Monday, May 10, 2010

Breaking Through

This is a story about a really good day surfing. There are a lot of fun things to remember about last Wednesday, but just one best thing.

This is the best thing:

During my lesson I did my good pop up attempt every time. I got my feet on the board in some fashion on almost every try, but I ended up in a kind of squat and I just couldn't get much further. Jules was coaching me very specifically - I needed to charge forward a little harder to get my body in the middle of the board, and then hook my front (right) foot so I was standing sideways on the board. I was never remembering to hook my front foot! I also needed to lift my chest and head up, because that's what propels the rest of the body upright to a standing position. Jules always touches her heart and motions out and up with her hand when telling me to rise up. She touches her heart; "Rise up from here."

So on every ride I'd do my little pop, get my feet on the board and hover in a squat position, and then fall. Every ride. Jules would tell me "Good job!" and then give me the reminders: Keep charging. Hook that right foot; it's gotta hook for you to stay balanced. Focus on lifting your chest and your head so you come upright. Over and over and over.

I started to feel overwhelmed. I could visualize everything Jules was telling me, and I knew exactly how each movement would help me improve. But I was overwhelmed with it all. I felt like a student who was flunking class. Flunking surfing. Yes, flunking life. I couldn't do any of the things she was telling me, but most of all, I couldn't rise up. And I couldn't rise up because I couldn't let go of the board with my hands. I was trying my hardest to charge forward and hook my foot correctly, but none of that was happening because I was still holding onto the board with my hands.

After probably my 15th wipeout, and my 15th time receiving the specific feedback, I finally figured out what I needed. To be honest, I think I've known it for a while. And then after my next wipeout I found the courage to say to Jules, "Do you mind if on the next ride I don't hook my foot or do any of the other things? If I do it all wrong except for the "rise up" part? I'm only going to focus on rising up. Is that ok?" My own way. I was finding my own way. Ah. I'm starting to get a little emotional as I type this. Jules just said that would be fine. But later she said that she knew.

And then I did it. For the first time ever, I rode my board on my feet. I paddled, popped and charged, landed on my feet and rose up to a standing position with my heart facing the tops of the trees. And then I did it every ride after that. Nothing epic, my form wasn't perfect, (we actually started to wonder if I'm really goofy because of how I was ending up!) (I am), the rides were short and blah blah blah. I totally did it! I totally freaking did it. I couldn't do it no matter how hard I tried. And then I could.

Damn, I don't know how to describe it. But what I was doing what finally letting go. Literally. I've been trying to ride the board on my feet without letting go with my hands. Technically impossible, but I've been trying my heart out. And we've known for a while that it's probably not skill but emotional readiness that's keeping me from progressing, but I was just shocked, and still am, that I just decided at one point to ride standing up and then I did. And then I did again. After that first ride, we cheered and high-fived and Jules actually cried, but I figured it was just a fluke. But then it happened again. And again. No fluke. I decided I would stand up. And then I did.

At the end of the lesson as we carried my board up the steps to the parking lot, still in shock, I said to Jules, "Why did it take me so long to do that?" She said, "I don't know. Why does it take nine months to have a baby?"

That Jules-san is a wise one.


These are the other things:

I'd gone to a yoga class the day before - my first since December! - and Jules is a big yoga-head, so our beach talk was mostly about that. I mean, the part I can reveal was mostly about that. We talked for a long time up in the lot and then went down to hit the waves.

I had a real slow start this time - the waves were about 6 - 7' that day (which is a little too much for me) and they were very unpredictable. It was just really choppy and big. Add to that colder than normal water temperature, and I had an ice cream headache from the second the first drops hit my head. I don't know what happened. I told Jules I felt colder than on our icy, 30° day this winter. So I just took it slow and eventually worked it out.

During the lesson I think I had one ride where I wasn't able to get to my feet and I just ended up with a long knee ride. I'm surprised how completely unsatisfying those are now. All they do is frustrate me. I'd rather miss the wave than ride in on my knees and waste the energy getting back out (and I don't even go that far out!) when I could have tried to get on my feet.

I did pearl once on Wednesday and I don't mind saying I really don't enjoy that. It's been a while since I've really pearled, but I notice myself making small adjustments often in an effort to avoid it. Like perpetually riding too far back on my board, just in case. It's just so unpleasant, and (minus that black eye) it's the most painful thing that's happened to me in surfing so far. Confusing underwater washing-machine action, all while dodging the board, which acts as a torpedo when pearled. Dislike.

Sometimes as I'm laying on my board and Jules is standing behind me, right as I'm starting to paddle into a wave, I'll hear Jules say something quiet and nonchalant, pretty much to herself, right as she gives me a little push in the right direction. One time that day was, "That one's just right. It's like the three bears." It's usually wacky enough to get me laughing as I'm trying to focus on paddling my heart out. The next lesson it was, "This is your sandwich wave!" just as I took off. I'm trying to paddle and throw myself upright and I'm thinking, "Sandwich wave???" (Later explained: a ride so steady and long you could just stand there and eat a whole sandwich before it's over.)

Even with the crazy conditions this time, I again noticed and was again really impressed by Jules' ability to "read" the waves. I can't imagine how many years it takes to hone that skill. But it's such an important skill to surfing! I'm not sure what to do about this.

That morning I picked out my surf-drive music like I always do before a lesson, and that day's included Jack Johnson's latest, To The Sea. In one of the songs he sings (in his perfectly laid-back voice; he sounds like summer, doesn't he?), almost begs, "You and your heart shouldn't feel so far apart." I've been meditating on that since downloading the song and using it as a frequent surf-drive selection. I could write about it forever, but for now I'll just say: I don't know of any other time when I've felt further from my heart than when I was working for that depraved bitch in NY, trying to convince myself that my work had meaning. That place took my soul. And I don't know of any other time when I've felt closer to my heart than when I'm alone in my car heading to the coast for a surf. Insert superlative. Add exclamation point. I'm getting my soul back.

Sweet, sweet music video on that Jack Johnson site, btw. Maybe someday I can ride like that?


  1. This was lovely to read. I'm so happy for you that you've broken through this barrier. Although I have zero experience surfing, I really felt like I was there with you and it made sense when you asked if you could just be yourself. I recognised that moment - I must have felt it in my own life learning something. Letting go sounds wonderful. I feel the need to let go. I'm coming to realise how much of my life is controlled by fears.

    I REALLY responded to your last bit about your job back in NY. Wow, you've really done it, LSL. You've let go. Thank you for taking me to that place for a few minutes - it feels good xxx

  2. I'm just so freaking proud of you. Damn.

    Reading this filled my heart up. Just further proving how surfing is indeed a metaphor for life.

    Keep on keeping on. You're definitely getting somewhere.


  3. Way to go pal! Congratufreakinglations! I'm so proud of you letting go with your hands and rising to your heart.

  4. Love this. I've long been fascinated by surfing but have yet to try it. Your post makes it even more compelling.

    Getting past internal barriers can be so hard, so congratulations on standing up! That's frakkin' awesome!

  5. Love, love love it... You are so effin Rad! :) Go girl!