Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Can't Wait for Right Now

I'm packing my suitcase and eating black Red Vines. (I don't know why I eat those things. I know they make me shit wrong.) I leave for Hawaii tomorrow. I've been so freaked out about the flight. Tonight I was pacing around my apartment getting more and more freaked out, so I called a friend to meet for a late dinner. It was either that or Valium.

I hope I have a great time. My BFF who I've made all previous trips with couldn't go, so this time it's all me. I've been hoping to make this a bit of a surfing vacation, but I don't know.

My surf lesson last week was really tough. I'm sure there are people who can go out of their comfort zone and try something totally new without it being a complete emotional saga requiring intense psychotherapy . . . but screw them and their parents that are still together*. My two lessons have been great but intense, bringing up all kinds of issues for me. And you might think I'd hate it, but I don't. That's actually a big part of why I'm doing it, of course. But it's still uncomfortable and takes a lot of processing. The lessons are three hours long and this time I spent the first hour and a half - at least - totally going through the motions and wondering how on earth I ever thought this was a good idea. I couldn't get my foot up. I was sliding off the left side of the board. Nothing was working. At one point I shrugged and said to Jules, "I'm not really having any fun."

I tend to get overly focused on technique and doing things "right" and I just fight against the waves. It's fricking irritating - the board is slick and the water is moving and everything in the universe is conspiring for you to not stay on that thing. I pounce on the middle and grip the rails and wait to feel balanced, but just end up flipping right over. I spent the first hour and a half fighting with the water, trying to harness it and show it who's who. I used every muscle in my body to force the board to stay steady. And it left me exhausted and ready to throw in the towel.

Then Jules changed how we were going about it, and after every wipe out, I had to tell her one thing I did great that time. I'd paddled really well. Or I'd timed my pop-up attempt perfectly (wave - one - two - go!) I had some awful runs, and when she asked me what I did great, we'd both just stare at each other. Finally she'd say, "You really tried!" and I'd agree. Jules also started having me focus on just one thing - getting my back foot right, or pushing up from the rails and not the deck. She also made an observation - that when I wiped out, I stayed down in the ocean swimming around a bit. I played in the water, felt the motion of the waves, let them relax and focus me. She said people generally fight the momentum and stand up as quick as possible after wiping out. And somewhere in the middle of all that mess, I started to have an awesome, awesome time.

It's so damn hard to show up for yourself sometimes. To be fully present, accepting whatever thoughts or feelings come up, honoring them as valid and worthy of acceptance. At the end of the lesson when we got out of the water, we were team-carrying my board (because it's so damn heavy because it's so damn big) and I was walking behind Jules and I started to cry. Yes, cry. I had about three hours of sleep the night before, so I was exhausted before even starting. And it would have been easy to explain it away, or to not even mention it - we were both dripping with water; she never would have noticed. But I knew there was something that could be learned from what I was feeling, so when we made it up the sand to our bags I said, "Jules, I'm starting to get emotional."

You know how when you're crying around someone you don't really know and you feel weird and they feel weird and they kind of try to hug you to be nice, but it's awkward because you're pretty much strangers and it's weird to be touching and stuff? Yeah, it wasn't like that at all. We sat on a washed up log and looked out to the ocean, baking in the sun, and Jules scooted by me and put her arm around me and held me. I wasn't crying very hard or anything, I was just really overwhelmed and having a hard time putting my emotions into words. And I showed up for myself and she showed up for me.

There is a long list of things (for a long list of reasons) that aren't for me. Just normal things in life that one might encounter, but when I encounter them, there's no reason to even consider it. No reason to try. I know that's not for me. Do trust me when I say that surfing, for a plethora of reasons, is not for me. But I'm trying to challenge that, and by extension, all the other limits I've put on myself.

It was a hard day surfing. I didn't get up; I still haven't gotten totally up. (But I've almost mastered surfing on my knees, which, as far as I know, isn't a sport.) It was incredibly physical. During my first lesson I caught about twelve or fifteen waves, and another instructor chased my board for me. This time I probably caught thirty or forty waves, which means thirty or forty wipe outs, and chased my board - far and wide - all on my own. The waves were rough, well over five feet, with a lot of wind. (Beginner waves are 1 - 3'.) We worked a lot on my paddling, which was tiring, and I carried my mammoth board on my head all over that beach and parking lot.

After Jules and I finished processing - which was intense and magical, and that's all I can say - she told me to have fun for the rest of the day and bring the equipment back to the shop before closing. At first I didn't even know what she meant. When I figured it out, I told her that I didn't think I could go out on my own without her. We talked about it and in the end I decided to just borrow her belief in me and do it. She gave me a leash - HEY THANKS, NOW I DON'T HAVE TO CHASE MY BOARD ANYMORE - and I had a lot of fun for the next hour being pounded in the head by wave after wave, and exercising my faith in myself. It was pretty awesome.

That afternoon driving back from the coast I thought of my Hawaii trip and felt 100% confident in my ability to rent a board and play around on vacation. Who cares how I would do, I knew I would have a total blast messing around and practicing. The further I got away from my lesson, the less I felt ok about it, and right now I know there is no way that I can try to surf in Hawaii. I would do it wrong, I would embarrass myself, I would break surfing. I'm back here again.

I don't know. I'm reading the killer-est, kick-ass book called Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea, and it's challenging me in deep ways. The way Jules challenges me. So I'm going to go to Hawaii tomorrow and lay on the beach and read, and maybe find some courage to do more, and have a crazy great time. I'm so excited. I can't wait.

Thanks, Bob. Love that line.


  1. I can't imagine surfing being for me, either, but your stories about learning are making me curious to try.

  2. I really enjoyed this post.

    I've never considered surfing and I'm poor with balance these days, don't know why...hmmm maybe those in-line skates weren't the best purchase last week. But I really feel like I understand what it's like to have a surf lesson after reading your story. I also find the various ways that you and Jules tackled your difficulties and shored up your motivation very useful to think about. I am easily discouraged - Jules sounds like a resourceful and flexible teacher. And you inspire me with your determination to challenge yourself.

    It sounds to me like this activity is another case of you working on healing yourself on some level. Those sudden tears suggest that a spiritual deep-tissue massage was going on. Hell, the sea is a powerfully moving experience on its own.

    "Breaking Surfing" still cracks me up :D

    Have a great time in Hawaii! I am so jealous.


  3. This post is awesome. Just like you.

    Have a fantastic time in Hawaii. :-)

  4. Ditto everyone else--great post!

    Just a couple things here: kneeboarding really is a sport. When I lived in San Diego there were a couple of older Vietnam vet guys, with various missing body parts, who kneeboarded. Just shorter surfboards is all--same fun.

    Thing two: I've got a 10' noserider (longboard) that you're welcome to borrow whenever you like. Surfing is like church for me, and I can't help being a bit of an evangelist when people show an interest. :-)

    Hope you have a killer time in Hawai'i!

  5. Sounds like you have had a great past few days!

    Have a agreat time in Hawaii!

  6. Have a great trip. Glad you're enjoying my book. "Killerest kick ass" is probably the best compliment I've gotten : ) Love the blog too.

  7. really great to hear someone feels the same about the enigma of learning to surf. Sure is a great time though!

  8. UH...... I did not get the Memo on your coming to Hi. Which Island ? Or are you trying to be elusive?

  9. You have inspired me - looking into a one day "surf camp" for the hell of it. Thanks! And have a great trip!!