Surfing evokes so many emotions. Things can get really intense and anxiety provoking for so many different reasons. From victory at sea conditions to aggro crowds, how do you keep your emotions in check? How do you master that zen in all those situations?
When you are beginning as a surfer, one of most emotionally charged experiences is when things first get out of your control. You lose that sense of trust in your handle on the situation, and you frantically begin to grasp for control and that feeling of safety. Time sometimes slows down in these moments, and they leave you with that uneasiness that can last long after you leave the water.
As you gain experience, these situations become more interesting. “Better” waves usually require more risk. Sharp or shallow bottoms may come to mind, but I think the most anxiety provoking is when mother nature kicks up the intensity from a shoulder high balmy winds day to an overhead raging winds washing machine that is reminiscent of open ocean waves. Ripping currents and shifty peaks drag you around at the oceans mercy. A reporter from the local news once caught my friend and I surfing in the middle of a storm with 40MPH winds, and he basically asked my friend if we were crazy. We have had the police and fire department called on us for doing the same thing. The risks those days were relatively minimized by tucking behind a jetty, but there were days that got way more out of hand that the question “Am I crazy?” probably should have been asked.
So what do you do when you aren't sure if you are going to make it back on dry land?
The scariest moments I had surfing involved obstacles and the currents that placed me on them. Feeling something solid in the water, be it living or inanimate, creates the most immediate sense of panic I have ever experienced. The ocean is all about the unknown, but when that unknown danger you fear becomes reality is when things turn upside down. Imagine you just get off a wave, and you turn to paddle back out. You go to duck dive an overhead wave lurching over you and your fins scrape something hard inches beneath the water. What do you do?
This happened to me once. The current ripped me and dry docked me on top of a drainage pipe right in the impact zone, and the first wave that came slammed me on that pipe because I couldn't duck dive. It tore the board out of my hands, and my leash wrapped on the pipe. I was stuck... and the short period swell gave me what felt like 3 short seconds of clarity before I was at the mercy of the next massive wave that body slammed me straight onto the large metal pipe... 1...2...3... BOOM... 1....2....3....BOOM. Wave after wave after wave I frantically struggled to free my board. After several cycles of being bashed and anxiously struggling to fight my fate, I grabbed hold of my leash velcro to unhook it. At that moment the board popped free. I pinballed against the massive poles of the Steel Pier and crawled my way to the beach beaten to a pulp and gasping for air. I managed to have a deep contusion on my leg where the 3in diameter bolts on the pipe hit so hard it punctured the skin without tearing the 5mm wetsuit. Other than that I was fine physically. Mentally... I was so shaken at the time. What the fuck was wrong with me? Why did I put myself in that situation? I wrestled with those images for a few days in my brain when I closed my eyes to sleep.
Time heals even the mental wounds. I was sure I learned something, but I didn't know what. I continued going out in storms, surfing at night, surfing in storms at night. I never had a real scare like that again until one stormy day. It was like 10-12ft, and I was paddling out next to a jetty like I always did to hide from the insane storm currents. The waves were washing over the rocks this day. A set rolled through, and it pulled me in the opposite direction of the current. I felt it again. That feeling. Fins scraping on a hard surface, and my hands hit rock. Oh no. no no no no. no. I was dry docked at the end of a long jetty, and the waves were breaking directly on top of it. What do I do?
To my surprise, it was different this time. The initial panic was there, but I had so much more clarity this time. Time froze. I immediately cut my leash. I braced my feet against the rocks and laid down a second before a double overhead wave crested and landed a few feet behind me on the now dry rocks. This was the worst one. The wave rushed over me. It floated me up and dragged me along the rocks like it was rocky river bed. When the water sucked back out to load up for the next one, I started running. I only made it like 5 feet and braced again. I could see my friend on the shore running towards the jetty and get stopped by some other surfers. I waved him off too and accepted the fate of the next wave. It was only like three of those before I could run to safety. What was so different this time? I was at the mercy of the ocean, but I felt more control. Calmness in such adversity is not easy. Clear your mind. Breath (When you're able to). The haunting reality still sets in when you go to sleep, but in that moment find your center.
Next time you get washed by that massive set, go limp. Relax. Let the dust settle. Then casually make your way to the surface. The ocean is too strong to fight. If you place yourself in the path of those rolling monsters marching towards shore, you must remember to respect them. Surfing can be like a war zone. Pick your battles, know your limits, and respect it. Paddling out in those conditions is not about the physical struggle. It is about the mental awareness. It teaches you a lot about yourself. It puts things into perspective. It allows you to dive deep into your soul. Adversity takes us off the tracks we mindlessly ride and derails us. What do you do in those situations? How do you feel? Do you run from it, or do you continue towards it?