Hello! Ever wondered what you’d do if you decided to upend your whole life and move to the opposite side of the world? The why doesn’t really matter, you can think up something really dark and dramatic if you like. But just imagine you’ve done it, you’re there, you look around you…now what the hell do you do? Welcome along to my current reality!
Just over a month ago I touched down in New Zealand, entirely on my own, ready to embrace this country and a place I’d dreamed of living. I’ve got a job, I’ve got a roof over my head, now what?
Well, I did what any self respecting lunatic would do and started talking to strangers. I mean, new friends. I mean, anyone who made eye contact with me for more than three seconds. They should’ve known better.
The number one response I got, after ‘can I please go now?’ was…surfing! Apparently in New Zealand, or this little corner I’m in, you absolutely have to surf!
And this is how I found myself, one grey Saturday morning, standing in a storage shed in my bare feet, looking at a possibly polystyrene board and having what I would term as a mild to moderate panic attack.
Not the full blown numb face, arms tingling, someone is blocking my airway kind, that’s another post entirely, but still – mild to moderate. I was realising my decision making processes may have gone awry, as can be expected when it’s generally a two part process of:
1) Enough people told me to do it (this can be anything from 1-8 depending on their persuasivity and their proximity to my heart).
2) It looked like good fun from a distance.
Well here’s the thing isn’t it. Take festivals, for example. Lots of my friends love: tick. They look awesome from a distance: tick. Great music, drinking, face paint, glitter, outdoors, dancing. Yes! The reality when I actually went? Far too many unwashed people crammed together spilling plastic cups of overpriced beer and cider, hoping it was beer/cider and not piss because the portoloos were so far away, and everyone singing along so loud you can’t hear the band in the first place.
And so it was, that somewhere around the instructor talking about how to protect my head when I was tumbling under the water fighting for air so I didn’t come up and smack my head on my surfboard, I had a moment of pure clarity. The side of my brain that had been sending up little smoke signals of disquiet suddenly came into full focus, with a smug look on its face and an air of, ‘yeah come join me over here in reality. The water’s fecking freezing.’
I thought over all the aspects of the sea I like: listening to the waves, paddling on the shoreline, watching others swim and surf, sitting with a coffee or a glass of wine watching the sunset and having a moment of peace and gratitude for the day, telling myself I will be present more often and live in the moment. Note that there is a complete absence in any of these activities of me being in the actual bloody sea.
But. I’m nothing if not British and after squeezing myself into not one but two wetsuits – the first one split, but we’re not dwelling on it – I had no option but to go ahead with the lesson.
I did the paddling on the beach bit and let the absurdity of it take my mind off the terror. I pretended I could see where a rip was when it was like looking at a magic eye picture that I couldn’t make turn into a lion or a pig or whatever no matter how hard I tried. I lugged the 9ft board into the sea and fought with it to get myself out to chest deep in the water. I’m 5ft3 so that bit was mercifully quicker than it could have been. I got the board turned around and pointing towards the beach. I pretend paddled as the instructor held the board straight and waited for the wave.
It crashed, and rushed up. All froth and bubbles carrying me forward into a moment of adrenaline fuelled terror. Then I pushed up, brought my knees in and planted my feet on the board, rising and throwing my arms in the stereotypical surfer stance at the same time.
I only bloody did it!! I was so shocked at my success I promptly jumped off, stubbed my toe and swallowed half a litre of saline. I’m trying not to see that as an analogy of my life but it’s tough dear reader, it’s tough.
There followed an hour or so of the same thing. Push out to deep (to me) water. Struggle the board round, wait for wave, pop up. I did manage to stay up longer and I even managed to steer a little bit. The water didn’t go up my nose, and I didn’t bang my head. The instructor did need to tell me to slow down the pop up because I was ‘over jumping’, Something she said she’d never really seen before. If you’d like to imagine those YouTube videos of cats getting scared by cucumbers, where they react like they’ve seen the devil himself and all four paws come off the ground at the same time, then imagine it lands on a surfboard, I think that’s close to what I was doing.
Having said all that though, my overriding feeling as I got back in Grandma Mazur (see Course I Want Jellybeans With That for context) was one of accomplishment. I did something new. Something so different for me that the idea of a comfort zone was an abstract concept. Once I got past the fear I enjoyed the challenge.
But when I think about that very first time I stood up, it makes me pause. If you take nothing else from this just remember: when you’ve put in the effort and worked hard for something you thought you probably couldn’t do, there’s no need to figuratively throw yourself in the ocean the moment you achieve it. I’m sometimes so focused on what could go wrong that I don’t trust the moment and feel the joy of achievement. I’m preparing for failure, or even leaning into it just so I can con myself I’m in control rather than having my triumph whipped out from under me.
It’s amazing the epiphanies you can have while trying to keep seawater out of your nose.