Updated: Apr 11
What the hell does this have to do with surfing you ask?
I started skiing before I could properly walk. I was blessed with the proximity of being so close to a ski hill growing up, that if you didn’t ski, you would be exiled from your town. This was good in the long run because I now know how to ski, how to plan a ski trip, how to ski all day without a break, and how to thoroughly enjoy the Process.
When I was a kid, I was lucky enough (although I didn’t know it then) to have a small condo in Lake Tahoe, and a stepdad, Don Gutman who said, “Get in the damn car because we are going to ski all weekend, like it or not!” We would succumb to long Friday night drives to Tahoe City, CA to our tiny little place in Granlibakken, whether it was clear or a blizzard, because Don didn’t give two-shits, he just had to ski. My sister and I would complain, bitch, and whine the entire way there. My mom would yell, buy us Taco Bell to shut us up and somehow EVERY weekend we arrived. The next morning, we were squished, pulled and bullied into our ski gear and were out the door by 7:30, because to Don, if we weren’t the first people on the hill, we were wasting our lives. Once we were on our first run, we got it- skiing is awesome! We stayed all day, never stopped for lunch and met at the car when the lifts shut down. It was just what we did and despite wanting to sleep in, and skip the bumps, thank God for my stepdad, because he taught us how to appreciate the mountain.
As an adult who now lives in Southern California, but who still likes to ski, and is on a budget, my ski routine is very different. I wake up at 4:00, Uber to the airport, get on a plane to Salt Lake City, Uber to the hill and I am in my skis by 10:00. The day continues with skiing as much as possible for the next 4-5 hours. No lunch break, no water break, forget about a pee-break, because “this only happens a few times a year, and you need to get your money’s worth”! After my ski day, it’s wine at a local bar, an Uber back to my hotel in Salt Lake, and a plane home the next morning. This process is exhausting, fantastic and what keeps me feeling “young”. I love the drive and the extra energy it takes to keep on keeping, because the payoff is well worth it. What the hell does this have to do with surfing you ask? The Process, the daily decision to paddle out, it’s all the same mind-game.
When I plan to surf, especially at dawn I have to mentally be prepared because dawn comes pretty fast after my “yeah I’ll get up early after these glasses of wine and a good movie with my family.” When that alarm goes off at 5:10, and I know first light is 45 minutes away, I have to be mentally and physically prepared to fight the beast that says “go back to bed, “F” those cold waves!” BUT I have to fight that. I have to say, “check the waves, get out of bed and get a cup of coffee.” For me, I go an extra step (because I can be lazy) and say, “Ok Heather, just take a drive, have some coffee with the waves, and see what they are doing. Then, if you want to come home you can.” Luckily, I never come home without getting in the water. Once I’ve made the drive to one or two of my usual spots, and see that the water looks great or decent or even just worth getting tumbled around in, I’m always thankful that I put in the energy to paddle out.
As a middle school teacher, I sometimes feel like I’m in a Twilight Zone episode. The kids stay the same age, but I get older. I don’t feel older, but I am. When I first started teaching at 28, a student asked me when I was going to get married and have babies. I said, “I don’t know, I’m not in a hurry.” His response was, “Well, how old are you?” I had no problem telling him I was 28. Even though his response was, “Jesus, you better get going Ms. Ed.” Needless to say, I failed that kid- just kidding. I laughed him away, knowing I was still very young and that he was just a silly boy. Now days, I don’t offer up my age to my students, because when you’re 14, 47 is pretty close to dead. I certainly don’t feel dead, but it’s hard to explain and hardly worth the energy to explain that to a teenager. Ironically, I feel stronger and more capable at 47 than I did at 28.
I think when I was younger I was more concerned with things like figuring out who the hell I was, and what exactly I wanted my life to look like, and getting drunk a lot (don’t judge, just being honest). Instead of the blessing of being concerned with checking the waves, getting better at my lefts and finding a way to defrost my fingers after dawn in December, so I can unlock my car (the answer- bring a bottle of boiling water to pour on your hands ☺). With age I’ve been given the gift of learning to be “present”. If you asked me about my sports at 28, I’d give you the number of times I skied that year, or the number of tennis matches I’d won. I didn’t put the importance of connecting to my activities, rather I was “checking the box” to feel affirmed as an athlete (and as embarrassing as it is to admit- that was all ego). Today, it’s a journey, a personal wealth of strength that fills my heart, rather than something to impress my friends.
I think that it’s important as individuals to continue to learn and grow and heal. I learned the value of appreciation, and dedication when I was a kid being encouraged (with a lot of yelling) to ski every weekend. That appreciation and dedication planted a lifelong seed in my head to utilize my strength and drive, to expand and to enhance my life with surfing. So, thank you Don Gutman, thank you mom, because those damn gorgeous waves are worth every fabulous lesson I learn, and the Process has been oh so fun!