When I was little, my family used to vacation in Sanibel Island, Florida. I remember the pristine beaches and shells. I also remember my Dad bringing home conch to our condo and my Mom cooking it for dinner. I could totally be making that last bit up since I was only about four or five (or six?) years old and you know, kids like to embellish things.
I also remember venturing out into the ocean for a swim with my Dad. I remember a big wave coming and crashing over us and that somehow, I was stuck underwater. Then, my Dad pulled me up by the back of my bathing suit and I took a huge gasp of air.
While I practically lived in a pool when I was younger, I have never felt comfortable in the ocean, especially if there were waves crashing. I didn’t really think about this fear again until I stood on the beach before my first surf lesson. Clutching a surfboard and with a leash attached to my ankle, I stared out at the water. What in the world was I thinking?? How did this minor issue not occur to me when I agreed to go to surf camp?
But a funny thing happened. The absolute bliss of catching my first wave was so much more than my fear that I was willing to paddle out again and again to experience that euphoria. As I learned the basics about surfing and the mechanics of handling the board, I became more comfortable in the water. My coaches gave me some basic facts and armed me with the tools I needed to face my fear.
- Everyone falls. You will drink a gallon of saltwater and water will go up you nose. But that’s OK. When you do fall, it often feels like your underwater for a long time when in reality, you usually surface in 10 seconds.
- Your surfboard is buoyant and will always rise to the surface. You are attached to that surfboard by a leash so find your lease and start “climbing” it and you’ll reach the surface.
- But make sure that your ankle strap is free of sand so that it firmly and securely stays attached to your ankle!
- When in doubt, there’s always the safety position. This is a position you can take on your surfboard when you are in the impact zone or not yet beyond the point where the waves break – kind of a last resort. Basically, you slide down to the back of the board facing the beach and hold on tight. The waves will break over you but your surfboard acts like a big life-preserver (more or less) and prevents you from going under.
Then, one time, I lost my surfboard. I paddled for a wave and started to take off but nose-dived. As I tumbled around in the white wash and counted to 10, I felt something tug on my leg and then go slack. My ankle strap ripped off and I lost my board. Panic set in because I didn’t have my safety line attached to my leg anymore.
My coach didn’t realize that I had lost my board and had taken off on a long left doing the fancy maneuvers that he does. I tried to catch my breath and calm down, diving under 2-3 breaking waves. But then what? How many more could I dive under? How was I going to get back to shore??? Eventually, my coach realized what happened and paddled over to me. He said, “Christine, I don’t think that you really need me to save you.” Umm, yes I do. Instead, he starts talking me through the situation and again giving me the skills to handle it.
I feel like this experience and losing my surfboard was a big turning point for me. I realized that managing my fear of the ocean is as much about having the skills to handle any situation in the water as it is about confidence and attitude. Once I started to break down my fear into manageable pieces and apply specific skills or tools that I had learned, I realized that my fear wasn’t so bad and, oftentimes just silly. I also realized that I could be closing myself off from amazing experiences by not facing my fears.
P.S. My coach made me swim back to shore myself. Tough love, I guess?
What are you afraid of? Have you conquered your fears? If not, what holds you back? Are you afraid of the ocean too??