As you may know (ad nauseam for some of you), I just returned from a surf trip to Indonesia. Each and every time I travel to this region to surf, I am humbled. This last trip was no exception.
In preparation for my trip, I did strength and endurance training 2 days a week, surfed nearly every other day, did breath hold exercises everyday and studied fear intensively. I thought I was ready. I had pictures of myself treading through overhead barrels with ease. But, as I would learn, getting barreled is not that easy.
When I arrived in the Telos Islands, we had several warm-up days of head high or less swell. I surfed well but not up to my expectations. I got a lot of waves but was often afraid to put myself in the position for that coveted barrel. Using my partner, Luke, as my guinea pig, I watched him get crushed by closeouts, thrown on the reef and tossed around like a rag doll from a safe distance. I shoulder hopped. I regressed.
Even with all my studying, writing, visualization and preparation for surfing more powerful waves, I was afraid. I knew eventually I would have to face the music and take a beating. On the 5 or 6 day, I could almost feel my card get drawn before I paddled out at the break at the top of the point in front of our camp. I rode a couple of waves and kicked out safely. Then I got caught inside by a set. I duck dove but my board ripped out of my hands. When I came to the surface, my beloved Josh Hall Fish was floating next to me and my leash was dangling, detached either by the impact of the wave or the failure of the ankle cuff itself. It didn’t matter, before I could grab my board, the next set wave detonated on my head. I started to panic and forget all about high-low breathing and relaxation techniques. I swallowed water and barely made it back outside to hang onto Luke’s board. Once I stopped panicking and settled myself, I knew I was OK. Someone recovered my board with only a minor scratch to the nose.
One thing I did learn from studying the psychology of fear is that you cannot let one instance ruin your entire attitude towards an activity. After I got whomped, swallowed water and was totally freaked out, I knew I could NOT paddle in with my tail between my legs. I needed to replace that scary memory with a positive one as quick as possible. So even without my contact lens, (which had fallen off during my wipeout) I took Luke’s board and stayed out 3 more hours. I caught wave after wave. I kept paddling back out, waiting my turn and dropping in. I kept moving, which I knew was another way to combat fear. That moment was scary but by the end of my session I had completely overwritten what happened with all the good waves I got.
I surfed so many different waves at various sizes that ranged from very comfortable to “if I get stuck inside, I will have a panic attack.” I got really, really worked on a few more duck dives and even fell from the top of the lip to the bottom of an eight foot wave on my second to last day.
I got a lot of waves but did I get the barrel I dreamed of? Nope. Not even close. In some ways, I was disappointed. I’d worked hard and wanted to meet my goal but wasn’t willing or ready to face the beast.
Surfing teaches me so many lessons – humility, perseverance. and how to manage my emotions. On this trip, it taught me something else… to deal with unmet expectations by being grateful for what I did achieve. I traveled to a beautiful remote island, surfed with all guys, caught all different challenging waves and, most importantly, didn’t get injured. These are the things that most people, much more mothers, only dream about. I loved every minute of it and as always with surfing, I still have a lot to work towards. I will not admit defeat, I can always work harder. Catch me in the green room in 2018.