leaning into the work-in-progress

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.



30 - Surfing is more than standing on a surfboard...

Photo by Scotty Johnson






surfing the solstice

And on the third morning of the Winter Solstice some of the Currumbin Alley mermaids went surfing at dawn.

When we woke between 3.30am and 4.30am and drove to the beach in the dark,  we thought we were a bit mad.

But then there was the pre-dawn sky…and sunrise…and rainbows…and sweet waves for the few of us out there.

So we rejoiced and shared our wonder and awe and fellowship.

Life is bloody good. Right here. Right now.

This our photo essay.

an experiment with love

52 - Give thanks. Every morning. Every night. Give thanks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about love.

Not so much romantic love or family love but big, broad, deep eternal love. Love like Mother Earth has for all life. Love between the sun and the sky.

The Middle Eastern poet Hafiz once wrote: “And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.”

Contemporary poet Elizabeth Alexander asks “What if the mightiest word is love?” and US public broadcaster Krista Tippett in her wonderful book “Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” writes:

“Spiritual geniuses and saints have always called humanity to love, as have social reformers who shifted the lived world on its axis. When the civil rights leaders began to force a reckoning with otherness in the 1960s, they did so in the name of love. The political, economic aspirations of this monumental work of social change in living memory grew from an aspiration to create a ‘beloved community'”.

In my book “the dharma of surfing” there is a little wisdom that goes like this:

“We have within us a capacity to love all of life without judgement or exclusion, like the ocean.  What if we are all from the one source of life, one infinite, eternal energy? Then all life is one.

“The ocean accepts all in her waters: whales, whalers and protectors; predators and prey alike without judgement or exception. So too the sun and the moon and the sky. There is deeply challenging wisdom in Mother Nature.”

26 - We have within us a capacity to love all of life without judgement or exclusion, like the ocean...

Photograph by Scott Johnson

I’ve been wondering whether, in this physical human form, it is possible to hold, to express, to BE such love? And then I remember Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, St Francis of Assisi, Jesus Christ, Buddha…

And so I recently wrote a poem called An Experiment with Love

Is that a number between
1 and 10?
Or a colour with which to describe
grace or beauty or compassion or wonder?

The soft breath of Autumn roared into
a howling westerly when we
crossed the threshold of June and now
I sit at the window, writing,
with a pink woollen scarf wound up to my ears,
while the forest bends over backwards
under cloud.

Election campaigns are frothing here and
in the US, pitched presidential battles
look anything but promising.
But in the crack that runs through the
middle of everything
I experiment with love.

What if I become one of the ones who
refuse to hate?
Not Trump, not Murdoch, not Rinehart, not Palmer.
What if I allow them space without derision?
This also, is my experiment of spirit,
To explore the broken edges without closing
my heart to the world; 
To remember I am kin to the sea and the sky
and live openly under the sun, dedicated
to the wave and the water and all life.

When I sit on my cushion in the sacred room and breathe,
the inhale fills my belly like food and
the exhale joins the mindstream of eons if
I am present.

The heart can handle anything that arrives at the doorway of our lives.
We could become peace.

blue is the colour of my love

You’ve got to hand it to Mother Nature, when she sends an east coast low through South East Queensland we all get to feel her might. And that’s what we’ve felt over the past 24 hours as swells reached about 4 metres and winds hit 85-95 knots.

On Friday before the low hit, lots of us raced out for a surf before the swell got out of hand and the forecast nor’easterly gale hit.

The water was glassy and grey.  We played for hours in fun 2 foot waves. And we watched the most astonishing light show in the sky and across the horizon.

surfboards, sky, EC low

Mountainous brooding cumulous piled upon themselves to the heavens. Wherever the sun broke through it shivered across the sea in scattered pathways.

At one stage we couldn’t see approaching waves because the colour of the ocean merged entirely into the sky.

That experience combined with the following 24 hours of howling wind and rain- storm brought back memories of one of the first poems I wrote in about 2008-09 called “blue is the colour of my love”:

in the utter peace of dawn

a world of hanging mist and forest blur


after night’s mayhem

of tidal-wave winds

and squalling rain flung against shivering windows.

there in deep shadows beneath exhausted trees

is midnight blue

the colour of my love.

silent mystery in pools of exhaled air

gasping, i climb towards the surface

on a ladder of streaming sunlight

and silver webs.

this blue of love is new.

never have I seen such depth and dimension

and all the while the casuarinas flower and lyre birds caroll

colliding in yugambeh-land language.


the day was still

poised on a cliff edge

as crows scrawled symbols across the sky.

reading bird talk is an ancient art here

and shadows mark the way.


how blue is my love?

as deep as the forest in this silent soil

as vast as the ocean of peace

home is the place my heart now sleeps.

Rock, sky, EC lowSurfers, sky, EC low


into the temple

Into the Temple

In my relatively short surfing life Thursday morning’s sunrise offered new levels of depth.

There were no horizon clouds so as I paddled out, that immense ball of fire silently exhaled straight out of the sea.

Just a few blokes were out the back on their boards – in full black steamers silhouetted against the sky. And as I paddled into the lineup there was silence and stillness…everyone was transfixed by the rising sun.

It felt like paddling into a temple of monks and it brought me a little undone actually, to experience such a shared moment of sacredness in this most secular of societies.

When I caught my first beautiful wave the sun was at my back and the newly-waning moon still shone almost overhead. It was a tender moment of open-heart and open-mind and as my wave sighed to a close, I could only bow in thanks for something so much bigger than me.

“Wherever you are is the entry point” Kabir


dawn surf temple