This morning I awoke early and laid in bed for some time, meditating, enjoying the state in between being awake and dreaming. High tide at Playa Amarillo was at 8:45am, that’s the best time to surf these particular waves today. I got out of bed at 7:15, leisurely did some stretches and then we loaded our surfboards into the truck and drove over.

The waves were looking great, peeling slowly. There was swell in the water and my surf instructor, Duff, told me the conditions were clean, that’s surf lingo for perfect time to surf. We started walking out into the ocean, waited for a lull in the waves coming in and then quickly jumped on our boards to paddle out so we didn’t get crushed in the impact zone.

As soon as I jumped on the board, I felt incredible pain on the surface of my stomach, especially the belly button. The surfboard feels like sandpaper with all the wax and sand that’s stuck to it. My stomach has been wiggling around on this surface for 5 hours over the last few days. I’ve worn a rash guard, yet still managed to get scratched up. These wounds are fresh, so they’re sensitive and open up when I wiggle around trying to balance. The salt water enters into the scratches and I feel it burn. Even the slightest movements brought a painstaking grimace to my face. I struggled to stay present as my mind kept wandering to the throbbing inflammation. I hadn’t even attempted to catch a wave and I was overcome with physical discomfort. Eek.

A few moments after we paddled past the break, Duff spotted a wave coming in. He said, “This is your wave, go for it!” He’s been super encouraging and patient with me. In these two days, I’ve yet to properly catch a wave still, I’ve managed to ride a few in on my bruised belly though. I thought, “Yeah! This is the one. I’m going to ride this one and its going to be a great start to this session! I was stoked.” So, I thought.

I paddled as hard as I could, arms feeling fatigued from never using my muscles in this way. The throbbing on my stomach was exasperated as I paddled and fumbled around attempting to balance. I felt the water rising up from underneath the board and then I watched it break ahead of me. I missed it. I wasn’t in harmony with the wave, so I fell out through the back. I was drained, it was only the first run of the morning. Luckily, I wasn’t crushed or anything though, still on the board. I dutifully turned around and started to paddle back out so I could catch my breath and try again. It really hurt.

I saw a wave starting to take form ahead. There’s two ways to go through the wave, over or under. I paddled harder, smirking in agony hoping to make it to that point where I can float over the wave. Going under, ‘turtle’ as they call it, is exhausting. I met the wave, I thought I’d have just enough space to glide over. Right then, the wave jacked up and slapped against the top of my board flipping me over backwards into the belly of the barrel. I was flung down, spun around, pushed down further. I covered my head and preyed that the board doesn’t punch me in the face. I was under the surface for what felt like an eternity and it was scary; I was running out of breath and freaking out down there. Finally, I found my orientation kicked with all my might and pierced the surface through the white water gasping for air. I looked out and there was another big wave coming. I ditched the board, took a deep breath and dove underneath the crashing wave gripping my skull. The power of the wave pulled my board and the leash stretched past the maximum point jolting me backwards. I tried to resist, futilely trying to push forward. I bobbed up for a breath and the crashing waves persisted. This went on for 4 or 5 more waves; it was a rogue set.

Once it passed, I got back on the board exhaustingly and tried to paddle out back to Duff. My belly was on fire, I could barely balance, I was out of breath. I felt so weak and defeated. I made it past the break though and I was still alive, all limbs in tact. That’s a success. Before this, I was unable to fathom getting past the break with waves this big before.

I’m in the process of tempering a fear of water. When I was a kid, someone threw me in the deep end of the park district pool and I didn’t know how to swim. The trauma from that experience still affects me. I still can’t swim very well. I’ve always been mesmerized by the power of the ocean, all of the force. I’m still scared though. It’s a magical thing that boggles my mind. Trying to fight the ocean’s might is silly, the only option is to go with the flow. The ocean has much to teach us.

That’s why I’m learning how to surf. By practicing going with the flow physically, I might glean some insight about doing this day-to-day. When you’ve committed to riding a wave, you’ve got to be fully present with every muscle in your body. As you balance the board, you’ve got to harmonize with the energy from the rising wave; it’s a full body and mind workout. You can’t call a time out and regroup on the sideline, there’s no option for stopping. If you falter and lose presence even for a fraction of a second, you’ll fall and get pummeled by tons of moving water. I’m still working on fostering this presence.

Intellectually, I know its all mind over matter and that I need to bring my brain into a state of peace and stillness, surrender to the ocean and let her take me. I know it. I’ve visualized it. I even did it a few times in Costa Rica the first time I tried surfing. Yet, I can’t do it still. I can’t physically manifest this, yet. I’ve yet to experience it, so I haven’t learned it. I continue to eat shit on just about every wave I attempt, my body aches all over and all I can think about is my burning belly. I don’t want to push past my limit, I don’t want to hurt myself again. Yet, I want to keep going and relish in the pain, let myself feel it fully, stop resisting. I’m scared though still, the ocean is so powerful and I feel injured.

I’ve lathered up the wounds on my stomach with coconut oil and I’m preying for progress. Learning to surf takes great patience, “One step at a time; keep going” I tell myself. I wonder what it would be like to embrace life with the presence required to surf? What if I approached every thought, every action, every relationship with that flavor of presence; feeling each and every molecule in my body? I wonder how it would influence creativity? I wonder how it would impact my happiness, my well-being?

I’m curious.

Clearly, I’ve got a long way to go still.