What the Ocean Taught Me
Many people think of surfing and are immediately intimidated by a number of things: rocks, waves, rip currents, other surfers, and last but not least, sharks. These were the factors that strongly played into my initial fear when I paddled out for the first time. It was a cold morning in the summer of 2012. We left for Malibu no later than seven ‘o’ clock, but I had decided hours before that I was going to learn how to surf that summer, even if it killed me (and boy, did it try). Ryan, a buddy of mine who had been surfing for about eight years, took it upon himself to show me the ropes. He paddled out with ease. I trailed behind, out of breath, pushing my buoyant, seven foot soft-top with me through the choppy sea and out to the line up.
If you asked me to describe what I felt in two words, I would say vulnerable and cold. Let’s start with cold. You’re probably thinking, “well, you were wearing a wetsuit, so you couldn’t have been THAT cold”. That’s the thing. I’m kind of a stubborn person. I don’t even like wearing shoes because they feel so tight on my feet, so you can imagine how I feel in a wetsuit. I like doing what I want, so I wore a rash guard and a bikini and roughed it. I can tell you now that I regretted this choice of swimwear, and even if you’re stubborn like me, you should probably just own up and wear a wetsuit.
If there is one thing I will always remember, it’s this feeling of vulnerability that every surfer experiences, whether it’s their first time or not. It’s not like being afraid of the dark. You don’t just get used to it and then eventually get over it. This vulnerability is something that grows; something that starts out as a sense of being deathly afraid of the Ocean, and slowly turns into a sense of awe at how big this ocean really is and how small you really are. When you step off the shore and into this Body, you are essentially entering an entirely different world where you don’t necessarily belong, and that can be extremely intimidating at first. When I went surfing for the first time, I didn’t understand the beauty of these initial feelings like I do now. All I could think was “sharks, rocks, waves, oh my!” Because I submitted to this negative fear rather than tapping into and thriving on the healthy vulnerability I didn’t recognize, I ended up getting thrown around multiple times by waves twice my height. I got deep cuts on my legs, stomach, and back from rocks on the ocean floor. I couldn’t accept the fact that the Ocean was not in my control, and this made me resent it and all of its power.
When I finally managed to free myself from the Ocean, I sat down in the sand, bloody ankles and all, and pouted for a while about how disappointed I was that surfing hadn’t met any of my expectations. But after a few minutes of thought, I realized something that would bring me back to the ocean almost everyday for the rest of that summer. I realized that this powerful Ocean had not come to me. It didn’t need me to surf in it in order to be fulfilled. Instead I had found my way to it, ventured around and ended up right on its doorstep, desiring something that would make me feel alive. I was wrong to have expectations, because the reality is that when I hop on a surfboard, I put my life in the hands of the Ocean, and it is that vulnerability that I have learned to love and thrive on. It’s that vulnerability alone that makes my heart beat faster when I approach the Ocean with both respect and appreciation for the lessons I learn from it each time.
I still have scars on my legs from my first time out on the water. Because that’s just something that happens when you decide you want to surf. You get disciplined by the Ocean. And that’s both the worst and the best part.
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