Paddling for Position

playa guiones

When most people think about surfing, they think about riding a wave. But surfing is more than just standing up on a surfboard and maybe doing some cool turns and maneuvers. You can have all the technical skills in the world — paddling, standing up, turns — but if you don’t actually put yourself in a position to catch a wave, it doesn’t matter. You’re just stuck out in the middle of the ocean.

The thing is, the whole week while we were in Costa Rica, I didn’t really put myself in a position to catch clean, green (i.e. unbroken) waves, which is kind of ironic since Playa Guiones is a bit of a surfers paradise with consistent surf year-round. I mean, the waves just keep coming and coming.

I paddled out the back (past the point where the waves break) twice. The first time, I caught a fun ride. The second time, a bigger set came in and I got pummeled and pushed back. The rest of the time I stayed closer to shore and caught whitewater waves.

paddle out

I was really mad at myself and frustrated the whole week. There were many times when there would be a lull in the waves, making it pretty clear paddle out, yet I hesitated. And it’s really hard to paddle out without being totally committed.

Instead, I was willing to get pounded in the whitewater for over an hour. But mostly, I felt really really stuck and I didn’t know how to get unstuck.

I could have easily made the excuse that I was being cautious because of my knee. But I realized pretty early on that my unwillingness to paddle out had nothing to do with my injury or fear of re-injury.

I had mentally psyched myself out, probably even before we arrived in Costa Rica. It was a combination of not wanting to turtle roll and my fear of the ocean.

surfboard sunset

The thing is that it’s not just with surfing. It’s about most things in life — putting yourself in the right position. You could sit and hope that maybe life and the Universe will serve you up a nice little wave right to you but that happens maybe 0.0001% of the time.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the stars aren’t aligned. When it does seem and feel overwhelming dark, how do you get unstuck?

Only in the darkness can you see the stars. – Martin Luther King Jr. 

5 ways to move forward when you feel stuck

Here are five ways to get unstuck and find the bright spots:

1. Stop fighting it and accept it. 
I believe that things work in cycles. Some days and weeks are up and some are down. That’s just the way that it goes. Rather than continue to fight, accept that it might be one of those down days/weeks.

2. Work on the basics and rebuild your foundation.
While you might not be putting yourself out there right now or taking risks, it’s a great time to work on the basics and make sure you have a solid foundation. For example, I spent the week working on my surfing skills, mainly my pop-up and stance, so that when I do paddle out, I will have those moved ingrained in my muscle memory. Same thing goes for any other sport or career or life goals – work on the basics so that when the time does come, it will be second nature.

3. Look inward.
It’s easy to blame the conditions or the circumstances for your bad performance or lack of success in [insert life/career/athletic goal here]. But the truth is, oftentimes it’s something inside of you that is holding you back. That’s what I realized out in the water. It was my own fear and lack of confidence that was holding me back. Take a look inwards and see what’s holding you back and what does that tell you about yourself? That’s often where the richest lessons are.

4. Find a work around.
Maybe your approaching a situation head-on when it might be easier to attack it from the side. Is there another way to lead you to your goal? While I splashed around in the whitewater, I would find that there would a small unbroken wave that would sneak in once in a while. I just had to work my way over to catch it.

5. Start fresh again tomorrow.
Tomorrow is always another opportunity to start fresh. You don’t have to carry the baggage and the frustrating from today over into the future. You can make the choice to shake it off and approach the next day with a new perspective.

While you might not have put yourself in position to catch a wave or take an opportunity right now, it doesn’t mean that you never will. But you do have to build up your confidence to get there. I firmly believe that opportunities are less about luck and are more a culmination of a lot of hard work.

Just like with surfing, I think that I needed that week in the whitewater (as much as I hated it) in order for me to begin to see my own strengths and skills and to feel confident that I can do it.

How do you get unstuck when you’re feeling frustrated? How do you put yourself in position to seize opportunities?

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