Four Years of Learning to Say “Yes, I Surf”

“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.

I’ve been learning to surf for four years. FOUR YEARS and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve legitimately stood up.

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.

Waxing my board
Jared surprised me with an AWESOME new board, featuring my sister’s design.

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.

Jared surfs
Showoff. I could totally do that if I wanted to.

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?

Bar Beach surfers
Legit surfers at Bar Beach.

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.

In Hawaii, after my first genuine surfing success.

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  1. Yay! Congratulations on being a surfer!! I’ve just found a flat on Manly beach right next to a board rental. I will be wiping out soon too!! 🙂

    1. Good luck! I love it so much, even though I’m terrible and find new bruises every day. It’s the best feeling, even when you’re tumbling into the whitewash!

  2. I feel the same way about climbing. I love to climb, but I’m not the strongest climber out there. I’m not sure if I’ll ever define myself as a climber… because in my mind, I need to be so much better than I am right now to label myself “a climber”.

    1. That’s what it is – I feel like I need to be better at it before I accept the label. But in the back of my mind, I don’t believe that I’ll ever get there!

  3. Lauren, I found your blog randomly on the web, looking for running shoes (gotta love the internet).

    About this specific post. I surf occasionally, and there’s a friend of mine that always wants to come along. She rents a hardboard, and usually won’t stand on it not even once, during a session. But the smile on her face, lying there on the board, in the middle of the sea, being pushed by waves? Priceless. As long as you enjoy it, keep doing it! And you will eventually get better at it.

    1. This makes me feel so much better! Now that we’re in Australia, I’m surfing much more frequently and although I’m not a natural, I can feel myself improving. Yesterday I went out by myself for the first time – a huge milestone even though I got repeatedly bashed by the waves! I completely identify with your friend – even if you don’t stand up, there’s nothing like getting out there on the ocean with a board.

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