Paddle boarding in the surf is one of the most fun, thrilling and spiritual experiences in my life... it also is one of the most painful and humiliating. Unlike most SUP chicks I didn’t grow up surfing, and although I’ve been kayaking in the ocean for many decades, my learning curve for riding waves has been very steep. As a calculated risk taker (with some major control issues), I'm flat out intimidated by the uncertainty of the surf zone. I feel like I'm back in Kindergarten, at the beginning of a long, complicated curriculum.
Perhaps my deepest fear is that I will look ridiculous and embarrass myself. Thoughts go through my head, “why is a fifty something year old woman even trying to surf.” Comparing myself to the other women in the lineup, everyone looks younger, stronger and more courageous...certainly "hotter".
My husband thinks my attitude is what’s getting in my way and he’s right. I possess the ingredients to catch waves: ocean experience, timing, feel, balance and paddling strength. It’s the giving up of control and my unwillingness to do something imperfectly that is my obstacle. My fear is not about getting hurt. As a savvy paddler, I know my limits and simply would not go out in dangerous conditions. No, my fear it is more about leaving my comfort zone and being in a role where I am a D student rather than top of the class. As a college educator with multiple degrees, it feels natural to be on the honor roll, the A student. My challenge is to let go of all my perfectionism, abandon my insecurities and just accept that I am at step one and there are no short cuts.
For the past two days the ocean temp at Cardiff Reef has been hovering around 72 and the surf conditions are perfect for playing in the 2-3 ft. gently rolling waves. I decide it's time to tackle my control issues and spend a couple hours each day practicing in the surf. My 11 ft. Liquid Shredder SUP is very stable and when I am able to turn quickly, trust my instincts and paddle like hell, I succeed in catching a ride. But for every wave I successfully catch, 10 take offs result in a wipeout, tumbling me off my board into the surging whitewater.
Once my board pearled and I went flying over the front and the force of the wave pulled my wetsuit top up to my neck. Stuck in the surf zone half naked, I chuckled to myself that since my fear of being embarrassed was realized, it was time to get back on the board and try again. After twenty or so more take offs, I catch a perfect wave and ride its green unbroken face to shore. Sore and bruised, I felt high with a sense of confidence that only comes from leaping outside of the familiar and expanding the limits of my comfort zone. I made it to step one and that was good enough.
In the surf zone, I was a vulnerable learner and it made me empathize with how defenseless it really was to be in that position. Apprehensive, uncertain about my abilities, plagued with irrational fears, I thought about how my students must feel. Many of them are returning to school after decades and with interrupted academic backgrounds...they may compare themselves to those around them and think everyone else is younger, smarter and more confident. So, when I return to my college classroom on Monday, I will bring with me a sensitivity about what my new learners may be facing as they start the semester. I may even ask my students to discuss these questions:
What makes you uncomfortable about coming to this class? What things do you think are outside your comfort zone?