Life Lessons Learned from Riding Waves

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The ocean can be a wonderful teacher – she’s alluring, mysterious, and utterly unforgiving. Those of us who routinely brave her waters spend most of it getting our asses handed to us. Which not only makes riding waves that much more addicting, but is a wonderful way to learn.

Compared to the endless power of the sea, we learn how small and insignificant we really are. Riding waves gives us a deep-rooted respect for nature. We know that sharks probably are swimming around under us more often than not, and if they chose to harm us, it’s understandable. After all, we’re trespassing in their house – not ours.

All of the lessons that come from spending time in the ocean not only apply to riding waves, but to all areas of life. There’s a reason surfers are characterized as low-key, relaxed, and stress free. It’s because we get it. We understand what a beautiful world we live in – and how blessed we are to enjoy what only nature itself can create.

1. Never, ever, ever hesitate.

The worst wipeout I’ve ever had is when I hesitated. The one rule the uncles have always told me is to never hesitate – it’s how everyone gets hurt. The moment you second guess yourself, you’re probably going over the falls, skidding down the face, and hitting the sand or reef below. In life, hesitating is how we miss out on chances, opportunities, accomplishing our dreams, and falling in love. Go forth with confidence, my friends.

2. No matter what happens, ride it out.

Tied to the last rule, riding it out is the only way to avoid getting absolutely smashed. Freaking out and panicking at the top of a steep, terrifying wave is natural. But acting on your fear and panic, like hesitating, is guaranteed to cause untold harm. Most of the time, the smartest move to make is to take a breath, drop in with confidence, and hold on for dear life. The same goes for being sucked underwater, especially at deeper breaks. When you’re in that dark void or getting pummeled by a constant set, you have to stay as calm as possible. Panicking and thrashing around costs more precious oxygen – which you need to survive until the next lull.

3. Getting your ass kicked is the best way to learn.

In the water, the way you learn is the hard, painful, life-threatening way. There’s a saying I’ve heard from some of the uncles – you never really know a break until you have a real wipeout. Not only is it true, but you also don’t really know yourself until you eat complete shit.
Last year, I had been getting better & better and felt that I was ready for a reef break at one of my favorite beaches. The conditions were sunny, clean, and offshore winds – the perfect day to test myself. At the break, I noticed the water was sucking up right off the reef – with maybe a foot or two of water above it. I caught a few smaller waves, and finally went for a decent-sized seven footer. As I dropped in, I saw how steep it really was, and the crystal-clear sharp reef right underneath. I panicked and wiped out, then got picked up and slammed right over the falls as it pitched – and smacked into the reef directly on my right side. The wave completely knocked the wind out of me, and I was so hurt I couldn’t lift my shoulder or move my leg. I ended up catching some whitewash in, and finding out I hard hairline fractures on three of my ribs – and spent over eight months dealing with daily pain.
This is how lessons 1 and 2 really stuck with me.

4. Make peace with your fears.

It seems most non-surfers are shocked when victims of injuries and shark bites rush back into the water. It’s because we’re willing to conquer our fears and risk bodily harm to do what we love. Plus, the ocean is scary on a regular basis. Not only do we have to conquer our fears routinely, but when we have a really bad wipeout, we have to make peace with the ocean. We have to forgive her and let go of our anger and fears.
After my aforementioned injury, my fiancé dragged me back to the same spot on a similar day, despite my protests and general terrifiedness. I lingered for a while, caught a few teeny-tiny waves, and then decided to make peace. It’s crazy, but I ended up catching the exact same wave in the same spot. I recognized the reef below me and slid perfectly down the face. I held my rails, held on, and not only did I not wipe out – I got my first in-n-out over break and on a wave that big. It was one of the best waves I’ve ever caught, and it filled me with a happiness that few things in my life can ever compare to. I still remember the exact look and feel of the barrel. I even dream about it sometimes.
Since then, I’ve caught bigger waves and braved sketchier reef breaks – only because I learned the hard way. And since I made peace with my injury and the ocean, that spot is my favorite break. After all, I love the ocean. And I know that she loves me too – she was just helping me learn, live and grow.

5. God (or any spiritual entity) exists.

Riding waves has brought me closer to God. No matter what you believe in, it’s impossible to gorge on waves on a perfect, beautiful day and not feel blessed. In the glittering water under a golden sun, its amazing to think that nature created this. That the ocean makes waves that us mere mortals can enjoy. Believe me, nothing is more beautiful than sitting in the water watching fish scurry underneath and the sun sink down. I can’t explain the happiness and joy that comes with a perfect wave – except that it feels like God himself is smiling down at you.

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