I have loved the idea of surfing for decades. I’ve romanced it in my thoughts even though in practice the actual experience involves something far more consistent with drowning.
I have never once called myself “a surfer.” But I EFFin love surfing.
So I was stoked to make arrangements to go surfing recently. I knew I’d suck. But sucking does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for surfing.
I got up at the crack of down and was soon prying myself into a wetsuit while listening to the waves crash on the beach. Nothing big, but they were nice pretty rolling waves that made my heartbeat rise. The surf was up, which meant soon I’m be down, rolling around, crashing around in my humility. It thrilled me.
I pondered all of this floating out on my board among far more proficient surfers. They sat up straight and still looking out for the next great set, while I wobbled and waded like a dysfunctional Weeble. I looked across the dotted landscape of surfers knowing full well I was the worst one out there. Three guys who counted two hundred years of age between them surfed by me with ease, like artists of the ocean.
But sucking didn’t bother me.
Normally I mind sucking. I mind it a lot. I mind it enough to stop doing what I suck at or work very hard to stop sucking.
Surfing has never been convenient enough for me to practice much. The gaps between outings relegate me to learning and re-learning the same stuff. And surfing’s hard. I’ve done most sports and done many of them well enough not to suck. But this is one that humbles me. The ocean can do that to you.
Remember that line from Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Paul Rudd plays a surf instructor who keeps saying, “Do less. Jump up. Do less…less, well more than that. Jump up. Do less…”? Well, that’s surfing. Somehow you have to do less and do it so well that you can succeed at something that takes an incredible amount of energy, grace and courage. I suspect that’s why I love it. It’s hard.
As the sage Jimmy Dugan says, “It’s the hard that makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
So, I didn’t worry too much about my general sucky-ness. Instead I embraced the present moment. I practiced stillness and tried to relax. When I positioned for my wave I tried to deepen my effort with less frenetic energy. When I paddled out I tried to even my breathing despite the enormous effort required. When I crashed (most every time) I tried to roll with the turbulence rather than panic.
I even stood up, sort of, a couple of times.
In between sets as I weebled and wobbled, my new BFF/surf coach and I talked about God, work, vocation and disappointment. We talked about stuff, the real stuff, the stuff that makes life a life. We had just met in person after weeks of getting to know each other online. I felt like I known him for a long time.
This is the stuff, I thought often, of both the conversation and the experience. All too often I get so wrapped up in trying to find my life, I forget I’m living it. I get bogged down in the muddle and forget that the muddle is the life. So I remind myself often, this is the stuff. This is my life.
I needed this morning in the water flailing about. It turned into one of those hoof-to-head type of days that restore my sanity. Even as I wobbled trying to stand in the roaring tide of the surf, I felt the joy of needed balance coming back to me.
Sitting on a surf board in the Pacific Ocean challenged me physically, energized me mentally, nurtured me spiritually and well, it was just … bitchen. Something about it.
But it was also something about me. Coming up on six years sober after a twenty-year dance of destruction with alcohol, I am well aware of how much more expansive life is these days. It’s full even in the struggle, rich even in the poverty, blessed even in the suffering. It’s surfing even in the near drowning.
I do all sorts of things I suck at simply to experience them, things I would have never taken the time to do, or had the interest to do, or been humble enough to do back in the ambitious, flawed days in my addiction.
Somehow in all of this I learned to accept what I suck at, which enhances the embrace of those moments when I don’t suck, those ah-ha moments when I say to myself, “I’m an EFFin Artist, man!”
Someday soon I’ll hit that moment on a surf board when I say, “I’m an EFFFIN SURFER, Brah!” and that will be … beyond bitchen. Until then I’ll keep practicing because when I do I feel better, from my toes to my bald head and everywhere in between.
Sucking never felt so good.