Learning to Surf

Author: Karen Copeland

A few years ago I had the opportunity to take surfing lessons. Now, surfing isn’t really ever something I aspired to do, but my sister pulled me outside of my comfort zone and off we went. It helped that the instructors were all Hawaiian Firefighters!

We were given a quick lesson on the beach on how to pop up to standing on our boards. We were instructed on how to ‘paddle’, and what to do if a wave was approaching us while we were paddling so we didn’t get a face full of water. We were instructed on how to ‘fall off’ our boards and we were warned to be careful of the shoreline, as there was sharp corals and rocks closer to the beach.

And then we hit the water. Have I mentioned that I do not particularly enjoy swimming or being in water?

The paddling was much harder than I expected. I could feel the muscles in my arms burning as I pulled them through the water, propelling myself slightly forward. This was going to take awhile.

Our instructor yelled at us to push our chests up from our boards to meet the oncoming wave of water – I wasn’t fast enough, and took a face full of salt water. Not cool. I could have quit then. Turned around and headed back to shore, but I chose to continue going forward.

We finally got far enough out, and our instructor prepped us for the next step of this adventure. There was a good wave coming (and by good, I mean 2 feet! we were beginners after all!) and it was time to see if we could get up on our boards and surf.

I was ready to go. I waited as he pushed me forward with the wave then yelled at me to stand up. I remember struggling to get my front foot under me, but managed, I was almost up! I was going to do it! … and I promptly lost my balance and plunged into the ocean while the wave continued to move me forward toward the beach.

I surprised myself by wanting desperately to try again. I began paddling back out to the instructor. I had been so close to standing up, and this motivated me to push forward. When I reached the instructor, I sat on my board and rested awhile, regaining my energy so I could try again.

It didn’t take long. A good wave was coming and it was time to try again. I followed the voice of my instructor. I told myself “you can do this!”. And before I knew it, I was standing! I was riding the wave and it was such a great feeling of accomplishment.

This motivated me to continue through the rest of the morning, paddling out and riding the waves back in to shore. Sometimes I took a break. Just resting and getting some energy back before I had to paddle back out again.

And I realized that riding the wave was the easy part. It was the paddling that became more and more difficult as the morning went on. My arms became tired and achy. I had to change my internal narrative to try to convince myself that I could go again. It was tough swimming against the water, pushing forward through such resistance as I got weaker and weaker. And yet, I still made it out there. And I celebrated each time I was able to ride those waves back in to the shore.

You might wonder why I am writing about surfing. Well, I came across this graphic a couple of weeks ago, and it stuck with me.

image via

I was able to see how learning how to surf was a lot like learning how to push and slog and persevere my way through systems and judgments to learn how to advocate for my child. I didn’t know how to advocate effectively when I started, just like I didn’t know how to surf, but with some encouragement and guidance from the instructors, I was able to learn. They didn’t give up on me when I didn’t get it right away.

Like my experience with paddling, I remember how strong the urge was to give up, but instead I chose to push forward. Taking rests when I needed to so that I would be ready to face the next wave. Sometimes taking that face full of water, but not letting that deter me from getting to where I wanted to be.

We can all learn to surf. With support from our champions, by giving ourselves permission to take on the water, remembering to rest when we need to … that’s when we will stand up on our boards and celebrate our accomplishments with our kids.

I promise, all that paddling has been worth it! You may be tempted to give up, but I’m going to tell you, you will get there and when you do, it will be awesome.

Keep on surfin’!

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