I’ve always considered myself to be a water baby.
As a hardcore Pisces, I was never afraid of the water, even when I almost drowned as a kid. To my 3-year-old eyes the patch of lily pads at the edge of the lake looked as solid as the ground I was standing on. Take note: they are not. I distinctly remember that moment of plunging under the water in the lake and instinctively holding my breath. I wasn’t scared, just mildly curious like “Huh, that is not what I thought would happen…” It wasn’t bravery. I think I just didn’t understand that there was anything to be afraid of. Maybe ignorance (of fear) is bliss.
Earlier this year, I returned to Nicaragua because I longed to get back to the surf, the blue skies and the high that accompanied catching a really good wave. Halfway through the glorious week, I had a really bad surf day where a jungle juice hangover may or may not have been to blame. Just to give you an idea of how potent jungle juice is, think of it as the Nicaraguan version of a long island ice tea. Alcoholic as hell. About as rum-soaked as Jack Sparrow.
I saw a monster wave starting to crest in the distance and I started paddling, my ambition grabbing hold of me. It was huge; much bigger than any novice like me had the right to try and engage. It was so steep and the nose of my board was buried under the water so all I could do was get swallowed whole as the wave broke on me. The waves were so strong, yanking me and my surfboard (that was attached by a leash to my ankle) in every direction. I tumbled along in chaos, not knowing which way was up. My legs flailed for purchase and I distantly wondered “What will happen when I run out of air? Oh yea, I die.” I started panicking and in reflex, my lungs tried to draw a breath and instead of the air I longed for, they filled with sea water.
When my head finally broke the surface, I dragged myself to shore, coughing up water and gasping for breath. I spent the next hour shaking on the beach, gazing at the waves with mounting anxiety. Prior to this moment, I had been the first one into the ocean and the last one out but now, the thought of facing the waves made me shudder. I knew I had to get back up on the board before we left the beach or risk NEVER getting back out there again. The fear would settle in my bones. Unfortunately, now I wasn’t so blissfully ignorant about what could happen. The danger was no longer an abstract worry but a real possibility because I had lived it.
Reluctantly, I headed back in, but it’s as if the sea could sense my fear the way dogs can. My paddle was noncommittal, I hesitated at crucial moments, dragging the board so it slowed down. But I was determined not to leave until I had caught one good wave. I refused to let one bad ride steal my joy of the sea and surf! The next wave, I gritted my teeth and paddled swiftly to get ahead of the break. I stood, swaying backwards but forced my core to stick my feet to the board. This wave was mine! I flew towards the shore, laughing with exhilaration, until the wave was nothing but froth.
I had had better waves that trip but that was the most memorable one; crisp and crystal clear in my mind. The fear lingered but it was manageable. I knew I’d always fall; that much is guaranteed when you surf. There would be some falls that were not so bad and some that would be worse but I was ok with that. I choose to keep conquering my fear of falling if that means sometimes I get to fly.
I guess if it's a deliberate choice that you're making it's not falling at all, but a leap.
After my fall, my trip roomie tried to console me by saying:
“If it makes you feel any better, the way the wave rose behind you looked spectacular. Your fall looked epic!”
There’s some good advice for everyone:
If you have to fall, make it a good one.
Photo Credit: Corina Weibel