Wave Therapy: How I Stopped Living in Fear and Learned to Surf
After being raised to take as few risks as possible, I decided to hit the ocean and change my outlook.
I was born in the winter of 1996. I barely weighed six pounds, but I was eager to live. My mom had just turned 20 and dropped out of college to find a job because my biological dad "didn’t want us as his family.” Parenthood is tough, especially when performing both roles.
During her pregnancy, her mind never stopped overthinking my future. She feared I would repeat her story: fear, anxiety and worry were the main characters. I don’t think my mom wanted me to become a woman who was afraid of living; however, unconsciously, she instilled fear in my upbringing.
I got my daily dose of "Don't do this because it's dangerous" or, "If you do it, you could die" commands. She made sure I understood from a young age there were always negative consequences to every decision. I don’t judge the way she raised me, rather I aim to understand the root of her fear. I believe it was ultimately born of love—and not wanting to lose me—after already losing my dad.
Death is a powerful word. It's something I have tried to avoid if possible. Every decision I made was a conscious effort to not risk my life, which my mom tried relentlessly to protect. While in high school, I said no to driving in my friends’ cars, smoking weed, drinking alcohol and swimming in the ocean without an adult. The list was endless. My mom had warned me of all the possible things that could go wrong if I did any of them. My mind was trained to see the negative. My instinct was always in survival mode.
I Found a Job During COVID in a Surfing Village
I admired other people's ability to do all the things I refused to do. I wanted to challenge my fear but I let it dictate my decisions. Until, one day, COVID-19 knocked on my door. For me, 2020 was a year full of challenges and personal growth. My grandmother and two of my uncles tested positive for the virus. When I looked into my uncle's eyes, I noticed death lurking. Only my grandmother recovered, while my two uncles passed away at very young ages.
Losing my relatives, and the series of events that unfolded throughout last year, felt like a slap in the face. All those years avoiding danger to postpone death were bullshit. I realized death was the only thing in life that is granted, and the effects of the pandemic triggered me to start living life because a life chained to fear is not one worth living.
In the midst of chaos, I got a job offer in a secluded surf village three hours away from the place I got so used to calling home. Even though adventure and exploring were not usually in my vocabulary and lifestyle, I decided to step out of my bubble. The ocean had always amazed me, but I was never allowed to swim unsupervised because it was home to "deadly sharks and currents," as my mom used to say. I was committed to learning how to surf despite my mom's opinion. My decision was reinforced after the first session in the water. Not because I became a pro in a 60-minutes lesson, but because my soul was reset in the process.
I Overcame My Fears and Entered the Ocean
I’m not going to hide it: I was terrified of going into the water for the first time, especially at 23 years old without a relative or close friend. My mind thought about all the things that could go wrong before the lesson began. To make it worse, before going in, someone told me to be aware of stingrays because it was their season. Despite all that, I carried my board and paddled in. The feeling of riding my first whitewash wave was worth everything. After the first one, I kept going back for more. The adrenaline took over. My mind focused on being present rather than thinking about the 100 possibilities of dying.
Surfing is the best meditation I have done. There is something liberating about surrendering to the power of a wave. After a lot of effort, practice and discipline, I swapped the whitewash for real unbroken waves. To catch those types of waves, I had to paddle far into the ocean and stay in the line-up to wait for my wave. The first couple of weeks, it was extremely hard to understand the waves. Surfing is not just about popping up on the board—if it were that simple, more people would surf. This sport is a combination of reading the ocean, understanding the wind conditions and having the self-awareness to maneuver the body on the surfboard.
Surfing Has Made Me Happier Than Ever
A part of my personality consists of planning ahead and being in control. My first instinct was to try to control the ocean but, after many sessions, I learned that giving control to the ocean helped quell my fear and anxiety. I now respect the ocean. I understand it is a bigger force; thus, when a big wave comes my way and I don’t paddle out fast enough, I just dive under and surrender.
This sport has taught me patience. My lack of experience in understanding a wave's language made it easier for me to wipe out. Waves would even break on my back. Wiping out in the ocean is not fun. I have a couple of scars and bruises that can attest to that. Nevertheless, the minor negative effects don’t outweigh the benefits. The ocean has been the therapist I was never able to afford. Nothing beats the feeling of wholeness I get when I start ducking the big whitewash to paddle my way into the line-up.
I think this is the happiest I have been in a very long time and it's due to surfing. I feel the endorphins released as soon as I catch my own unbroken waves. This sport has the effect of a drug on me because it keeps me going back for more. When I’m not in the ocean, I crave the person I become when I am. I understand life itself is an adventure. I want to keep living my adventure and make up for all the years I was a prisoner to my own thoughts fueled by fear.