One of my very dear friends told me that for much of her life, the image that would come up when she thought of her future was eight neatly stacked, square, white, modern dinner plates. These plates somehow represented her success in life after completing college, sucking it up as an intern, then working her butt off in corporate America. They were the pinnacles of achievement, those plates, but she couldn’t care less about those plates now.
My snapshot of the future, for as long as I can remember, is an outdoor shower, and I have no idea where this came from. I grew up in a pretty average family in inland Southern California. I was an only child, with two professional working parents, good grades, off to college at age 17. My outdoor shower is a pretty functional looking shower, in a tropical setting, with a tile floor, and a bamboo screen surrounded by thick foliage. If I look closely, I see a surfboard leaning up against the wall. It turns out the shower is a side note; my dream was to be a surfer.
So, five years ago at age 34, I embarked on what I now know is the hardest learning curve in the world – surfing. I’m athletic and stubborn, two good things to have in the water, but while I was full of gumption and spunk, I thought I failed a lot. I didn’t catch enough waves, I couldn’t get my feet in the right place, I went over the falls (still do), and mostly, I deferred. I thought that because many times I was “the worst surfer in the water”, that I didn’t deserve waves, so I pulled back. I let others take waves because I thought they were better than me. Until one day, an acquaintance of mine paddled up to me, got in my face and yelled at me for being stupid, saying “You deserve waves as much as anyone else out here!”
I cried that day.
So, what did I do? After much saving and planning that involved quitting our comfortably secure jobs, I went, with my very supportive surfing husband, on a year-long world surf adventure that included Mexico, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This here is what I learned.
I stopped trying so hard. One of the most interesting compliments someone gave me was that I am so passionate in everything I do. And more often than not, I am called the “100 Pounds of Fury” among other interesting (and perhaps not so nice) descriptive phrases. Surfing has taught me that maybe, instead of jumping into things head first with no helmet on and my hair on fire, I should take a more peaceful, flowing path. Take waves, and other things in life, as they come, but stop trying so hard, stop swimming upstream.
I also now know that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. Being a female surfer at breaks that were dominated by dudes from all over the world was, so far, the hardest thing that I’ve done in my life. There were days where I felt like a small, defeated “chick” in the water. But I still paddled out and caught waves. I tried my best to hold my head high and be a surfer.
And most importantly, I can call myself a surfer.
Because, when are you really, truly allowed to call yourself a “surfer”? I’ve asked myself this question a few times. Is it when you stand up on your very first whitewater wave? Or when you can pull off floaters and aerials? Is it when you surf a certain number of days per week/month/year? It was a cold Christmas morning in Baja when I was almost surprised to discover that I had become surfer, when I paddled out into overhead waves, full of gratitude and grace in that cold morning. The path to becoming a surfer resides in your heart, it is endless, and filled with potential.
I may not have an outdoor shower, but I will always be a surfer. And you should be too.
Check out more of Katy’s writing on her blog.