After subjecting myself to more than a few crazy things this past February, I decided that once summer rolled around, I wanted to give surfing a try. I mean, I’ve seen children do it. And dogs. Heck… even a pig. A pig! Surely my ultra-pale, sunlight-averse self could manage to do it as well. Surely?
Well… after procrastinating half of the summer, I realized that I needed to get to it and quickly book a lesson before I totally chickened out. Otherwise I’d have to spend the entire winter (or more accurately for LA… “winter”) kicking myself for not doing it. So, I picked a place, made a call, and went blindly into yet another ridiculous adventure.
I deliberately chose an operation that advertised a small instructor-to-student ratio, because the main thing I’ve learned recently, is that I almost always seem to be that one lone person in a group that kind of sticks out. Either I’m misunderstanding the instructions in a completely opposite way than anyone ever expected, arguing semantics, or quietly thinking about all the sarcastic comments I wish were socially acceptable to express out loud… yeah, I need help. Lots and lots of help.
And this is especially intriguing, because if you give me a project and tell me to just “figure it out” on my own, I’m surprisingly good at that. (No, really! I’m totally not just saying this out of a defensive reaction to my own personal inadequacies.) So, as usual… great when I’m all alone with no proof to my greatness. Terrible when in groups, with people, staring and judging and mocking and jabbing pitchforks into me. At least, something more or less like that.
I pulled up to an apartment near the beach, the residence and official headquarters of Aloha Brothers Surf Lessons, to meet my instructor. In actuality, I would be heading out with someone other than the business’ owner, since obviously one person can only teach so many lessons in a day. We sat on the front step and waited for the other two students to arrive, lightly conversed a bit, and gathered our all-important waiver forms in case anyone hurt themselves or got hit by a sudden sharknado. Once completely assembled and ready, the four of us then trotted several blocks with our surfboards down to the beach.
I made a valiant effort to carry my board the entire way; it wasn’t exactly heavy, but it was shaped just a few inches too wide for my girly arms to comfortably carry for an extended length of time. The instructor kept asking me if I wanted him to carry it; but stubborn lady that I am, kept refusing the help until about 75% of the way there, where I had to concede defeat and hand it over. Damn you girly arms. Why do I even bother trying to work you out?
We reached the beach, plopped our boards down in the sand, and proceeded to practice our pop-ups a couple of times. And before I knew it… nay, before I felt remotely ready, we were all trudging out into the ocean to practice in actual waves. And what waves they were.
They weren’t what I’d call big, per se, but they were powerful and frequent. Getting from the shore to the lineup required getting past numerous hard-hitting waves, that, no matter how much I braced myself for and/or jumped into or over or hokey-pokey’d around, I was pretty constantly getting slapped underwater while tightly clutching my board. I got better as the lesson went on at dealing with the onslaught, but it was a massive struggle. What I didn’t know until later, is that these were not the kind of conditions they normally bring beginners out in. So, I ended up getting a pretty rude introduction to the sport. I should seriously be congratulated for not drowning out there.
It shouldn’t be particularly surprising that I did not fare as well as I had originally hoped I would on the actual surfboard, either. Oh, sure… I gave it my all, but I certainly did not manage to stand up on that thing. I did get really excellent at falling off and drinking loads and loads of saltwater, though. I’m naively hoping the microbes and radiation in the water are going to eventually give me super powers, but I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath, so to speak.
Sadly, I have yet to develop any magical “super surfer” powers, but I think that might be because Marvel Comics owns the patent for that particular genome. I also would’ve settled for some super swimming power, or super balance power, or as a last resort, super saltwater-processing power (Save us, Desalination Woman!). Instead, somewhere around 2/3 to 3/4 the way through the lesson, while maneuvering myself from the shore back to the instructor, I got hit with another doozie, was knocked off my feet while hanging on for dear life… and broke my board. Right in two. Snap!
Since there wasn’t an extra one on hand, and because it didn’t make sense to interrupt everyone else by attempting to take turns, I just sadly drug the surfboard back to the beach and waited out the lesson. Yes, the ocean literally beat me at surfing. Do I have to shake hands and tell you what a “good game” it was? Because, ocean… you scary.
Afterwards, I did at least enjoy some hilarious high-fives for the board breakage. Sure, I’d like to think that it was because I was just that awesome, but let’s be honest here. It’s mostly because it was completely ridiculous. Oh well… at least I have a kind of funny story about my first surfing experience. The owner/head honcho/surf guru/polyglot/overly-friendly people-person, otherwise known as Nick Fowler, then told me that if I wanted to go out again, that he’d personally take me and try to get me up on that board.
So, yes. I’m officially a crazy masochist. Because after all that, I decided to give it another shot.
Try, Try Again
The second time around I had a morning lesson. After rolling out of bed and throwing on a swimsuit, eschewing the costume of normal, everyday, regular-person clothing; I drove back to the same location-by-the-beach, hoping I wasn’t making a big mistake.
It would be an even smaller session today, this time only one other vacationing tourist would be accompanying us, so I thought that might bode well for the lesson. He also had his girlfriend/wife/lady-friend in tow to watch and take pictures and give moral support and whatnot. Shit, I should get me one of those people. Sounds like they’d come in handy sometimes. Do they also do dishes? My cat doesn’t do dishes.
Unlike my first excursion, no one even attempted to hand me a board to carry while we walked to the beach. I felt like I should be offended, but frankly, this is one of those instances I figure I might as well take advantage of other people’s low expectations. Why carry heavy stuff when you don’t have to?
The two dudes walked ahead together and chattered away on the way over, while I got relegated to girlfriend corner behind them. I actually liked her quite a lot. In fact, she seemed way way nicer than myself, but if I had a dollar every time I attended some sort of gathering/function with all my male colleagues and somehow found myself being ejected to Female-Significant-Other Island… Well? I wouldn’t exactly be rich, since I tend avoid social functions as much as humanly possible, but let’s just say it shows some serious potential. I decided that this would probably be a good time to voluntarily reign in my snarky comments… for a couple minutes at least. So. Hard. To. Resist!
We hit the sand again. Practiced our pop-ups again. And yes, hit the water again. This time, the ocean was extremely calm. The two experiences couldn’t have been more different. But is something wrong with me that I kind of thought the water was too calm? (Where’s the death-defying challenge!) Probably, but at least I wasn’t getting bowled over every couple of minutes.
So how did the second time go? Well…. I didn’t break another board. So, that’s progress. And I kiiind of managed to get up in a more-or-less crouching position. But seriously, I still didn’t manage to totally stand up. Like, you know, an actual surfer.
Though, perhaps that’s not an entirely negative outcome.
I actually found my second attempt much more frustrating, to be honest. I was so close to getting up a few times, but I either couldn’t find my balance or my legs wouldn’t do what I thought I’d told them to do (Bad, legs! Bad!). When you hear the exact same correction several times in a row, when you know what the problem is but somehow aren’t finding the way to correct it… that’s the epitome of frustrating.
And then while we were waiting for a wave, Nick said the comment of all comments to me: I was overthinking it. Dear lord. Again? Because this is the 3rd time this year I’ve heard that phrase from an instructor.
Believe it or not, I had written an email to a friend only a few days before, joking about taking bets as to how long it would be before the surf instructor told me I was overthinking the process. Either I have the power to control people’s minds, or… nope, let’s just stop right there. Any other explanation I could come up with would just be depressing.
I kind of self-consciously laughed and told Nick about this… and his response? “So, it’s a pattern of yours.” Fucking hell. Can this magic surfboard also fold out into a nice, leathery couch? Because I’d like to get some things off my chest about my mother while we’re at it.
At this point, I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry or try to swap brains with someone closer-to-normal, but leave it to me to take an enjoyable day at the beach and turn it into an existential crisis. Terrific.
Once our time was up, we all walked back to Aloha HQ together. My surfmate for the morning spent the entire time talking nonstop and sucking up to our instructor like an over-eager nerd desperately anxious for attention and acceptance from the cool-kid crowd. Not surprisingly, I don’t think he said a single word to me. Maybe goodbye? I guess he was scared my stink would rub off on him. Nice one, bro. I mean… brah.
After all this, I was feeling not only tired, but a bit mad at myself for not doing better than I had. And even madder about having to face my recurring elephant-in-the-brain problem, one which I haven’t the slightest idea how to fix; or truthfully, even accurately identify. And in true overthinking fashion, I also simultaneously wondered if it really was just me, or if it wasn’t just everyone else who wasn’t “complex” enough. God damn you, brain. I bet you’d still be churning away even if I were in a coma.
Of course, everyone was really nice and supportive about the whole thing, even though I did shoot Nick the don’t-you-dare-tell-me-I-was-good-when-I-wasn’t glance. Because it’s one thing to suck. It’s quite another to have other people trying to convince you that the sky is green. I need that about as much as I need a trophy on my mantle that reads “Winner at trying and failing”. (Although, I may have stumbled upon a mightily promising business idea here.)
Yes, I’m really happy I stuck it out both times. And no, I wasn’t exactly expecting to be good right out of the gate. Hell, I studied ballet for about 10 years, and then was a violin major my first year in college; so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with learning reasonably hard skills. But I’ll be damned if surfing didn’t trigger a wholly unexpected reaction: a cold, saltwatery, slap in the face; forcing me to revisit the notion that regardless of what I have or have not done in the past, I’ve got at least half a lifetime left of work and struggle and failure and occasional success ahead of me. And very little of that, of the stuff that’s truly worthwhile, is going to come easily. So, yeah… good luck with all that, because like it or not, there’s really no stopping the neverending ebb and flow of existence. Unless, I suppose, you just give up and drown.
So where, exactly, does that leave me? How am I supposed to simultaneously practice not thinking while I’m thinking about doing something? Fuck if I know. But I’m guessing it means more time out in the water. That’s right ocean, better watch out. I’m not quite done with you yet.
Afterwards, I drove home – cold and wet – and shockingly (shockingly!), ruminated over the last couple of hours. I opened my front door, stomped up my single flight of steps, and dropped my bag of random accouterments on the floor while attempting not to track in gallons of sand. As always, my cat happily greeted me with meows and forced petting. No, he didn’t do a damn thing with my dishes while I was gone, but I guess purrs are a fair exchange for housework. And although I desperately needed to shower and change, he had other ideas.
Tricking me into sitting still for a few minutes, my cat was soft and familiar and reassuring in his furry way; but my vision interrupted the moment by glancing over at my cheesy, “inspirational” page-a-day calendar. It was still stuck on the previous day like a useless time machine. I leaned over to rip off the offending page, revealing a quote attributed to Lucille Ball underneath: “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line.”
I was too exhausted to reflect upon the unlikely words I had just read, and the absurdity of their origins; but I had the distinct feeling that they might very well mean something. I also supposed I could probably wait until tomorrow to mull the whole thing over.
Yes, for once… tomorrow sounded like a pretty decent plan. For now, I had some mindless nothings that needed attending to.