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Life Lessons from a Big As#$ Surf Day

It seems that anytime that there is a big surf day, I come out of the water with many new ideas that I manage to turn into blog posts and life lessons.  Last summer I shared my 7 Life Lessons from the Skool of Surf and in the winter the signs that you have become too attached to success (both inspired by time in the water). Earlier this week we had a sizable swell hit the California coast with waves up to 7 feet high in parts of Orange County.   Needless to say it was probably not the kind of day you would want to take a surf lesson.

Challenge is a Part of Our Evolution: When I arrived at the beach the lineup surfers looked somewhat like a Chinese checkers board with a line of surfboards that made it seem like every surfer in LA had decided to show up at this surf spot. The waves were powerful, big and close to perfect. It was what we refer to as an “epic day.”  Sets of waves which possibly could have been 6 foot at times kept pouring in and with each set the ocean quickly eliminated surfer after surfer. After every set at least 10 people would get their boards and leave. In fact, I want to share facebook status updates from two of my friends that might give you more of an idea of what we were dealing with that day (hopefully they won’t kill me for including them in this post):

  • Joanna  G: well i’ve now identified and faced my most dreaded fear: getting caught on the inside of a 12 wave 4-6ft bomb set. yes TWELVE waves, i counted each one as it broke on my head. what a humbling day of surfing, now only wine can console my bruised little ego.
  • Kathey Pommet: You’re lucky, I think I bruised a lot more than my ego :) It was a craptacular endeavor!

Some had a caught a perfect wave and others tossed around in what often feels like you are being thrown around in a washing machine. When the ocean tosses you around like a ragdoll it often scares the shi#$# out of you.  The sets poured in so heavily that you couldn’t even paddle back out until the waves stopped. A while back I wrote a post on another blog about self imposed limitations and how we overcome them. There was a time when I thought i’d never want to surf waves more than 2-3 feet, but I’ve realized that challenge is a part of our evolution, not just in surfing, but in life. I think that in order to reach our true potential we really need to be continually challenged. Whether people got completely destroyed by the waves or not, at the end of the day they challenged themselves. They put themselves in a situation that the majority of human beings wouldn’t even think about putting themselves in, so in my mind they evolved. Who knows? Maybe some part of the desire to overcome challenge is ego-driven.   However, challenges enable us to evolve into the best that we can be at everything we do.

Let Nature Take It’s Course: After my very first wave of the day,  I decided to try to paddle right back out, not thinking about the fact that a series of big AS#$3 waves was going to toss me around and throw me every which way until the set of waves was over.  After about 3 waves having their way with me, I finally managed to make it out to the take off point. What I realized in that moment was that I had been fighting a losing battle. There was really no way I was going to make it out to the take off point without getting tossed around while these sets were coming in. So for the rest of the day if I caught a wave, I would just wait for the next 3-4 to come in, and once they stopped, I would paddle out. I’d been fighting what the natural course of the ocean was. I’d like to think that life is kind of the same way. In many ways we force our intended outcomes and more often than not, that doesn’t really work. I think if we were to give in a bit and let nature take its course, we’d find everything to be a bit easier in life.

Remain Calm: My sister finds that ocean to be absolutely terrifying. There are moments when I can’t say I blame her. If I was in her shoes and somebody had put me out in the water on a day like this, I’d be pretty freaked out. The ocean is a force of nature that makes you earn it’s respect and it ALWAYS has the upper hand. It’s inevitable that you will have moments where you think you’re going to die.  But you don’t. If there’s anything I’ve learned from these big days, it’s to remain calm:

I sat quietly looking at the horizon waiting for what was to come next. I’d been here before, but I’d never seen a day like this. For 20 minutes there would be silence, water so still it even felt like a lake during the lulls. But, it was nothing more than the silence before the storm. Once she decided it was time for the storm, the endless sets of 4-6 foot waves just hammered us down eliminating people one by one.
- What I was thinking in the Lineup

On a big day you’ll sometimes sit in an ocean that doesn’t seem to be doing much and then all of a sudden some huge waves start coming in. Dealing with it is  largely mental in my opinion.  Once you do get your AS@#$ handed to you a few times and you come out other end of it alive, you start to realize nothing that bad is going to really happen. In fact, I told a friend sitting next to me who was scared to take off on a wave that she thought was too big that if she took off and made it the pure bliss would completely wipe out the fear.    The first time I surfed a really big day I was scared shitless to take off on a wave, but right after I caught the first one I was so stoked that the fear was wiped out. Just to clarify, my reference point for a big day is waves around 6 feet. There are places in the world where apparently this is just an average day.  Strangely, something I once dreaded and thought I’d never be able to do is something I look forward to.

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