I wasn’t supposed to be there–at the Far Rockaways. I wasn’t supposed to be doing a hobby at all that day. If this were still just a “project” –and not what I now deem a lifestyle–I would have fulfilled my quote with shark diving at the beginning of the week. But that’s not the case. I had booked two hobbies for the week–and I couldn’t have been more excited. However, I wasn’t supposed to be double hobbying with surfing–I was supposed to be in Pennsylvania–jumping out of a plane.
Less than 24 hours before my scheduled skydive, I received a call that my trip was postponed due to low clouds. It only took me several moments to visit a surf school website in New York, text the owner, and sign up for a class. I didn’t need to replace skydiving–but I felt compelled to.
Sometimes when one cloud covers–another wave of opportunity will present itself–quite literally–and metaphorically here, of course.
I admit—while putting my wetsuit on (initially backwards), I questioned if this was a bad idea–if just signing up for a surf lesson without thinking was really something I should have done. For a couple minutes–I decided it wasn’t. And then for a couple more minutes–I still believed it wasn’t. I wasn’t sure I would even have the courage to walk into the water–but I didn’t have a choice. After a brief sand lesson, our instructor had us stepping into the frigid waters of the Atlantic with the boards in hand.
And not before long I was getting pummeled by waves.
I should preface this by saying that I am terrified of ocean water–I see going into it as an unfair heavyweight battle where the little guy is well below the size of the big guy–and the knockout comes quickly–almost instantly. When I was little, a life guard saved me from the under-toe on some family vacation which paralyzed any positive thoughts I could have about ocean water and what could happen if I went in. During a trip to Bermuda, my mind was changed briefly as the water’s beauty and delicacy seduced me. But upon returning to the East Coast waters, my fears began to loom again.
After the first wave knocked me down on Saturday, I regained my composure, briefly, and I declared the ocean the champion. And instead of raising an arm in victory–it knocked me out again.
I cleared the hair from my face, and said a myriad of things to myself, “Well this was not my best idea.” “I should probably leave the water now.” “I should be jumping out of a plane today–not getting my ass kicked by some personified piece of nature.” Yet, I continued walking out to my instructor who was positive that after a few minutes of learning to stand on the board–on the sand–I’d be able to make progress on the water.
“Hop on that board.”
He laughed at me.
Silly me–he meant just get on and lay down–not HOP. And of course he meant now. I struggled to get on the board, but after a second try I was up.
“Okay, now sit.”
So like a trained pup, I sat.
“Good. Now lay on that board. Move back a few inches. What’s going to happen is I am going to tell you to paddle…then I’ll push the board forward, and yell “Up.” When I yell up, You stand.”
“Easy,” I said, thinking to myself that I was more likely bound to go face first into the sand at the ocean bottom.
“Paddle, Paddle, Paddle…..” commanded Joel.
I rushed to paddle. But I didn’t know how fast or how slow I should be paddling. What if I didn’t get enough speed? But before I had time to readjust any of this, Joel yelled, “Up,” and I attempted to push myself to my feet.
I covered my head so that if the board went flying it wouldn’t truly knock me out. I stayed underwater a second more, and resurfaced before another wave crashed into me, and another one–and another one. And then finally, I found my balance, and realized that throughout those continuous wipeouts–something had happened. I had lost my fear. I was still here. I was still breathing. And I had gotten back up on my own. Bonus point for overcoming fear.
Even still, the ocean was now ahead of me by a score of at least 6 Hits.
Ocean 6: Libs: 1
I had a major comeback to accomplish. I stayed resilient and walked back out to Joel. “How’d that feel?”
“Really freaking good!” I exclaimed. “Nothing to be scared of. I’m really happy I tried to stand.”
Joel smiled, and pushed me out again. And as my two feet landed on the board I slipped off backwards.
And out to Joel again.
“I’m going to get this,” I said to him.
I was set on earning more points during this battle with the Atlantic.
And then, with a magnitude of paddling, a swift push from Joel, and a command of “up,” I felt myself make it to my feet. Suddenly, it was like the rest of the water, and the beach, and the sky had disappeared–and it was just me on this foam board, flying. What was only a few mississippi seconds–felt like a beautiful lifetime.
As I surfed closer to shallow waters, I splashed off the board and was congratulated with a nose and mouthful of salt water. When I surfaced–I fist pumped into the air, and yelled “I did it.” Joel looked at me and smiled from a distance, though I’m not sure he actually heard me with the crashing white waters. But it didn’t matter. I didn’t do this for him–or for anyone else–I did this for myself.
End of day score?
Ocean: A lot – Libs: Smiles
New York Surf School
Just saw this on NY Surf School FB page. Good job! I, too, discovered surfing at the Rockaways this summer and am addicted!
Thanks for checking it out James!!! I really, really had a great time. Hope wherever you are during this storm is dry and safe. All the best! -Libs
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