Follow journalist and fitness junkie Jessica Hundley over the next few weeks on her journey to conquer the waves before her 45th birthday in our new series: Athleta Journal
Let’s get this out of the way – surfing is hard. Deeply challenging, infinitely exasperating, it is the kind of activity that continually forces you to the precipice, to the edge of tears and of frustration. It is a sport that pushes you far, far past the boundaries of both your patience and stamina. It is unforgiving, humbling and exhausting. Try to recall that grit tooth gumption required to learn to ride a bike when you were a kid – the skinned knees, the crying– and you’ll have an idea of what it’s like to learn to surf.
I am now three weeks deep into my quest to learn and have yet to get up and truly ride a wave on my own. Yes, I have stood a few times – briefly, gloriously – but only in those rare moments when my instructor has pushed me into the surf at the perfectly-timed moment, guiding me precisely out into a wave and shouting words of encouragement and wisdom.
Getting Knocked Down
Most days, I bob in the water for a long, long, while – then – suddenly, desperately – paddle toward a promising crest, only to find myself “washing machined” – spinning helplessly, head over heels, head over heels, caught beneath water, my board catapulting into sky, my body ultimately unharmed – but my ego crushed to pieces and sucked away by the tide.
This is learning to surf, friends – and it ain’t pretty.
And Getting Back Up Again
But here’s the thing. Despite my continual failure in the face of the waves, I still find myself aching to go again, to get out into the blue Pacific and try.
Learning It’s A Process
Every time I am in the water, I learn something.. Even the smallest bit of new information is cathartic. The more I watch the surf, the more I begin to understand which swells are worth swimming for… and when. The more I get knocked down and slapped around, the more I respect the ocean and the more I want to prove to her that I can do this – I can get up, I can ride, I can catch that sweetest of moments – when the sea is right beneath you, holding you in it’s salty palm and carrying you forward into bliss.
I don’t know what that moment feels like. Not yet. But I can sense it – even in the midst of getting knocked down and slapped around, the possibility is always there. It is there in that slimmest of seconds when I feel wave beneath board and know, in some deep place, what it must be like when you actually catch it.
There is nothing to do but keep trying. And so I do. I keep splashing, gracelessly out into the water, in my sausage-casing wetsuit, my arms eternally sore, my hair straw – salted and wild, enduring the humiliations – yet alert always, to the lessons.
Patience is a Necessity
Surfing is teaching me. The ocean is teaching me, things I know already, perhaps, but have pushed too far down and away. I get onto my board, and the metaphors abound – as true in life, as they are in the water. Patience is a necessity. Diligence is required. Ego is an obstacle. And hard work is the only path to real reward.