Photo courtesy of Alex Costa.
I've started writing this blog post at least 20 times, so let's cut to the chase. That is me. That is a smallish wave, about shoulder high. That is me not taking that wave.
On that particular wave, I didn't paddle quite hard enough. On the 10 before and after it, I likely did--and then pulled back at the last possible moment. In surfing speak, I didn't commit.
My yoga teacher is always saying that they way you do one thing is the way you do everything. I'll tell you that I don't have a fear of commitment--I just don't want to get hurt. I'll tell you I don't mind taking risks, but that I don't want to break my board or end up on the rocks--in other words, I don't want to suffer the consequences.
My fears are well-founded. I've gotten a black eye from surfing (just one). But when I moved to Liberia, I think had more confidence than I do now. Now I've got experience and what I call The Fear. I'd like to point out that The Fear is based on this experience.
Two weekends ago was my first time back in the water after almost two months of work-vacation-more work. The waves were short-period, which means you don't have a lot of time to catch your breath between duck-dives under the whitewater, but they weren't huge. Still, as I started to wade in, my breath got shorter and stayed in the top of my chest. My heart started beating faster and my stomach tightened. As I kept walking into the water, I noticed that I'd started to sob softly and then, full panic ten meters further, I started to cry.
"I hate this!" I yelled to Nate, who was doing his best to calm me down and keep me happy. "I can't do this! I hate it! I'm terrified and I just sit there! I don't even catch any waves!!!" And at that, I started crying again, so angry this seemingly irrational fear of large walls of water.
Thing is, it's not true: I do catch waves. I catch all of the ones I go for and I never, hardly ever, wipe out. Maybe I'll face-plant after a turn or something, but I rarely get the free-fall "oh my god that was bad" wipe-out. My wave selection is perfectly focused on the shoulder-high, little ramps that have my name on them. And because I haven't taken a wave in half an hour and my surfer buddies want to see me succeed, I never paddle battle for them.
But sometimes, a wave comes that has my name on it and it isn't shoulder-high or sloping. It's steep and big and by the time I register this I'm on top of it, about to drop. It's not that I think I won't make it. I think I might. But also, I might not--and that's the part I don't want. I want all the success without the underwater pummeling.
I know it doesn't work like that. I also know that surfing West African waves, without the Flying Doctors or a decent local hospital, I'm playing it safe. But I don't really think I'll end up bloodied and broken if I go outside my comfort zone. I just don't want to deal with not making it. I don't want to fail. Some part of me thinks it's not okay.
According to a friend who's been surfing for more than 30 years, what I need is confidence. I can do that. Confidence can be got. But I want to get it gently, gracefully, and I want to enjoy it. Stay tuned--and hopefully there will be more pictures.