When I first started surfing, reading the waves was a crap shoot. I wasn’t sure if I was too far on the inside, too far outside, or in the right spot. And until I went to Sri Lanka and surfed with a very cool guide named Attah, I would always keep looking back until I decided to pop-up, which was a bad idea, because as the wave approaches and builds, it changes from a fat, slow body of water into what looks like a dragon’s mouth with the intention to devour me and my board whole.
Looking back too long would freak me out just enough for me to ditch my efforts to go for the wave. Attah reminded me (over and over) to pick your wave and don’t look back, just feel it. Long story boring, in the beginning I didn’t know my ass from my face when it came to knowing when to pop-up. I compare the slow edification of reading waves to a romantic relationship. In the beginning we dance and skip in dumb bliss because everything is all smiles, glitter and rainbows.
This new special person is so amazing, so perfect, so what we’re looking for, that we ignore anything slightly telling that may have a negative impact on the union. And, of course, in no way do those big red flags that are flying around like it’s Ladies Day at the Fair mean anything. We think, “I can change that.” or “This will go away.” or “Not everyone knows how to do their own laundry.” We push those warning signs aside and believe that all will be well and good forever and ever. Unfortunately, like the waves, if you don’t get your head on straight eventually relationships turn sour, and all that “reality” hits you in the face, or in the back, or at some weird angle, and sends you tumbling into the abyss. The only way to learn to read the waves, and time them correctly is to work at it (a lot). Just like in relationships, the only way to make them work, if you choose to, is to work out the kinks and build something worth holding on to.
The waves will keep coming, and whether we are in the right spot to catch them or in a very wrong spot, they will break, and you’ll either decide to put in the time to figure it out, or you won’t, and unfortunately you may end up giving up on something that could have been incredible.
For most sports, I believe that steady practice will help anyone improve over time. In surfing, I believe that steady practice will help anyone improve over time, but there has to be a little bit more. If a person plays tennis three times a week, their game will get better. If a person surfs three times a week they will get better as well, but if that person doesn’t have that extra stubbornness that tells them to get out- regardless that you got tumbled ten times yesterday or regardless that your board hit you on the head two days ago, or regardless that you didn’t catch a single wave three days ago (because apparently you’ve forgotten absolutely everything you know about surfing). The head game and physical commitment is just more than other sports (I apologize if I’m insulting any tennis players right now- it’s a great game and I love it, but it ain’t surfing).
A tennis court doesn’t shift and change with the moon, and the sun, and the seasons. It doesn’t have an entire ecosystem underneath it that you can’t see. A tennis court has one mood, and the ocean has a hundred.
The good news is that for all the variables that surfing has attached to it that can potentially be temporarily negative, the positives FAR outweigh the negatives, and that is why I believe we keep going back. Day after day, wave after wave, good timing or bad timing, it’s worth every paddle. Those constant lessons like learning to read the waves and being in the right spot when you start to paddle, or learning when to roll versus letting the wave go between you and the bored, or learning which way to go once you’ve popped up- they all add such immense joy to your soul. And as you get better and have more enjoyable rides than not, that pay-off of understanding how to navigate an ever-changing ocean is pure bliss.
As I improve as a surfer, I feel as though I’ve truly earned my knowledge. Most people don’t continue to take surf lessons after maybe a few, in the very beginning, so the improvement is all on us. We are teaching ourselves a new craft by observation, repetition and good ol’ fashioned commitment. Like any relationship, there will always be days when we say to ourselves, “What the hell was I thinking?”, but hopefully most of the days we say to ourselves, “Damn I’m such a lucky bastard, what did I do to deserve this?”. Earning your surfing chops may take a while, and it may have a lot of ups-and-downs, but over time I believe that anyone who puts in the love and patience needed to improve will be over-the-moon happy with their journey, and I’m pretty sure that their life will be filled with all smiles, glitter and rainbows. ☺