Surfing Confessions

People across the globe rave about how great surfing is, how it’s unlike any other sport out there, and how life-changing it can be. Before I lose you, let me begin by assuring you that I don’t disagree with these statements. With my right hand raised in oath-giving fashion, I wholeheartedly agree. What I want to share, however, speaks of a different side of my relationship with the sport, a side that’s typically unexpressed but one I recently acknowledged. If you’ve ever laid on a surfboard, perhaps you can relate.

Surfing isn’t easy, but you can pick up a basic level of expertise fairly quickly, as I did. Riding the whitewash of broken waves on the beaches of North Carolina and Australia gave me early confidence and hooked me enough to make surfing more than a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ activity. It’s been progressing to catching un-broken waves, further from the shore, often amongst other, more experienced surfers, that has exposed a steeper learning curve. Years out from my first ever lesson, this is still a work in progress, and too often a frustrating one. Put me out there amongst other beginners also striving for this level, and I’ll show you courage, spurred on by the motivation and the safety of being within a group of eager learners.

When I find myself in search of a good wave amongst strangers, however, my bravery runs much sparser. I pull out of more waves that I commit to with fears of getting dumped hard or nose-diving even harder, standing in my way. I question the skills that I’ve been working years to develop and feel frustration creep in quickly, despite knowing all too well that leaving the water disappointed or angry cancels out the many reasons surfing is so good for us. There are many days like this, many surf sessions that have me questioning whether to continue the long road to becoming an intermediate, never mind an experienced surfer. Could I not just be satisfied with floating in no-man’s land, somewhere between beginner and intermediate?

Negative self-talk doesn’t differentiate between shore and break. It effortlessly paddles its way out the back with you. Thankfully, the beauty of surfing is that it demands immense focus, especially as a beginner, which is usually enough to quiet these pester-y, unwanted thoughts. They do fight their way through at times … especially in beginners …. interrupting your focus, clawing away at your surfing confidence, arrogantly coming out on top. So what is often not visible (it’s hard to look past those toned surfing bodies, I know) is this internal battle of sorts. It’s two paddles forward until a wave knocks you back to where you started. Or one perfect ride followed by two empty sessions. As with life on land, it’s a work in progress.      

There are definitely many things one can fear when it comes to surfing. There’s the risk of sustaining a physical injury, from falling off hard or from unfortunate contact with the board itself, or even a sharp, submerged object. There’s also the risk of getting swept further from shore by unforgiving ocean currents. Combine this with panic and a lack of knowledge about the ocean and how it works, and the outcome won’t be on your side. Oh, and those grey-finned swimmers, they’re something to fear too.

Call me fortunate as I have no personal encounters of this nature to share with you. With respect for the ocean and the power it holds, I recognize that this is by far a better strategy than fearing the earth’s most powerful body of water. That being said, it’s one thing to type this on screen and quite another to rise above fear. The struggle to truly feel the ocean, for its energy to work in your favour, is 100% real every time. I’m certain that a complete presence in the moment is required to have any luck with this. Having only spent a tiny fraction of my life (and that being my adult life too) by, and in, the ocean, I’ve come a long way into being able to read and embrace the surf conditions. There’s still a long road ahead but what more can I do but sit back on my board, breathe in the salty air, and build on it one wave at a time?

And thanks to this attitude, I keep riding boards around the world, with the lifelong goal of improving my surfing confidence and skill (the next Stephanie Gilmore, right?). Though it’s definitely not all picture-perfect waves with endless rides, without the less than ideal moments, the personal growth that this sport is known to bring about would be non-existent, and surfing wouldn’t be the remarkable sport that it is. As for those too good to be true moments, when all the struggles, all the falls, all the messy sessions are instantly swept away, they’re really just a bonus. Reflecting on these polar opposite experiences has made me realize that surfing has hooked me deeper than I initially realized. Knowing full well that it will continue to be a bumpy ride, I’m locked in for the long haul but all the more looking forward to the remainder of the journey.

Read more about Susan Czyzo's adventures on her blog,
Feels Like Thirty

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