For ages I’ve had this ‘thing’ about surfing alone. Not an ‘I love it’ thing, but a total mental block.
I’ll check the forecast, see good waves and think “right, I’ll go for a surf”…and that’s as far as it goes. It’s like I’m stuck to the chair or there’s an invisible shield that prevents from leaving the house.
Typical fear reaction!
I’ve spoken to people about it and tried to work out why I feel so scared. I thought it was primarily fear of getting stuck in a rip and not trusting myself to get out of difficulty, but on lifeguarded beaches that should be far from my mind.
Then during a conversation this week, it really hit me (or maybe I just didn’t want to admit it until that point) – I’m totally self-conscious.
Looking like a kook
I’m scared of looking like an idiot – not just in the sea, but getting changed on the car park. I see guys who obviously shred and my first thought is, ‘they’re going to think what the hell is that kook doing?’ Then there’s the walk down to the beach and the potential shame of dropping my board (I struggle to carry it with my short arms).
Once I get in the sea, I’m still struggling with my pop-up which I find super frustrating, so that adds tension. I want to be out back but I won’t go in anything above 1-2 ft so I stay in the safety of the whitewater. Cue more people looking at me thinking ‘what the hell is that kook doing?’
Then I get out and my hair is plastered all round my face and my bald patch (where my hair parts naturally at the crown) is glaringly obvious. My eyes are bloodshot, I look awful and I’m knackered. I struggle to carry the board back to the car and then there’s a chest zip wetsuit to get out of, which is a mission in itself (especially with a dodgy shoulder).
Sucking it up
But this is a totally warped view of what surfing alone is really like and all of the above is all in my head. And I know that now because yesterday I sucked it up and did it – I actually surfed on my own!
After a motivational chat with Corinne on Monday (for which I’m hugely grateful), I finally admitted why I feel so self-conscious and it felt like I’d lifted a weight off my shoulders. So the next day, with car packed up and after meeting a client at Watergate (where I really had no excuse to bail), I went for it.
The reality of surfing alone
First myth dispelled was on the car park. I parked near to the entrance so I wouldn’t have as far to walk to the beach and tucked myself behind a van. I was just about to get changed when the van owners appeared, having just got out of the sea with their short boards looking super cool (and pretty hot!) and looking like they knew what they were doing.
I immediately wanted to hide, but they’d seen me. And instead of laughing at me, they started talking to me and encouraged me to get in, telling me how amazing it was out there!
Fuelled by their friendliness, I tucked my board under my arm and headed confidently towards the beach. I passed someone I knew who had also just got out and we had a quick chat (another friendly face). And as the board and I arrived in one piece, and after a little warm up, I headed straight for the black and white flags.
Although the beach was a lot quieter than in recent weeks, there were a lot of beginners around. It was way too big for me to contemplate heading out the back (and I wouldn’t have made it anyway) so I stayed in the whitewater. And where’s the shame in that?
And you know what? No-one was looking at me. No-one batted an eyelid because they were too busy doing their own thing, catching their own waves and enjoying themselves.
I stayed in for over an hour by myself, just practising my pop-up. I couldn’t do it one movement no matter how hard I tried. But that wasn’t what this session was all about.
Then just as I got out, I bumped into another familiar face – Joel from Westcountry surf school. We had a chat, I explained about my pop-up and although he was just heading out for a surf himself in between lessons, he offered to have a look at my pop-up and encouraged me to get back in and just catch one last wave. It was a quick pop-up but the pesky knee was there again. He told me to relax – I’m still putting way to much pressure on myself!
Exhausted, I headed back to the car, determined not to fall at the last hurdle by dropping my board and being stuck in my wetsuit. My back up plan was to get changed at home but by this time I was so stoked by what I had achieved, I wanted to go the whole hog. So I got back to the car, board and pride intact and I got out of that wetsuit, totally unassisted.
Opening the door
I felt as high as a kite for the rest of the day as the realisation of what I’d done sank in. It was a huge breakthrough for me, like a lightbulb moment – I can surf now anytime I want to, I don’t have to wait for other people! I can go where I want and at what time I want. I have total freedom!
So if I can go when I want (ok, barring work obviously), I can surf as often as I want, which means the potential to improve quicker and build up my confidence.
That surf kick started something in me. It set me up and opened the door for what I did the following day….