I Do It For The Bragging Rights
Sky-diving out of planes, bungee jumping off bridges, cage diving with great white sharks…I have done all of these things — but I am not crazy about any of them. I’m not an adrenaline junky. I just like to tell a good story.
I am a huge advocate of leaving comfort zones. It’s how we learn, it’s how we transform ourselves, how we change our perspectives. It’s how we stretch our horizons further than we thought possible. Facing your fear and overcoming it is a very big part of our Costa Rica programs. You are able to take opportunities to do something you’ve never done before — zip line through the jungle, rock climb over a river canyon, jump off bridges . . . .even go surfing.
Surf Costa Rica?
I’m afraid of learning to surf. The ocean is scary to me. Even though I’ve run programs on surf beaches in Costa Rica since 2012, and even though I’ve lived in one of Central America’s top surfing destinations in Nicaragua for 4 years now, I’ve had only one surf lesson ever — a lesson in which I burst into tears before my toes even touched the water.
It is said that you have to want it more than you are afraid of it. I apply this to most of the things in my life (living abroad, running overseas volunteer programs, publishing my writing, cooking for others).
But surfing is different. The ocean is powerful and unpredictable. Most of my surfer friends have come out of the water bruised and bleeding at one time or another. Surfing is the real deal, and no matter how awesome surfing looks from the shore, or how much of an opportunity I know I am passing by each day I spend near the beach and don’t get in the water, I am still terrified to borrow a board and learn to surf. Until today.
Conquering My Fear
Although I’m afraid, I want those bragging rights. I want the story. But more importantly, if I create programs in Costa Rica that encourage people to face their fears and leave their comfort zones, then I need to be sure I do that too. Right? I have to walk the walk.
The opportunity to face my fear of surfing came knocking again when my friend talked me into taking a lesson this week with her, and I committed.
I had bad dreams the entire night. I woke up hoping there would be too much rain and we’d have to cancel the lesson. I was hoping my friend would oversleep and miss the appointment with our instructor. I was hoping there would be jellyfish sightings and we’d have to postpone. I was not calm.
Fear is a Form of Energy
One thing I always teach my participants during our professional development workshops in Costa Rica is awareness of how your behavior affects others around you. “You are responsible for the energy you bring into the room”, I tell them.
Well, walking down the sandy beach towards the crashing waves, the idea of “responsible for the energy” went right out the window. I was terrified, and even though my friend was cool and collected when she picked me up, one 5-minute drive with me to the beach and she became nervous too. She was scared to venture too deep into the water and not be able to touch the bottom. I was scared the waves would wreck me and I would drown. We were giddy and super uncomfortable with what we had gotten ourselves into.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have swapped stories of near drowning on the way to the beach. My nervous energy had elbowed her calm demeanor way out of the way, and we were both less than confident as we stood on the sand, staring hesitantly at the grey, crashing waves bubbling towards us.
Fear is Temporary
Our surf instructor laughed off our nervous energy and fear of going under. “Well girls”, he said, “You’re not going to drown today!” and placed a surfboard under each arm and headed down to the sand. We followed behind, deciding to believe him.
The next hour was a game changer. I don’t know the exact moment the fear dissipated, but one moment we were practicing our clumsy pop-ups on the sand and trying to figure out if we were goofy footed or regular, and the next moment we were strapping leashes to ankles and heading out into the frothy surf.
Little by little, we conquered the fear. The waves were not as big as in my scary dreams. Even though we got bowled over a couple times and tossed to shore, the salt stinging our eyes, we popped up laughing, and ready to go back out.
Wave by wave, we pulled our boards towards the crashing ocean, got into position on the board and waited for our instructor to push us into the next wave. “1, 2, 3!” he shouted. And, wave by wave, we rode the water in, popping up on our arms, popping our feet in front, until we could kinda stand up. Almost. My “standing up” was sort of an awkward crouch, but I caught a few seconds of being “hands-free” on the board and managed to balance for enough time that I feel I earned my bragging rights. Or at least a good story.
At the end of the lesson, it was all salty grins instead of salty tears, and there was no sign of fear anywhere. The waves had washed it all away.
I am still not a surfer, but I made definite progress in learning how to do it today. I can’t wait for my next lesson — and maybe, just MAYBE, I’ll even stand up fully, and STAY standing for the smooth ride in.