Learning to Surf

When I was in my early twenties, I spent five months backpacking around Australia.  It was liberating and freeing in more ways than I can count.  I experienced so many exhilarating firsts on that trip: snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef (breathtaking)…boating in a crocodile-infested river (nerve-wracking)…bantering with rough-edged Aussie men in the outback (empowering)…climbing Ayers Rock/Uluru (there are no words)…I felt like I left home a safety-choosing girl and returned home an adventure-seeking woman.

Even having dipped my toe into outdoor adventure, there is one thing I regret not trying while in “Oz”:  surfing. While my friend and travel companion grabbed a board and paddled out, I watched from my safe perch in the sand.  No crashing and burning for this chick.  Sitting on the warm, solid beach felt much friendlier- and safer- than challenging a 4-ft. wave (as non-threatening as that wave might be).

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the ocean.  I could watch it- and all of its chameleon moods- for hours.  I used to body surf and boogie board without trepidation, but one nasty wipeout wiped out my confidence.  Where I used to swim, I now wade.  Where comfort once reigned, fear now dominates.

What’s ironic is that, since I was a young adolescent, I’ve been fascinated by big-wave surfing.  I remember a trip to Hawaii when I was in ninth grade; I bought a postcard of a guy surfing a beautiful 35-foot wave.  I put it on the front of my English binder and kept it there all year.  I was magnetized- and mesmerized- by that image.  And I still am.

During the past few years, I’ve watched numerous YouTube surfing videos, read articles about the sport and listened to interviews.  One surfer really stuck out to me:  Greg Long.  He’s graceful to watch as he glides down a wave’s face; but more important, he is soulful and exudes wisdom, courage and a sense of knowing that is hard to describe.

I sought out his wisdom tonight as I have been feeling scared about choosing sobriety for life (there’s a reason Alcoholics Anonymous coined the phrase, “One day at a time”).  Thinking about potentially living 70 more years without a drop of alcohol is very hard to get my head around.  Tonight I needed to symbolically rub shoulders with people like Greg, who, as author Susan Jeffers puts it: “feel the fear and do it anyway.”

In a brief video for Tracks Magazine, Greg shares:

“The bigger and heavier the wave, the greater the physical and mental challenge it is to ride.  And, subsequently, it provided a much more profound sense of accomplishment, exhilaration and adventure.  I’ve always felt that the fundamental purpose in life is to seek and explore our greatest potential as human beings…to continually challenge ourselves to grow physically, mentally, spiritually.  So, for me, entering the ocean during its most majestic display of natural energy, and riding those waves…that became the arena for my own personal journey of self discovery.”

Well said.

I, too, am on a personal journey of self discovery.  I don’t surf waves- and maybe I never will.  But, like big-wave riders, I want to face my fears.  It is beyond scary/uncomfortable/awkward/crappy at times.  Most days, it certainly doesn’t feel soft or easy or gentle.  But I am committed to doing it.

So, I will continue to look to big-wave surfers for strength.  I mean, if they can stare down a massive wall of water, I can stare down a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Or so I hope.


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