March 9, 2018
A good friend has given me a rad shirt for Christmas. It says “SURFING IS MY DAY JOB” on the front. It’s kind of funny and at the moment, kind of true. Since we got to SoCal in December, I have been trying to up my game on the water. It didn’t start off well for me as our first three weeks in town coincided with more swell than I could handle. Thankfully, it didn’t last and I managed to suit up and get out.
I had only tried my had at surfing a handful of times last winter in Tofino catching mostly whitewash on my soft-top and another few times river surfing back home. My river surfing experience was not exactly the best as I was terrorized by either the big water from the spring run-off or the shallow rocks behind the spots we ride once the water level has dropped, but I figured I could get it all sorted out while in the ocean.
Well let me tell you, it isn’t that easy. It seems like surfing scares the crap out of me. Some days, I stand on the beach, suited-up, with my board under my arm looking out for an hour trying to get my breathing under control and my legs to stop shaking. Sometimes it works and I can paddle out, sometimes I just give up. I have tried once to get out before being ready and that only resulted in a full-blown panic attack while on the water, a scramble to get back on the beach to safety (the waves were 2 feet high but they seemed like giant walls to me) and some warm tears while sitting on the beach. Not cool…
Some days are better than others, though. The fear doesn’t go away but I can keep it under control. I slowly get ready, look at the waves, visualize how I will get out and paddle to the outside. The hardest is still to come, I haven’t ridden a wave. I have to battle yet another set of demons. My heart is racing, my breath shallow. I’m on the verge of panic every time a set rolls in. It usually takes half an hour of swimming around and staying away from waves and people before I can start regaining control, before I can get my gut to believe that maybe I can do this. That’s when I start paddling for waves with intent. That’s when I catch waves, make a nice drop, a sweet bottom turn and drive down the line. It’s the best feeling.
I’ve been at it for a few weeks now. I thought it would get better, that the fear would ease up. After all, I haven’t had a bad experience. I haven’t been in danger, haven’t got hurt. Still, every time I feel like I’m about to jump off a plane without a parachute. I have given up the hope that the feeling will go away. I’ve decided to just live with it. Because I want to surf, because it’s the bet feeling, because I don’t want to let the fear win.
I know I’m lucky. I have panic attacks over something I choose to do. Some people feel the same way every morning getting out of bed. I can’t imagine how that feels, how draining that must be. I’m also thankful to have enablers around me. John is super supportive and positive We have good friends to surf with who are kind to me. And I’ve found Lorraine, a great surf sister who motivates me to get out more often.
Surfing has taught me to be patient with waves and with myself, to persevere, it’s given me strength and confidence every day I manage to win the battle, a deeper understanding and even more compassion for people dealing with anxiety.
Maybe I’ve found a more accurate quote for that shirt… Learning is my day job, surfing is my teacher!