaking wave).

I probably would have loved sitting out in the lineup a little more if i hadn’t then got back into my head when i had to start thinking about getting back to shore (what do you mean i can’t just live here now?). The tide had started to come in and the waves were bigger (although, full disclosure: still barely anything). Truly, it wasn’t the crisis situation i was imagining, but i ended up paddling all the way back in – not once trying to actually catch a wave and stand up. Partly because i was worried i’d wipe out (yes, i know that’s part of the fun / the point) and partly because i really did enjoy laying on the board and riding the waves that way (i know that’s not real surfing. shush).

This is where i should have pushed a little harder on myself – and the reason why i will be taking classes again with her.

Lessons Learned
1. It’s always good to try something you’re scared of. Scared to the point of stomach turning, heart racing, palm sweating nervousness.

2. It’s sometimes hard to know where your comfort line is when you’re trying to push yourself a little past it. Meaning, more specifically, how far is too far to push yourself? How do you know since you can’t use how you feel to gauge it since how you feel is scared.

3. To surf you need balance. Not just on the board, but in your head and in life. You never want to take a chance to surf away from yourself so you eat and drink right so you have the energy and opportunity. You end up fine-tuning your intuition as you learn how you, the board, and the ocean work together. You learn patience (which i could use some of) and sharing when waiting in the lineup. You learn that while there’s basics – everyone has their own style of doing things that works for them and THAT’s OKAY!

4. It’s damn fun. (I mean look at that smile in the top photo!) There’s a reason there’s a surf camp whose tagline is “We make girls out of women.” We should be seeking more FUN in our lives. Get out from behind the screen, put down the latest inter-office memo and go have some fun. Remember what you loved to do as a kid? Go do it! (for me, that involves swings and twirling.)

I am definitely going to do this again. I love the water, and my relationship with the Ocean is slowly changing for the better and being able to harness the power of the wave for good instead of evil is an awesome proposition.

I encourage you to try surfing – or something else that seems completely outside your normal range. For me, i had to channel a little bit of a different side of myself to get there – and i LOVED her. :-)

If you’re anywhere near Ocean City, MD – or will be – here’s a plug for Sommers Surf Lessons.


* I won’t be showing you the shot where i am actually standing up because i look ridiculous, haha). This one is either from when that’s as far as i made it during that try, or from when i squatted back down to avoid falling over when i actually did stand.

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