I’ve just been away on holiday to Byron Bay. I unplugged almost completely – no TV, no Facebook, minimal and random phone and emails.
I followed the sun, the tide, the swell and the wind so I could surf for hours every day.
On three days I was lucky enough to surf with two amazing surfing mentors, Pete Sea and Pete A. These Petes have been surfing pretty much all their lives and they understand the ocean intimately. They can do just about anything on any surfboard in any conditions.
Recently I bought a new, shorter board (aka ‘the blue board of happiness’) because I want to surf more beach breaks and I’d like to learn how to manoeuvre across the face of waves more dynamically.
So the Petes took me up on this ambition. On Friday, Pete Sea took me to the Broken Head beach break and on Sunday, Pete A took me to Boulders. Both days we surfed at the mid-dropping tide and the swell was small and friendly.
But still, this situation is my big surfing challenge. Short boards and blokes carving and slashing. Quick takeoffs and speed across the face before the waves pitch onto the sand bank and said short boards and blokes fly off the back with the offshore spray.
I felt anxious. I felt conspicuously unskilled and inexperienced. I didn’t want to wreck anyone’s wave by dropping in or wiping out in front of them. I didn’t want the blokes to laugh at me or treat me like a beginner who shouldn’t be out there. Thirty plus years of being out of the water in the era when women were generally excluded from the lineup weighed heavily on my shoulders and tried to do my head in.
And the Petes were awesome! They talked to me about where waves come from, where they go, how they form and shape, and how to read the peak and paddle into place to connect with that power. They both told me it was my time to eyeball those waves. To face them and become fearless and committed to my takeoffs.
I gave it a red hot go. I caught more beach break waves than I ever have before and I made more takeoffs than ever before. I also had a lot of fun in the gaps between anxiety. But I still wasn’t breaking through…and this felt a little embarrassing and certainly very humbling given I’ve just published “the dharma of surfing” a book about surf-life wisdom…
Anyway, on Sunday afternoon after our Boulders surf session, Pete A had a good long yarn with me. He told me upfront what I do well: I’m good with my weight distribution on the board so everything trims well; and I bend my knees really well.
He also told me what I do wrong, really really wrong: I think too much. He can see it, everyone out there can see it: Me. On the board. Thinking. Worrying. Debating.
He was blindingly right.
So I finally shared all my heartache and assumptions about those lost surfing years between when I was about 15 years old and 40ish. What it felt like to be excluded and how that feeling of exclusion has sat on my shoulders to this very day.
Pete then told me what goes on in his and other bloke’s minds when they’re out there surfing. They surf! They go for waves and generally they respect anyone who’s out there going for waves no matter their age or sex. Pete keeps moving out there too, paddling, looking, watching, observing, paddling again, mostly to be in the right place at the right time for the right wave, but also to keep his mind at bay. To stay in his body. To keep his body warm and tuned in ready to go at any moment.
I heard him. I heard him clearly and deeply. And in that wonderful honest conversation I let go of all the angst and worry and chose to get back out there and keep moving. Just keep moving. To watch the ocean like a hawk for forming waves and to paddle hard and go with commitment. To be respectful of other surfers and to be confident in my own right to be out there and surfing wholeheartedly.
The next day I went surfing alone and no it wasn’t to a beach break, it was a crowded point break (I wanted to consolidate those theoretical and practical learnings – to bed them down in a reasonably comfortable zone). I focused on three things: moving, moving, moving; watching for those forming waves; and paddling into them with total commitment. I stayed in my body and I leaned into this incredible work-in-progress – this surfing life. I had an absolute, unapologetic blast.
And I dove deeper into my own words of wisdom from the sea…moving from one level of understanding to another…evolving my own relationship with myself.
Photo by Scotty Johnson