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10 Life Lessons I Learned While Surfing

At 27 years old, in December 2021, I was asked by my older sister to join her for a week in Nicaragua to learn a brand new skill: surfing. I couldn't imagine saying no to this offer, so I found a way to make it work! Recently, I took the same trip for my 30th birthday, and I have been amazed at what I have learned about myself, and live, while surfing.

Firstly, it has been an exceptional reminder that we can learn a new skill at any age. On these two separate trips, I met multiple women of varying ages from 23 to 63 ready to learn this brand new skill. I was joined by mothers of young children, grandmothers, nurses, construction workers, artists, doctors, engineers, and retirees.

Before my first trip, I worked out with a personal trainer for 6 months to prepare my body for the challenge. I made notes in my journal regarding my amazement at my lack of sore muscles. Prior to my second trip, I had a really hard time motivating myself to workout leading up to the trip. So, I spent the last 3 days of this most recent trip stretching, begging my husband to give me massages, and taking pain relief medications.

Surfing is a solo sport, and it tests your mental stamina. Each day, I spent 3 hours getting pummeled by the ocean. Turtle rolling under giant waves; feeling like a sock in a washing machine... paddling my heart out and hoping to catch a wave, missing it, and having to paddle back out to the line-up, only to paddle right back in to try to catch another wave, until my arms shoulders were so tired I had to take a rest. I sat back on my board when the wave wasn't right... The ocean gave me free enemas and the worlds deepest wedgies... more than once! All the while, I'm visualizing my next wave, reminding myself to look up, stay on thee board's sweet spot, paddle hard, bend my knees... One of my favorite moments was when I would paddle out beyond the waves and sit on my board and enjoy the view while I rested.

On my first trip, I focused on myself and my progress. I never forgot that my only competition was with myself. Even with my sister and a friend on this same trip with us, I didn't seem to feel any sense of competition with anyone. I just enjoyed the sunshine, the ocean, the occasional mojito, and learning this amazing new skill.

On my second trip, I was joined by a friend and my husband. And, I had no idea that I would feel such a sense of competition with my husband.

I realize now that I had subconsciously assumed that he and I would be at a similar level of experience, would have a similar level of difficulty, and would excel at a similar pace. I had no idea that I had done so until Wednesday, halfway through the vacation, when Jordan was receiving new instructions that I was not.

He and I had been learning together with the same instructor Sunday - Tuesday, but on Wednesday we were separated. I felt unbelievable small. Sad. My emotions bubbled up and I began to cry right before we were supposed to go into the ocean and surf. I wasn't mad at my husband, I was so proud of him! I wasn't mad at the surf instructor, I knew she was doing what she thought was right. I was mad at myself. Furious that I didn't work out harder before this trip. Irate that couldn't make myself stop crying. All I wanted to do was get out to the line up and show the instructor that she was wrong, that I deserved to learn how to look down the line, was capable of learning how to ride the face of the wave.

But, as we paddled out, I noticed that I was last to make it out to the line up. My spiral took another nose-dive as I felt the pangs of knowing that my instructor was right. My giant alligator tears continued to fall despite my internal pleading to make it stop. My arms were exhausted, ready to give up, but when the instructor asked who was ready to go I mustered up the motivation and shouted, "I am!" and paddled towards her.

Tears and all, I knew that I needed to either catch a wave, or wipe-out trying, in order to snap myself out of it. And, I needed to snap out of it. I was on vacation! In a beautiful country! Surfing! I needed to snap out of it and get back to enjoying myself. So, I watched the horizon with my instructor and waited for my wave. I splashed water on my face a dozen times to disguise the tears and wiped off all my sunblock while I waited and watched. When it was finally my wave, I paddled my sad, mad, little heart out and when I felt the wave behind me I started the pop-up... and I wiped out... hard. Thank God, because I was finally done crying. The ocean had my back and helped me to snap out of my fear based anxiety spiral.

The ocean reminded me that she is the boss. Day by day, she stole my pedicure and my manicure, one nail at a time. She also stole a chip of my tooth, my french braids, and many ponytail holders. She reminded me to take the bad with the good, the challenge with the joy.

I love how present I had to be in the ocean, constantly aware of my surroundings and my body. I couldn't risk letting my mind wander because it could mean missing an epic wave, wiping out, or getting injured. There isn't time to stress about the future or dwell on the past, because there were so many more waves coming.

On the last day of surfing, my instructor was teaching me how to look down the line and ride the wave. Finally! She also spoke to me about my progress, and she said, "I know Wednesday was a hard day for you, and I know you were sad that you didn't advance as quickly as he did. But, honestly I think that sense of competition was good for you. I think you took more chances than you would have without it." and I can see now that she was right.

The 10 Life Lessons I Learned While Surfing:

  1. Enjoy the wipe-outs. They are as much a part of the process as getting up and riding the wave.

  2. Keep your eyes looking where you want to go, the WHOLE time. Even if you don't feel like you are positioned perfectly, keep your eyes glued to where you want to go.

  3. Have patience and take everything at a steady pace. faster does not equal better.

  4. Not every wave is your wave. That's ok! Wait for the one that is right for you.

  5. Your body can do amazing things, but it helps if you ask your body in the right way.

  6. A little challenge is extremely motivating to me. And, I will DEFINITELY need to feel my big feelings through it.

  7. My happiness is multiplied by the amount of sunshine I get, the amount of water I am near, a sense of adventure, and the amount of physical activity I do in any given day.

  8. My Inner Mean Girl does not get to dictate how I live my life.

  9. I can learn a new skill at any age.

I can do hard things, no matter what size of clothes I am currently wearing.

Pictures from December 2021

Pictures from March 2024

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