On Surfing and Life

I sat by a beach at sunset last night, in the heat and humidity with sticky eyelids and hair bundled on top of my head, watching black specks on the horizon surface and dive, and surface and dive, and surface and dive. The waiter who brought me a mango margarita said they were dolphins, but I suspect they were mermaids or mommies or both who were drowning and surfacing and sometimes barely catching their breath and sometimes exuberantly celebrating their wild, weird and wonderful lives.

I sat with my sister-in-law, Kim, who is my friend and my family and sometimes my confidant, and we talked about life and the ways we’ve loved each other well and the ways we’ve failed each other — through our ten years together and also in the last month alone — and also about our boobs and our butts and whether we should order guacamole. Yes to the last, by the way. We love each other and we fight sometimes, but, my hand to God, we’ve never NOT ordered guacamole, which means, no matter what, we have a solid foundation for trusting each other moving forward.

Waterlogue-2016-07-19-15-39-32We sat on a precarious wood balcony with a panoramic view of the water and the mermaids and the mommies while the tide rushed in underneath us with force and enthusiasm which made us giddy and also made us wonder whether the whole structure would collapse, but we decided there were worse ways to go, so we stayed.

And we watched the surfers surf.

They paddled out into the tumultuous water and waited for it to rise behind them, and then they’d paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle, and try to catch the wave juuuust right. Just before the impact zone. Just where’s there’s the right amount of force. Just where the wave could propel them forward, and, when it did, to stand for only seconds at a time before they could turn their boards seaward again and drift back out to the ocean to try it again.

But that’s only when it went according to plan. Only when the untamed ocean complied with their precision timing. Only when sea and body worked in concert to create split seconds to soar.

Most often, they crashed.

And fell below the surface.

And tumbled inside the wave.

The impact zone taking them down and down and down until their buoyant bodies and boards, which they trusted over and over, brought them to the surface to try again.

And try again.

And try again.

Knowing they’d fall more than fly, they kept trying again and again and again.

It made me wonder if I’m not drowning, exactly. It made me wonder if maybe I’m just tumbling and need to accept the fall as the price to fly.

I googled surfing today. Because I wondered and needed to know. How do surfers survive the big waves? And what can I learn about how to survive mine?

Here’s what I learned, friends, which I share because we need this.

How to Survive Big Water and Battering Waves
in the words of surfers who would know:

  1. You hold your breath and relax. You might be tumbled, but your body and board are naturally buoyant and will surface if you wait it out. Then you look out for the next wave breaking & get the f*ck out of the way.
  2. The sensation is rather intense. You have NO idea what direction is up, if you are going to get dragged along the ocean floor, when it will be over, if you are going to collide with another surfer. Every time you wipe out you are quickly reminded that you are a speck in the ocean and the waves can have their way with you if they want. Fun stuff! You relax, pretend you are a rag doll, and eventually swim your way to the top.
  3. One loses one’s sense of direction under water, but, if one can locate “down,” then “up is in the opposite direction.
  4. I body surfed a lot as a kid, and got washing-machined plenty. You just hold your breath, do your best to relax, and pull your limbs in so they don’t get yanked off.

With love in the waves (and wave-ing 😉 ),

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P.S. I keep forgetting to let you know I’ve updated retreat dates and descriptions for Fall 2016 and Winter/Spring 2017. For information on the spiritual formation retreat, go here. For information on the writing retreats, go here for the 101 version and here for the 202 version. I would LOVE to hang out with you at any/all of these!

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
9 comments
  1. It’s been a while since you posted, Beth. I’m saying prayers for you and sending warm, chocolate-covered thought-hugs your way.

  2. I am currently in my longest ever bad patch – two years now and still spending far too much time bumping along the bottom although still, vaguely, functioning. I didn’t even recognise it as my depression back again until I read one of your posts, something like “Depression in Disguise”. Thank you 🙂
    It has been helpful for me to realise that the depression/anxiety/despair are going to come and go throughout my life. I am working on developing methods to reduce the length and severity of the episodes when they come. I have to say that I am not feeling particularly optimistic but my history tells me that I will come out of this eventually.
    Anyway, I have to admit that I do, occasionally, read other people and the July 5th blog on Momastery was a good one for those of us with recurrent mental health problems. She is writing about suicidal thoughts but it works for other things too. “…let the despair monster come and go and come and go and [you] refuse to follow his insane directions…”
    I hope your holiday went well. My Granny was a great believer that sitting, watching the sea was a cure for everything (how we laughed that she thought PTSD and psychosis could be cured in this way!).
    I love your writing. You make me feel less alone. xo

  3. LOVED this! Also…will there be a magic in the mess 202 later on in 2017 or is the January one the only one?

  4. Mango margaritas!

  5. beautifully said…my heart reaches to yours. here’s to guacamole as a salve to what ails us!

  6. This made me cry today, which usually means I needed it. It also made me smile. And feel ok. Not drowning, but feeling like I’m swimming really hard to stay afloat these days. Thanks for the reminder to let go and wait it out.

    1. And also, Beth, sending you little bursts of light and hope in return. I’ll try to make the guacamole flavored.

    2. Love to you, Leanne.

  7. You’re learning to surf, Beth. It involves a lot of riding the waves and figuring out which way is “down” and aiming the opposite direction, but you also get to see the power of the ride and the sun on the water. Remember your safety cords on the board.

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