“If it was easy everyone would be doing it.” This idea that life is hard and needs to be overcome is how I lived the first 20 or 30 years of my life, no pain no gain was my motto. The idea of an easy and peaceful life was for wusses and viewed as undesirable or even impossible. I applied this way of thinking when I learned to surf, believing that I couldn’t afford lessons and I was afraid to ask for help, to do so would be a sign of weakness and make me a target for ridicule and rejection.
I remember like it was yesterday the excitement and beauty of the first time I caught a wave and went down the line riding the clear blue face and seeing the ocean floor race by underneath my board.
It was a taste of a world I had only imagined, and this two week summer family vacation in Maui had whet my appetite. We vacationed there for several years and two years in a row I rented an 8’5″ surfboard and played in the waves for hours each day, on the third year I was hooked and stoked to start surfing at home so I bought a Bill Foote 7’6″ fun board.
Returning home I bought a used wetsuit in Santa Cruz that had the word RENTAL stenciled on the thigh, with that, my non-local board, and webbed gloves I paddled straight out at Pleasure Point and accidentally dropped in on a local.
I might as well have been wearing a sign that said KOOK.
The local came up yelling at me to get the F out of here and me being to stubborn to leave I sat there while he used all kinds of abusive language to convince his friends what a bad guy I was. It was so hurtful, I felt foolish and unwelcome and I was to prideful to leave. Eventually a kind wise older guy mentioned there was an easier place to surf down the reef, that gave me an out to leave so I paddled away and didn’t go back to that spot for a year or so. I was terrified that if I did go back I would be recognized and ridiculed again.
Afraid to try surfing the easier breaks of Santa Cruz I stuck with my 7’6″ and the beach breaks in and near San Francisco. My wave count plummeted, I specifically remember several frustrating and exhausting sessions where I paddled hard for three hours and didn’t catch a single wave. One of the first times I paddled out at Ocean Beach it was a couple feet overhead and I was scared. I barely made it outside without getting clobbered while a local yelled at me to get out his way. Once outside I was so anxious all I could think about was how was I going to get back in safely? I eventually managed to belly ride one wave straight to the beach.
Over the next couple years there were 2 or 3 several month periods where I gave up on surfing altogether.
Feeling frustrated and hopeless I saw no point in pursuing what seemed impossible. One session I went with friends to Montara and a guy with us was really good. He paddled out no problem, caught a head high right, did a couple turns and kicked out like it was the easiest thing in the world. I remember thinking wow, that looked so easy and at the same time it seemed so far out of my reach.
After several years of struggling I figured out enough fundamentals to successfully catch and ride waves on about 4 out of 5 attempts. I felt confident enough to return to Santa Cruz, I was desperate to feel like I belonged so I bought a locally made board and wetsuit hoping this would save me from any more ridicule or rejection.
Almost overnight my wave count and length of ride skyrocketed, experience-wise riding one wave at a Santa Cruz point break was the equivalent of ten waves at a Pacifica beach break. I found that by spending more time actually standing up and riding waves I learned much quicker, figuring out how to turn, do maneuvers, and learn what works and what doesn’t. And most importantly I was having way more fun and this encouraged me to surf more often, my skill level went up a lot in a short period of time.
It seemed that I had summitted a steep beginner learning curve and now it was mostly pleasurable and new and exciting, I was super stoked!
I began to notice that the board I had worked well in some conditions and struggled in others and I had a hunch as to which boards might work better at different spots, swells, and winds. Even though I had a general intuitive direction of what board to choose, the fine details of board shape were beyond my awareness. I still didn’t know how to ask for help, to do so would have been a huge blow to my ego. If I went to a custom board shaper I’d have to admit that I didn’t know jack about surfboards, I was new to surfing, and I was an outsider. To me this seemed certain to lead to abandonment and death, as my self worth was dependent on people’s good or bad opinion of me.
One of my teachers said that no one willingly walks into a therapist’s office and that we are geniuses at inventing creative ways to endure our suffering. My way of avoiding vulnerability was to try the various Surftech popout boards. This was before the backlash against these foreign mass produced boards, almost every month there were new shapes from shapers all over the world available at the retail shops in Santa Cruz. I walked in bought a new board and walked out no questions asked.
This sort of worked for me, the downside was these boards were more expensive and every wrong guess cost me a couple hundred dollars when I sold it. Also being a bigger guy most of these boards weren’t designed for my height and weight, so even if the board worked it wasn’t the right size for me. I also was missing the feedback from wise surfers and expert shapers.
There was a wealth of wisdom that I didn’t feel safe asking for.
I continued buying or demoing every new board technology that came along and after about a decade and riding 30 or more boards I felt comfortable going to a shaper and telling him what I wanted. The first couple custom boards I really enjoyed and they were and are a huge upgrade to what I had been riding. They were specific to certain types of waves and what I wanted instead was a board that worked for 80 to 90 percent of the conditions I surfed.
I tried a another custom model and after paddling for one wave I knew it was the wrong board for me. I felt so disappointed, these are high end customs and trying to resell them is always a crap shoot, also ordering a custom board takes a month or more and then waiting for a swell the whole process can take several months or longer. My confidence in my ability to communicate with my shaper took a big hit, and I grew up with the belief that when a relationship hits a bump in the road it’s a sign of incompatibility and we move on to the next person.
So I switched shapers and ordered a custom Al Merrick, I figured these boards work for some of the top pros and I’ll be able to surf like a pro. Long distance relationships can be challenging, after a long wait the board arrived and rode quite different than I expected and I felt even more disappointed. I went back to Stretch boards and told them about my Al Merrick, one of their up and coming team riders had switched to Al Merrick, and my sense was they took this personally.
The two primary ways of communicating in my upbringing were blame and criticism.
So any time someone seemed upset the only tool I had was to shut down and stay silent and hope to avoid feeling blamed or criticized. I didn’t know how to voice my disappointment or any feelings without blaming someone, if I felt bad it was someone’s fault and if I felt good it was because someone did something I liked, I gave all my power away. So I stuffed my feelings and ordered another best guess board, I liked it and at the same time it wasn’t the every day board I was looking for.
A few months later my first wife woke up one Saturday morning said she couldn’t do this any more and walked out the door. I was devastated and couldn’t endure my suffering any longer, I immediately asked for help and felt relieved to find help everywhere. The saying that when the student is ready a teacher appears began happening to me all the time, I was ready and two wise teachers came into my life. That story and all I learned I’ll share in future writings.
One of the first tools I added to my emotional toolbox was being honest about how I’m feeling and communicating this in a peaceful way.
I was able to go to my shaper and talk about what boards hadn’t worked for me and what I was looking for, Stretch recommended the Skate, this board has ended my search for a daily driver. It works for me at all the spots I surf regularly and I no longer have the feeling of my board not being quite right, I’ve had it for a couple years and am content.
Looking back on this journey I remember so many times when I longed for a guide, someone like Chandler from the movie North Shore, to teach me about boards and waves and how to surf and the purpose of life. I didn’t have the tools to ask and my experience with locals led me to believe that most surfers are selfish jerks and Chandler is a made up fairy tale character who doesn’t exist. So I never asked for a guide.
My understanding of the universe is that we have free will. When I chose to do things the hard way the universe gave me what I asked for, and I was unable to see the teachers that are all around me. Once I asked for guidance it showed up in the most amazing ways. It’s my belief that I could have saved myself years of suffering and the frustration of trying to reinvent the wheel if I had done what Napoleon Hill recommends and seek out expert guidance.
What I needed was someone who knew how to be a safe place for me to come out of my shell and be myself.
Now I’m asking the question, if the universe is a friendly place and everything is for my good, then what was the point of all my trials and tribulations. Why did I do so many things the hard way? The answer that makes sense to me is that I went through an initiation and advanced training to be the surf guide “Chandler” that I never had. I am teaching the way my mentors are teaching me, by using intuition and telling stories of their experiences and offering us a safe place to practice and take in the knowledge in our own time.
Sometimes days or years later their words will come back and sink in and I will have a much deeper understanding of the teachings. Now and then I catch myself reverting back to my old dysfunctional ways and struggling to “figure it out” and “make things work”. I’m learning to listen to my heart, let go of the outcome, and trust that everything is for my good and that I’ll be taken care of. The more I do this the easier life feels.