Last weekend I enrolled on a two day Surf School at Watergate Bay Hotel. It was an intensive couple of days and, of all the things I learnt, this was the most valuable:
Surfing is one of the most frustrating sports I've ever tried.
I don't tell you this to put you off - the opposite - it's because preparing your attitude and expectations before you start is important. In surfing nothing is consistent or predictable. The wind, tides and swells are always changing and that affects every wave you try to catch. There are no shortcuts to it – you get out what you put in – and whilst for some that might seem too much like hard work, that’s part of its beauty. It takes real effort and commitment to improve but the satisfaction that comes with even the smallest progress is all the more rewarding.
Our group was intimate - just three of us all with pretty limited experience. Pete, our instructor for the weekend, spent the first morning taking us through the theory of surfing before kitting us out in wetsuits and putting it all into practise. He had drilled in the basic technique of arching our backs and 'popping' up in one fluid motion whilst continuing to look ahead at the horizon. Easy peasy. I attempted it a few times on the stability of land to get familiar before trying it out on the water.
Despite being mid-September we had been blessed with perfect conditions. A light offshore wind, blue skies and just enough punch in the waves.
I was apprehensive about remembering everything I'd learnt, but as soon as Pete pushed me into my first wave I found that I stopped thinking altogether as my body took control and responded naturally to the motion of the water. Before I knew it I was standing up and riding along the ripple of a wave. My body relaxed into the ride and I paddled back with a huge smile on my face.
The second wave was also successful and, convinced that I was a natural, my mind raced with the infinite possibilities of riding inside barrels and turning on the big waves.
That was, until, I face planted my way back to reality on the third, fourth and fifth set of waves. My confidence starting chipping away, compounded by fact I was starting to tire both mentally and physically.
As the day progressed the conditions dropped and I felt my enthusiasm slipping. We stopped for an afternoon caffeine fix and some carbs before heading out for a final time to catch some sunset waves. Instead of the hazy red skies I'd imagined I was greeted with low clouds, rain showers and an eery darkness that loomed over the water.
My respect for the water deepened as I sat on my board under dark skies. I paused to watch people on beach, to see how the sunset was trying to pierce through the clouds, to kick my feet in the water around me and feel the force of the swells push me forward as I waited for a break.
In that moment I began to think about my goal with surfing and what I really wanted from the experience. The realisation that that I'm never going to be a great surfer had set in but, ultimately, that didn't really matter to me. It was about finding another way to enjoy the ocean, continuing to challenge my limits, connect with nature and feel the magnitude of the elements. The ocean is the one place I feel humbled, inspired and tiny all at once - a magical combination when you need some perspective on the world.
Shifting my mindset to accept that the ups and downs of surfing are all part of the learning process and viewing them as part of the journey rather than the outcome was important. I realised that, despite my frustrations, there was one thing that could never be questioned - my effort.
I had eased the pressure on myself and, in doing so, went into day two with a new found confidence. The ocean can teach us so many things about ourselves if we listen. It tells me to slow down, take a moment and breathe. It tells me to feel my body and trust in my connection to the water. It tells me to be confident and believe in my judgement. Sometimes I forget to listen, and when I do, that's when the ocean reminds me of its power. It pulls me under and shakes the nonsense out of me - delivering me back to the surface just in time for the next set of waves.
I'd say I'm OK at surfing and it's OK to be OK.
Thank you to Watergate Bay for a wonderful visit to Surf School- find out more: https://www.watergatebay.co.uk/swim-club/active-breaks/surf-course/