“What?! Lauren, you surf?”
Lindsay, my friend Courtney’s sister, was taken aback by the news, and understandably so. Girls from the Midwest, by definition, do not have access to an ocean. Therefore, we do not surf.
“I, uh, yeah, well, kind of. I’m learning,” I stammered.
Saying that I ‘surf’ feels like a stretch, because although I go into the ocean with a surfboard, I have no real understanding of what I’m doing.
I paddle, reckless and inefficient, only to look back after ten minutes and see that I’m still within spitting distance of the shore. Wave after wave bashes into me, sending my board flying.
“Paddle,” Jared yells. “Keep paddling. Faster.”
What he doesn’t realize is that I’m already exerting maximum effort. To me, it feels like I’m paddling at lightning speed. It must be frustrating to watch, because sometimes Jared comes behind and gives me a push.
This, of course, pisses me off.
“Don’t push me!” I shout, spitting seawater and hair out of my mouth. “I can do it myself!” (insert pout, crossed arms, and foot stamp here)
When I finally, finally get out behind the surf, I am like a beached whale, spent and incapable of movement.
“Here’s a wave,” Jared says. “Start paddling.”
“I can’t,” I cry. “I’m still recovering from getting out here.”
I execute a feeble, confusing 360 degree turn, miss the wave entirely, and fall off my board. Again.
Eventually, I am ready to catch a wave. I watch, I paddle, I miss. This pattern continues for several minutes until the law of probability steps up to the plate, and I find myself on a cresting wave. The last time this happened, the surf was larger than I’d ever experienced. When I realized how high I was, I screamed and Eskimo-rolled into the ocean without even attempting to stand.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to squeal,” Jared said, when I emerged, clutching my board, looking like the Yeti of the sea.
I continue to catch waves, sometimes making it to my knees, but mostly wiping out. I never regret getting out there, because it’s a period of time when I can’t be distracted by anything else. I can’t check my email, or click over to Facebook, or wander into the kitchen. I’m living, and that alone is an accomplishment.
By the time I exit the ocean, I’m covered in bumps and bruises and spitting sand. For the next hour or two, salt water will stream out of my nose at random intervals, without warning. But I’ll feel good about trying.
However, I can’t bring myself to say “Yes, I am a surfer.”
I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. A magical moment when the surf fairies descend upon me and the transformation is complete? Having the guts to go out there on my own? Actually standing up on my board?
And I understood that I approach surfing like I do writing.
I write, every day, but it’s still so hard to call myself a writer. I practice calling myself a writer, but I don’t believe it, not completely.
What makes you a writer? If I was talking to someone else, it would seem obvious. You write, so you are a writer. But when it comes to myself, it seems different, somehow. My standards are higher, the requirements more rigorous. After ten years of rejecting labels, I find myself unable to claim the ones that actually I want.
I recently saw a girl in the surf who appeared to be even more inept than I am. She was out there by herself, in the shallows, fighting the whitewash. Every time a wave came, she abandoned her board and dove sideways into the sea. She couldn’t stand up or manage to paddle out to the back. But I never questioned the fact that she was surfing, or at least making a very valiant effort to do so.
And if she was surfing?
Then yes: I surf, too.
It doesn’t matter if you spend four years wiping out or six years writing the first draft of your memoir: you’re doing it, and that’s what counts.