People across the globe rave about how incredible surfing is, and how it’s unlike any other sport out there. Though I can’t disagree with these statements, they paint an incomplete picture of the sport. My surfing journey began ten years ago, on a spontaneous trip to a week-long surf camp, the beginning of a love-hate relationship with the sport. It’s an activity I’m addicted to for life, but it’s been the struggles, and not just the highs, that have led me there.
Surfing isn’t easy, but you can pick up a basic level of expertise fairly quickly. Riding the whitewash of broken waves on the coasts of America and Australia gave me early confidence, hooking me just enough to make it more than a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ activity. Out there amongst other beginners, my courage runs strong, spurred on by the motivation of being within a group of eager learners.
It’s been progressing to catching unbroken waves, further from the shore, often amongst more experienced surfers, that has exposed a steeper learning curve. A decade out from my first ever lesson, this is still a work in progress, and often a frustrating one. I pull out of more waves that I commit to with fears of getting dumped hard, or nose-diving even harder, standing in my way. I question the skills that I’ve been working years to develop and feel frustration creep in quickly, despite knowing all too well that leaving the water disappointed, or angry, cancels out the many benefits of surfing. There are many days like this, many surf sessions that have me questioning whether to continue the long road to becoming an intermediate, nevermind an experienced, surfer. Could I not just be satisfied with being an experienced beginner?
In surfing, negative self-talk doesn’t differentiate between shore and break – it effortlessly paddles its way out the back with you. Thankfully, the beauty of surfing is that it demands immense focus, especially as a beginner, which is usually enough to quiet these pester-y, unwanted thoughts. They do fight their way through at times, interrupting my focus, and clawing away at my surfing confidence, arrogantly coming out on top. So what is often not visible is this internal battle of sorts. It’s two paddles forward until I’m knocked back to where I started. Or one perfect ride followed by two empty sessions.
Further challenging the mental game that accompanies surfing, are the many things one can fear when out in the water – physical injury from falling off, from unfortunate contact with the board, or a submerged object. There’s also the possibility of getting swept away by unforgiving ocean currents. Combine this with panic and a lack of knowledge about the ocean, and the outcome won’t be on your side. Oh, and those grey-finned swimmers, they can produce some fear too.
Having only spent a tiny fraction of my life by, and in, the ocean, I’ve come a long way to being able to read, and make the most of, surf conditions. Fear still paralyzes me at times and that’s when I have to remind myself that respecting the ocean and the power it holds, is by far a safer strategy than fearing the earth’s most powerful body of water. Over time I’ve also come to realize that a present state of mind goes a long way towards being a safe and competent surfer.
Thanks to this attitude, I keep riding waves around the world, with the lifelong goal of improving my surfing confidence and skill. Though it’s definitely not all picture-perfect waves with endless rides, without the less than ideal moments, the personal growth that this sport is known to bring about would be non-existent, and surfing wouldn’t be the remarkable sport that it is.
Those too good to be true moments, when all the struggles, all the falls, all the messy sessions are instantly swept away – they’re really just a bonus. Reflecting on these polar opposite experiences has made me realize that surfing has hooked me deeper than I initially realized. Knowing full well that it will continue to be a bumpy ride, I’m locked in for the long haul but all the more looking forward to the remainder of the journey.
Susan Czyzo is a physiotherapist who balances out her clinical life with writing and photography inspired by outdoor adventures.
She strives to live an active, adventurous and sustainable life and hopes to inspire others to do the same.