THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR.
"How do I breathe?" I asked, while being pulled further away from the shore, my heart racing.
"The same way you always do," replied my instructor.
Laying on my surfboard on my stomach, hands gripping the sides for dear life, shivering from both the cold Pacific ocean, and the anxiety of being in said large body of water—without knowing how to swim—seeing the grey, rippling waves rush towards my face, and not being in a position to bail out, I just had to close my eyes and hope for the best.
Photography by Chris Cain & Tasha James
Just as soon as the waves crashed onto my body, submerging me into a salty, dark realm, I popped right back up, and felt exhilarated—I had survived my first wave, and was still alive! My instructor continued to tow me on my board further out onto the shelf, waves steadily crashing into me, and still not being fully able to catch my breath, I was finally turned around, facing the shore—floating, shivering, and waiting.
A few more waves rippled over me, and then finally, he said, "Okay, we're going,"
Before I could protest, he was pushing me towards the shore. I could feel the ocean beneath me, in front of me, behind me, and besides me—everywhere— and somehow I was supposed to find a way to balance myself and stand up. I tried my best, but the forces were just too strong. It was so much harder to stand up than I had thought it would be—suddenly, I was no longer focused on my anxiety, and found myself completely focused on picking myself up. I had one leg bent underneath me, and was trying so hard to muscle my way into a fully standing position (Warrior pose, for my yogis), but it just didn't happen. The shore was within a few feet by this point, and I just collapsed back onto my board, and floated on the tiny ripples.
I stood up in the now shallow water, picked up my board, and ran onto the shore—my boyfriend had been there recording a video of us getting our lessons, and I was signaling to him for my towel, as I stupidly wore makeup that day, and was now nearly blinded by the stinging of my mascara in my eyes.
I wiped my face, and reluctantly went back into the ocean. To me, the worst part of surfing wasn't the actual surfing part, it was the anticipation and anxiety leading up to it. I knew I wanted to try again, but my fear of water over my head had me feeling like once was enough. Fortunately for me, the instructor pulled me out again for a second and third turn. I remember telling myself to breathe—to take deeper breaths—and to relax. I remember focusing really hard on my hand placement, and going over how to stand up on my board in my head.
I never did stand up.
Honestly, it didn't even matter. I had finally done something I had always wanted to do, without being fully equipped to do so, and without even being fully successful at it! I feel just as successful just from being able to attempt it, as I would have been if I got a chance to ride the wave standing up.
It's moments like those that remind me just how much we let fear decide things for us, and it doesn't have to. Fear is obviously important, because it keeps us alert and alive. It's a mechanism we develop to survive, and more often than not, those fears can be justified. But sometimes, not being able to move forward in spite of our fears, especially ones that lay in the way of us being able to accomplish the things that we most desire, can lead to us living an unfulfilled life. That's probably my biggest fear of all, to be honest, and probably the biggest reason why I push myself.
Luckily, now I don't have to wonder what it would be like to surf, and now, the next time I try it, those initial things I panicked over hopefully won't be there—and if they are, hopefully, I put them to rest once again.