3 Life Lessons from My First Surf Lesson
“Surfing is the way of life, chica….” my surf instructor and Matthew McConaughey’s long lost Costa Rican twin, Esteban, whispered under his breathe 10 minutes into my first lesson. I had just bombarded him with a barrage of questions about timing and technique. Day 11 of my 18 month solo backpacking tour, and I still processed the world through my old corporate lens: everything could be controlled, broken down, and executed with utmost efficiency. Fast forward to a tiny beach town of Santa Teresa where Esteban’s well worn leathery skin gleamed in the sun, and his eyes smelled my fear for surrendering to the ocean like a dog sniffing for drugs- only my drug was control. All I wanted was a surf lesson, yet 90 minutes and several mouthfuls of ocean water later, I walked away with three powerful lessons about life.
The more you fight the waves, the less you will be able to ride them
“First you must remember, you have limited energy so don’t resist the ocean, surrender to her. The more you fight the waves, the less you will be able to ride them.” Just great — I thought as I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses. I came here to learn to plant two feet on a piece of foam board, not get lectured about life. So I didn’t listen, I fought the ocean and unsurprisingly it kicked my ass as wave after wave flipped me under. I finally walked out of the ocean exhausted, on the verge of quitting, when it hit me: I can just start over and walk back in, I don’t have to fight the tide, I don’t have to always pick the hardest route. Energy distribution, just like happiness, is a choice.
Stop waiting for the perfect wave, just go
“ You stayed on the board too long waiting for the perfect timing, the perfect wave. You just gotta go, go, GO!” He was right. I missed wave after wave paralyzed by the fear of perfection. I’ve long practiced that paralysis in life, and in the ocean I couldn’t hide anymore. ‘Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,’ I repeated in my head as I paddled back out. I spent the whole lesson making excuses that this wave was too big, or that wave was too small but really in making the excuses I was cheating myself out the chance to make progress. Practicing anything, includes critically practicing failure for only then can one appreciate acheivement. Perfection is an illusion, practice is the ultimate truth, failure is the most honest reflection, and progress is the biggest trophy of this education called ‘life’.
Coming back to the ocean makes you a winner
“You came back to the ocean, which makes you a winner” my Buddha of the surf told me when I returned to the surf shop the next day. He seemed surprised at my audacity to face my own shortcomings and greeted me with a newfound respect in his tone. I’m not used to be being bad at things, I explained in broken Spanish. Growing up in an immigrant Ukrainian household my mother instilled in us that ‘ Try’ is not a word, there’s only ‘ Doing’ or ‘Not Doing’. He smiled back and handed me a smaller board and told me I was ready to try it alone. I didn’t feel ready, but sometimes you have to trust that the world sees you in a way you can’t see yourself just yet. The easy thing to do is walk away when things get awkward and wearisome, but just beyond that point is where the magic lies: growth from confronting the parts of yourself you don’t like, growth from pushing yourself past familiarity, and growth from listening to that tiny irrational voice of ‘ What’s the worst thing that could happen if you just do it?”.
Ultimately, the tide was too strong my second day out, and instead of putting myself in danger just for the story, I walked out of the ocean in full appreciation of the incredible roaring beast that she is. I’m not surfing today, because I’m treating surfing as a slow burn lover from whom I have much to learn and I want to digest the lessons both physical and mental before I return to go back into her mighty arms. It’s no wonder why every surfer I’ve ever met is so spiritual: the lessons of the ocean can’t be read or written, they have to be lived and lived out with respect. Nature doesn’t operate on excuses or planned pragmatism, it hums as a phenomenal machine because it demands a certain ebb and flow, a surrender of some things in order for the survival of other things to be birthed.
I move forward with a heightened reverence for nature, the ocean, and all the wisdom my first surf lesson imparted on a girl just starting to discover herself in the world.