20 Jan What surfing taught me: A love which I never expected to find
The moment when you made it out there, getting through the waves that are coming towards you, pushing you 4 feet back while you paddle 2 feet forward. Finally sitting on your board, your heart beats and your lungs are reaching for air. My feet tumble in the water, for a moment I hope that no shark will tickle them. I take a deep breath and look into the endlessness of the ocean, nobody in front of me, nobody next to me, the sun is shining bright, it’s just me and mother nature.
This is surfing to me.
I have to scoop a bit back in time and be straight honest with you. To reach that magical moment I described above took 3 months of hard work. Ok, I lied a bit. The real answer is about 6 months. The struggle was real from day one. Just getting that heavy board to the beach was so exhausting. I chose to start with a longboard that is 9 feet long. This is the main recommendation from all surfer dudes in Southern California. A heads up, to bring the real surfing experience to your couch, I will let the surfer slang guide me.
I have the luxury to put my wetsuit on, walk two blocks and be right at Huntington Beach which is the Surf City of the United States. I think now you start to see why it all started. You can’t live in the Surf City of the United States, see surfer dudes all day, and don’t start to go with the flow.
What to expect
When you finally made it with the heavy longboard to the beach, which is basically your warmup you need to get a few things straight. I would recommend taking an official surf instructor especially for the first time or asking surfer friends to help you. I was helped by coworkers to get started which made it a lot of fun and leads me right to the first and most important takeaway. The most important lesson about surfing is to enjoy yourself and to have FUN. At first, this does not sound like a big or important tip but it’s that simple. Since I’m a very ambitious person, I constantly need to remind myself of this very first lesson.
The first thing my coworkers checked was which foot of mine will be in the front of the board. Regular means left foot in front and goofy means right foot in the front of the board. Once you figure that out, the real lessons start. How you figure this out, I will keep it a secret since each teacher does it differently, and it is quite funny.
Still being on the safe beach, you practice your pop up which is how to even stand up on this thing.
Ready, set, go. I put the board into the water, I lay down, and immediately I slight right down on the other side, back into the water. That’s how everything started for me, I still smile when I think back about that moment. To keep the balance was not as easy for me as I expected when I trained on the beach.
Once I started paddling, I slowly got a feeling for the board, the water, and the power of the waves which made me feel more comfortable and I ‘only fell off every third time’.
Catching the Wave
To catch a wave on your own and be able to ride it takes a lot of practice. I was not aware of how many things such as current, tide & swell you need to keep in mind and learn to understand. On the first couple of waves, I got a push from my coworker in order to catch it. When the timing was right, he was yelling “POP UP” which means basically stand up. I have to say, and I know this sounds cheesy but yes, I made it up right away and was riding the wave. The moment I felt the speed underneath me, carried from the wave I had my mouth and eyes wide open from excitement. I could not believe how much fun and energy this brought to me. That was the moment I got hooked and did not leave the ocean for the next three hours. To be honest again, if you get pushed into the wave, which is normal especially when you have never surfed before, it makes it way easier to get up and ride the wave. But that’s exactly what you need to have, right at day one, fun and that one moment to feel the energy and speed a wave has.
After that first lesson, nothing happened for at least 6 months. I know what you now think. But well life happens, it seemed a lot of effort to get a wetsuit and board and it’s just overwhelming on all those options which are out there. Then in 2020, a global pandemic happened and like everybody else, we were stuck at home. Everything was shut down, nothing was open except the beach. I and my husband were walking a lot along the beach and saw a bunch of surfers being out there trying to catch some good waves. A few weeks later, I convinced my husband to order a surfboard and wetsuits for us. No sooner said than done we got our boards and wetsuits and went to the beach. We did not check a forecast, who knew there is an app out there that tells you basically everything. How big the waves are, how strong the current is, and if the wind is coming in the afternoon which could affect the waves in a way that they are ‘blown out’. This simply means they are flat and not in great condition for surfing.
We were standing at the beach and motivated to go in. All we knew was how to get up and how to move and be in the water with the board. Again, the struggle was real. I had a lot of anxiety about the bigger waves and yes, I still have from time to time. I was standing paralyzed at the shore break and was not even able to get behind that one wave. I took all my courage and went in. We caught a few ‘white water waves’ which is the foam after the wave already broke. That is the safest and easiest way to catch a wave since you don’t actually need to catch it because you try waiting in the right position and the wave takes you to the shore. Again, the focus is on ‘trying’. Meanwhile, you try to find your balance and pop up. That’s again the moment when you remember why surfing is one of the hardest sports. Most of the time in surfing you are either paddling or waiting for the right wave. The actual riding time, depending on the wave can go from 5 seconds to maximum of 30 seconds which is pretty long. Once you are able to get up, you just enjoy and have fun.
Since that day we were every week at the beach to surf. 9 months into surfing, I have to say there are days where I’m just in love and enjoy it. When I’m paddling out to the lineup (where all the surfers wait to catch a wave) finally sit up straight to relax, feet hanging in the water, complete silence, endless views ahead, the sun is shining, dolphins are passing, catching some nice waves, riding until you reach the shore, paddle out again to meet my friends, that’s when I’m the most in love with this sport. But there are also a lot of days, where I’m just scared and frustrated. Either the waves are too big for my skills, or I catch some waves and I just fall because the position of my feet on the board is just not right and I get smashed, suck into the wave. The leash which connects me and my board are wrapped around my feet, I lose control and orientation, try to dive to the surface before I start to panic. These moments happen too and are not the fun moments you see in movies or magazines, but this is a huge part of surfing too. But exactly from these moments, I learned the most. I learned to be patient with myself and the ocean. I learned when I force myself, stress out, have no patience, and don’t wait on the right wave, I will lose my focus and energy. When a set of waves is coming towards the shore, you can either jump right into the water or be patient and wait for the right one. I you don’t wait you will make it out there eventually, but you will be exhausted for sure. Then, when you are about to catch a wave, either you are already too tired because your arms are sore, or you are tired and lose focus which means you make mistakes and fall which leads to getting smashed. Once smashed more waves are coming towards and you need even more energy to get out to the line up again. Being stuck in the middle, between the shore and the lineup is very stressful. Trust me, I have been there a lot.
Over time I learned to be patient, I learned to wait for the right moment, take a few deep breaths and watch which direction the waves are coming from. In surfing, there is no rush at all. Mostly all surfer dudes you meet, are relaxed and calm which fascinates me. They ride on 3 – 20 feet waves and seem to be not frightened by the size at all. I learned to watch and think about questions such as ‘Where do the waves break? When do they break? Where do I position myself in order to catch most of the waves? Is there a current which let me drift off?’.
The tide changes constantly during the day which means conditions are always changing. Since we started surfing, there was never a moment where I can say, the conditions were the same as the day before. For me, a person who enjoys being in the comfort zone and likes to have control, a new lesson I had to learn. Sometimes I wonder if this is the reason why surfing fascinates me so much.
Once you start to focus, watch the ocean, listen and just observe you start to develop a feeling, an understanding, and respect. When you give yourself time and wait until the set of waves gets less powerful, then go in and paddle out, you will see that’s way easier. You will save a lot of energy which you will need later when you catch a wave. When you trust in yourself the moment you catch a wave and have the right mindset which is to just enjoy yourself without any pressure, you will catch at the end more waves.
What I learned from Surfing
When you force it, trust me I have been there many times, it led me to many frustrations. I caught a wave, stressed myself and fell right away because I rushed the whole process. I started to ask myself, where is the finish, what is my ‘end’ goal? There is no end and that’s exactly the biggest takeaway. Each surfing day is different even at the same location. You gain experience and confidence and make the best out of it. The days which were harder are the days where I needed to learn to accept that I gave my absolute best, and that’s enough. I went out there, tried, and had fun. All of the above I can transfer into my daily life.
The ocean is a powerful place that has its own mind you can’t control. To let go, use your knowledge and skills you develop over time leads to success. I’m a person who thinks I’m never enough, gives 120%, and tends to wear myself out. I thought a successful surfing day is a day where I caught as many waves as I can and be fully exhausted when I go home. But over time I learned that it’s the fun you have in that sport that makes a surfing day successful. A day where you fully trust in yourself, just paddle and be with the ocean, respect your boundaries and let go when you are tired or get scared for whatever reason, those are the best days and let me come closer to myself. My surf teacher told me once: “Jessica, all surfers are scared, there are sharks, there are stingrays, there are huge waves which can drag you down, but when you trust in yourself and have your mind ready, you will always find your way up”. I have learned that the most important thing is to listen to myself, to let go of everything which is on my mind when I’m in the ocean. To get out of the water if I don’t feel comfortable even though my friends are still in there. I have learned that it’s ok to say no to myself, sit on the beach and accept my boundaries.
As a perfectionist I have learned that there is no chance to find the perfect conditions in each moment, it’s about what you make out of it. I’m confident that once you start a certain sport and have fun with it everybody will find their own life lessons. This is surfing to me.
I will see you out there!
My name is Jessica Pokerschnig (née Resch) and I’m originally from Austria. I moved together with my husband 3 years ago to Los Angeles and work since then in Orange County in the Automotive Industry. For more than 10 years I love to explore the topic of self-development and share my knowledge to inspire others. I always felt connected to books and recently I found writing as one of my newest passions after completing a writer’s program at UCLA Extension in the topic “Writing Out of Your Life”.
Find me on Facebook as Jessica Pokerschnig (https://www.facebook.com/jesspoker11) or through E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Jessica Pokerschnig