“Why did you get into surfing?” was a question I was asked recently and it took a second for me to actually collect my thoughts.
I had only been surfing for 2 years, but I had become so absorbed in the sport that I had forgotten why I wanted to learn how to surf in the first place.
The truth is, it wasn’t easy to learn, in fact, learning to surf was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. More often than not, I spent my time in the ocean rolling around in a washing machine set to “chew up and spit out.”
The reason I wanted to learn how to surf was because I knew I needed to choose one thing that scared me, dive into it full on, and not stop when it got difficult. I’m the kind of person that will do a little bit of everything – a jack of all trades, master of none type. So I’ll drop things when I’m not interested in them anymore (or when it gets uncomfortable), and pick up whatever is new and shiny.
I needed to get over my ego and be okay with the fact that I wasn’t going to be carving like Courtney Conlogue the first day I got in the water. I needed to work on my patience, perfectionism, and shift my perspective to understand that every single surfer starts exactly in the same place.
“There is something humbling about trying something you know you’ll be bad at”
In light of the new year, I wanted to share what I think are 5 things that happen when you learn to surf and why this should be the year you do it!
#1: You will suck at it.
Bear with me. Here’s the reality: EVERYONE who is just learning to surf sucks at it. It’s impossible to learn how to surf without there being a gradual learning curve. Period. No one has ever tried surfing for the first time and was immediately an expert. And only when you start to get better at surfing do you realize how much more you have to learn.
There is something humbling about trying something you know you’ll be bad at—at least to start. It takes the pressure off, making the whole experience light and fun, especially when you’re learning from instructors who have zero judgement, who have all been there, and have nothing but encouraging words to say.
Fact: It’s alright to feel nervous. It’s alright to fear the ocean. It’s alright to fail.
#2: You will probably want to give up at some point.
I had been learning to surf for about 6 months while traveling, and it was in the Philippines at a left point break called Stimpy’s where I learned this lesson.
I took the first wave of a huge set which was way beyond my skill level. Of course, I wiped out and got stuck in the notorious washing machine. I was pinned down for what felt like forever, and when I finally surfaced, I realized I had nothing to hold onto—my leash had come off and my board was being pushed towards the rocks ahead, I was exhausted, but found the energy to keep swimming towards it.
I finally got to it, looked behind me, and instantly another wave was on top of me, sweeping my board back into the ocean. I was being tossed on top of the rocks over and over. At this point, I remember thinking this was the end… my arms were jell-o and I had swallowed so much sea water. Out of nowhere, another surfer grabbed my board and I swam to the shoulder.
As I lay on my board catching my breath, heart beating like crazy, all I wanted was to get back in the boat and never surf again. Then I remembered something my freediving coach said to me: when you get to the point when you want to quit, the reality is that you can keep going. You have a choice, and that is when you are playing a 100% mental game. I could say “screw this” and give up. Or, I could accept that every single surfer has had moments like this one. This is part of it. It’s normal. It’s scary as hell sometimes. But if I’m going to get anywhere, I have to accept it, breathe, and focus on the next wave.
You will wipe out, you will get stuck in the dreadful washing machine, you will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ll nose dive, you’ll have moments underwater where you don’t know which way is up. But then, before you know it, you’ll surface. You find your way back to the top, take a deep breath, laugh to yourself (or as I do, yell “yewwwww!” to remind myself that I’m still breathing), and paddle back out.
#3: You will get better.
If you have the determination to keep going—to leave your ego at the door and push past your limit—you will improve. I think the best way to do this is with consistency and to go every day for at least one week with a surf instructor. I first tried learning by myself—big fail. Then I had a random 2 hour lesson—a bit better, I could stand up, but by no means was I surfing (although I truly thought I was). It wasn’t until I bit the bullet and booked a week at a surf camp where I actually started to trim down a green wave. The most important thing is to find a place with a good coaching philosophy.
Usually, in the first week (especially with personalized surf coaching and video analysis), you’ll make some big gains in your surf ability. By the end of one week at Rise Up, many beginners are catching green waves. The next time you surf after spending a week at a surf camp, it can feel like you’re ‘learning all over again,’ but trust me, it comes back like riding a bike. The more times you get back in the water, you’ll improve whether it’s obvious to you or not.
I can’t point to any ‘moment’ or time period where I can say “oh, that’s when I improved the most.” It was very gradual, and I often needed to remind myself that even if it was an awful session and I caught no waves, I was still improving. If not physically, then mentally.
#4: You’ll realize it was all worth it.
Glenn Sakomoto said it best: “Man yearns to fly… Surfing is as close to what I imagine swooping and gliding like a bird would be like… it touches something in your soul that makes you feel so good that when you glide out over the back of the wave after a ride, you are still flushed with the sensation, and you paddle out compelled to have another one… and another one… and another one.”
Most people have their ‘thing’—the thing in their life that when they do it, they are utterly present, fully absorbed by the activity, in flow. It could be cycling, climbing, carpentry, or even working on a spreadsheet in excel (that is FAR from my thing, but if it is yours, I see you). Surfing is the ‘thing’ for so many people. It absorbs you into the moment, making you feel like nothing else exists except for you, your board, and your wave of the day.
#5: You will get hooked.
The feeling, the people you’ll meet, the lifestyle that it brings. Surfing is something that will transform your life the moment you let it. No matter your age, where you’re from, or who you’re traveling with, it is for everyone (and everyone starts somewhere!) This is the philosophy at Rise Up—all are welcome and everyone is family. You don’t need to know a single thing about surfing to join a retreat.
So, if at this point you’re feeling a bit nervous or unsure, your heart is beating a bit faster, or you’re coming up with excuses not to do it… consider this your sign to stop thinking and go for it!
See you on the waves 🙂
Join the Rise Up Familia in 2020 and learn to surf! You won’t regret it.
photos in post: @majaenberginstagram