Well, I’ve been talking about it a lot this week, so yesterday I decided it was time that I put my money where my mouth is and take a surfing lesson.
I’d like to tell you it was a resounding success, and that I’m a natural surfer. But it wasn’t, and I’m not. I actually kind of sucked. But I loved it, and that’s the best thing that I took away from the experience.
To start off the lesson, our instructor Laurent — an awesome French dude (with dreadlocks, of course) — gave us a quick rundown of the four basic steps for getting up on your board. We practiced on land for a while, and then it was off to brave the waves. My first run was a good one, and I managed to stand up and balance myself — I was surfing! But it all went a bit downhill from there. My main problem was the movement between the second and third step, where you arch your back and then pop up into a “mountain” position (sort of like downward dog in yoga). I have a recurring back injury that makes me nervous about doing anything that will put strain on my lower back, so instead of going into mountain position my natural instinct was to protect my back by getting up onto my knees. Over and over again, I kept wanting to bend my knees instead of doing the proper move (which is ridiculous, of course, because oranges don’t even have knees, obviously ;) I found myself getting more and more frustrated, annoyed with my brain for getting in the way of my body. We are often held back by fear, from doing things that should be so simple and reflexive. I could sense the hesitation in my body, and felt powerless to overcome it. ‘Mind over matter’ is a great mantra — except when it’s your mind that is holding you in check. Sometimes you need to ignore your brain.
Like any good teacher, Laurent quickly picked up on what I was doing. When I explained to him that I was fearful of hurting my back, he taught me a modification to the steps that allowed me to get up on both knees, then quickly slide my right knee forward, swing my left leg around, and stand up on my board. Was it perfect form? No, far from it. But as Laurent explained, “the important thing is that you are having the fun”. And I was! I managed to ride a few more waves, and I also learned a good lesson about working around your limitations — they need not restrict you from moving forward and getting the most out of life (or a surf lesson).
Another thing that Laurent said, in the awesome way that people speak when English is not their primary language, was “just put your brain empty”. Don’t think about anything else. Only the board, only the waves. When you’re out there, nothing else matters. This has been a bit of a theme this week, from Riding Giants to today’s surf lesson. I’ve often heard people talk about surfing being therapeutic — how the rhythm of the waves and the energy of the ocean are bigger than you, but you become a part of them, and when you catch that wave it’s like you’re at one with it all, even if only for a brief moment. I’m so glad that I got to experience it firsthand. After all, isn’t this what we’re trying to do every day, as we go about our lives? Get closer to the feeling of being at one with ourselves, each other, the universe? If surfing can get you closer to that, then I for one am all for it.