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5 Life Lessons I Learned From Surfing

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

5 Life Lessons I Learned From Surfing

Photo: Oriana Fowler/Surf Simply

A year ago, I was on a beach in Costa Rica doing something I never dreamed of doing - learning to surf. I'm not exaggerating when I say that surfing changed my life. I never would have thought that I would own two surfboards, surf in NYC, religiously check the surf forecast and obsess about anything and everything surf.

For me, surfing felt like I was coming home. Don't get me wrong. I was terrified and it was hard but there was something about being out on the water, the camaraderie, and yes, the hard work that just fit. When I read this post by MizFit, it all made sense to me.

"I am often surprised at how often the things we don't think we'd ever want to do ignite new passion in us when we simply try them with an open heart and open mind."

Photo: Oriana Fowler/Surf Simply

Though the process, I've learned some important lessons that go beyond the water.

1) Check Your Expectations
I am normally not a braggy braggy person. I believe in the idea of hard work and that if you work hard, you will make progress. At the same time, I do have high expectations for myself. I felt like I should "get" surfing and be good at it. I understood what I needed to do technically but I couldn't manage it. I was extremely frustrated. Only when I adjusted my expectations did I start having fun and, consequently, start surfing better. I learned how to be more forgiving of myself.

2) Slow Down
Learning to surf seemed so overwhelming at first. How was I supposed to paddle, catch a wave, stand up on the board and ride the wave at the same time? There were so many things to think about. My surf coach started from the basics and slowly added one new step at a time. He made learning to surf feel manageable and I learned to slow down. For me, this was such an important lesson. I have a tendency to rush through things in life or become overwhelmed when things start piling up (work, family, etc.). Now, instead of being overwhelmed by the big picture, I try to focus on one thing at a time and breathe.

3) Commitment
One of the most important lessons I learned was about commitment. When you paddle out in the ocean, you have to be committed to make it past the breaking waves. If you're not, you will be continually battered and pushed back to shore, exhausted. When you paddle for a wave, you have to be committed to catching the wave.  If you are wishy-washy, you can get into trouble and potentially hurt yourself or another surfer. Surfing taught me to trust my judgement and instincts and to stop second guessing myself.

Photo: Oriana Fowler/Surf Simply

4) Patience
There's a lot of waiting involved in surfing - waiting for the ocean to calm down so that you can paddle out, waiting for a set of waves to approach, waiting for the right wave. I learned to sit on my board and to appreciate the amazing gift it was to be in the ocean.

5) Learn something new
It was an incredible experience to learn something completely new in my mid-30s. How many opportunities do you have to do that? I was so far out of my comfort zone but I think that was why this experience was so rewarding. Yes, I pushed myself physically and mentally. Yes, I fell countless times, got water up my nose and earned new bruises. But, there's something about learning a new sport that made me feel incredibly alive. It made me happy. This experience has made me more open to try new things and to be uncomfortable because the reward is often so great.

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At April 11, 2012 at 10:17 AM , Blogger Gaspegirl said...

What a great post! I love the perspective...

Visiting from SITS, won't be the last time neither.

Make it a great day!
Momma Marge

At April 11, 2012 at 10:31 AM , Blogger The Preppy Girl in Pink said...

This may be one of my very favorite posts from you. It personifies you! I could hear and feel your passion in your word choice. You are not a bragger but you have every right to be proud of yourself for finding your passion and allowing yourself the time to enjoy it. The world would be a better place if we could all just cast aside our worries and fears and just live life to the fullest. So happy for you!!

At April 11, 2012 at 11:09 AM , Blogger christine said...

That is so amazing! And such great life lessons, for even the non-surfer.

At April 11, 2012 at 11:42 AM , Blogger Jolene said...

I LOVE this and your learnings from surfing. I think patience is a huge one, in any sport, but in life generally. I have patience sometimes, but it is a learned thing, isn't it? I may write something similar to've inspired some thoughts :)

At April 11, 2012 at 1:48 PM , Blogger Surfing Grandma of OC said...

I can RELATE to every single thing. Surfing does change your life..and It changed ME a lot. In a very very good way. Most of what I wrote in my WSSM article was exactly that! I just wish i did this a little earlier in life. I started at 42.. which I guess there is a reason I started at that age. I will only be surfing coming up on 3 years this July. I have been an inspiration to people. SO that makes me feel good! I have learned people who don't surf, don't get it! A lot of people think I am Crazy! I also don't understand why some people I take out surfing..don't have the same passion about it as I do? It makes no sense to me, I think everyone should love it like I do. FOR me the first time I was out there. I could not wait to get back out and every time I see a challenge for the next time I want to conquer!... YEP I get you Christine..We are definitely connected and belong to the tribe of surfers!

At April 11, 2012 at 5:02 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you and thank you for stopping by! So happy to have you here.

At April 11, 2012 at 5:06 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Aww, thank you Kristen! I really appreciate your comment. It's hard sometimes to feel like I can allow myself to enjoy it. Mama guilt...but I also know that it's important to cultivate that side of me too. It makes everyone happier!

At April 11, 2012 at 5:08 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Yes! I would love to hear what thoughts are percolating for you. Patience is definitely a hard one. Goes hand in hand with the need to slow down and not try to do a million things at once.

At April 11, 2012 at 5:09 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you! I've been thinking about this post for a long time, especially how the lessons weren't just specific to surfing but really apply to one's outlook on life. It's really helped me think differently about my perspective on a lot of things - works, family, friends, etc.

At April 11, 2012 at 5:14 PM , Blogger Christine said...

My friend, you have completely inspired me. I really didn't expect surfing to change me. After all, I learned on a whim and went into it with zero expectations that I would love it as much as I do and that I would learn so much in the process. I think that it's partly due to the fact that you are at the whim of the ocean and Mother Nature? But it is pure euphoria. People totally think that I'm crazy.

PS I really want to read the article you wrote for WSSM. Is it available online?

At April 12, 2012 at 5:24 AM , Anonymous 2dayswoman said...

What an amazing photo's, you go girl! Surfing is definitely something on my wish list. First time stopping by to say hi :-)

At April 12, 2012 at 6:02 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christine, what a lovely post! I am 45 and learned to surf 18 months ago. From that very first lesson i was hooked and since then, every weekend I have been in the surf. I am grateful that I live 5 minutes from the beach in a lovely part of Australia and can surf regularly - I need the fix! I wonder why I took so long to start surfing, what was I thinking! I surfed today and the water was warm and crystal clear - I caught a few nice waves, but generally marvelled and how lovely mother nature can be. Since I have started surfing I have learned to be patient, because learning to surf has been hard! But so rewarding. I have also connected with my husband in a whole nother way - now we talk surfing and can go surfing together! I have also learned how patient he can be, as I have dinged up his boards a number of times! (I now have both a short board and longboard to myself, because it was really starting to test the wedded bliss!). I have also learned that things don't always go your way - when you turn up to surf and mother nature does not oblige! But most of all I have enjoyed making new friends and learned how much fun it is now that I am part of the surfing faternity! Chrsitine I love your posts - keep them coming! Bron

At April 12, 2012 at 10:57 AM , Anonymous Jess said...

SUCH a great post!! I can totally relate to all of this -- especially when learning to teach barre n9ne vs. taking barre n9ne. It's an entirely new ballgame and can be so hard to wrap your head around. It takes a lot of patience and committment and all of the things you note above. But even more importantly, these lessons can totally apply to ALL areas of life...most of all, patience is a biggie. One I'm working on big time, I am SO not the patient type in life but I am finding that more often than not, it's worth the wait in the end. So patience pants -- I'm coming for you! :)

Great post!!

At April 12, 2012 at 11:44 AM , Anonymous Richard Livsey said...

After surfing for eight years in Rockaway Beach, I can honestly say that Christine is right on point with her latest blog post, '5 Lessons I Learned From Surfing.'

She's obviously a fast learner because it took me years to figure out everything that she has written here. How many times have I paddled out into pumping surf, not really committed and without focus, only to get caught inside and beaten back.

If there's one thing that I could add to her list, it would be: Once you begin to really advance with your surfing, and you start charging more challenging waves. You have to have faith in your abilities, and just go for it.

When you paddle into a fast breaking wave, and you're not sure if you're going to make it or wipe out, sometimes you just have to paddle hard and get to your feet. If you eat it, you eat it, but either way make sure you're having fun.

Most times you will wipe out, but sometimes instead of eating shit, you'll realize that you just caught one of the best waves of your life. That's what I love about surfing, those unpredictable moments where everything comes together and you score the perfect wave.

At April 12, 2012 at 2:23 PM , Blogger Surfing Grandma of OC said...

I think it is.. let me get you information..

At April 12, 2012 at 2:35 PM , Blogger Surfing Grandma of OC said... Here is the web address for WSSM. I am so bummed you cannot find a hard copy any where. It is the 2012 Winter/Spring issue pages 80 and 81! Let me know if you ever get to read it!

At April 12, 2012 at 4:40 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Raquel!! I hope that you do get a chance to give surfing a go. It truly is an amazing experience.

At April 12, 2012 at 4:41 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Awesome. Thanks so much. Slim pickings for surfing magazines over here. Can't wait to read it!

At April 12, 2012 at 4:45 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Right? I really wasn't expecting to learn "life lessons" from picking up a new sport but the things that I've learned over the past year through surfing has really changed my I think about and approach life from the patience (that's a BIGGIE for me too. Really really hard) to commitment to not rushing through things to just trying to have fun. I'm so glad that this made sense to you!

At April 12, 2012 at 4:47 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing this post with others. It means a lot to me to hear that it resonated with folks. Thank you for adding the point that you need to have faith in your abilities. That's such a big one - not only for surfing but for life in general. Plus, you're never going to improve unless you try, right? (of course understanding your own limitations too). And those unpredictable moments - amazing and makes it all worthwhile.

At April 12, 2012 at 4:51 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thanks Bron! Your comment means a lot and I'm so glad that you liked the post. I'm *so* jealous that you are so close to the water and can surf regularly. Surfing is hard. I think for folks who haven't tried it, it's so hard to explain the absolute reward and euphoria that you get from surfing. It's funny that you mentioned that surfing has also allowed you to connect with your husband in a new way. My husband and I learned to surf together last year and it definitely brought a different dimension to our relationship, another way to relate to each other. Funny though because when we surf together, we're nowhere near each other! I hope that one day I get to make it back to Australia and we can have a surf together!

At April 12, 2012 at 4:57 PM , Blogger Jessica {Team Rasler} said...

This is great. I really need to internalize your first four lessons. I always have high expectations of myself and then get really upset if I'm not good right away. I'm trying to forgive myself, move more slowly, count smaller steps as success, etc. Thanks for the inspiration!

At April 12, 2012 at 6:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you ever make it to Oz we are definitely hooking up! How awesome would it be to surf together! I love Richard's post as well. I have started taking on bigger waves and sometimes I definitely "eat it"! But sometimes I amaze myself and catch a big wave. I always tell my husband I do my best surfing when I am with him - but like you and your husband, we don't actually hang together, so I am not sure how taht works. But it is great paddling out together and he cheers me on when he sees me get a good one! When I catch a great wave I re-live it over and over for a while & just enjoy it B :)

At April 12, 2012 at 7:27 PM , Anonymous New York Surf School said...

Hi Christine, thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, which, in my opinion, are all Spiritual truths. I started surfing At the age of 22 when my College basketball days were over. Like yourself, I was amazed at how hard this was going to be! Just laying flat on the board and paddling was extremely difficult and quite humbling to this "Star Athlete"!! I stuck with it, and this was at a time when new surfers stuck out like a sore thumb. Well, just like the 100 times before, I paddled for a wave, but this time I stood up!! I cannot explain the level of achievement I felt, and it still stands as one of my life's highlights., Life lesson learned was, as Winston Churchill said, NEVER, EVER EVER, EVER GIVE UP. From that point forward, I acquired the trait of "sticktoitiveness" I'm blessed to be part of the New York Surf School in Rockaway Beach in NYC and get to re-live that phenomenal, life changing experience of riding a wave for the first time, every day through our students. Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us

At April 12, 2012 at 11:33 PM , Blogger Christine said...

I'm glad that the post sparked some inspiration. Checking my expectations - that was a hard one for me to internalize. I realized that I expected to do everything right all the time, both when surfing and in every day life, and that really wasn't being fair or nice to myself or making me happy. But you are absolutely right - count smaller steps, forgive yourself, etc.

At April 12, 2012 at 11:37 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Hi Frank! Thanks so much for your comment. You are so right - the level of achievement you feel when you actually stand up and ride a wave is incomparable. "Sticktoitiveness" and "Never Give Up" are also huge lessons, both for surfing and for life. Thank you for adding them to the list!

After my husband and I returned from Costa Rica, our first surf at Rockaway was with your surf school! Hope to see you guys out there sometime soon!

At April 13, 2012 at 1:53 AM , Blogger Kimberly said...

Those are all such great lessons! Love the perspective.

At April 14, 2012 at 3:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful post Christine! Makes me think back to my mom's surfing stories. She surfed on the shores of NY growing up. The quote you picked summed everything up so nicely too. Cool blog! (visiting from the SITS link-up)

Happy weekend!

At April 15, 2012 at 10:29 PM , Blogger girlmeetspaper said...

Christine, This was a phenomenal post1 I especially appreciated your thoughts on "Commitment" and think it's can be applicable to many things in life! If we aren't committed to our marriages or careers or parenting (fill in the blank!), we would constantly feel tossed by the "waves" and exhausted. But setting our eyes on the swells beyond the breaking waves---or beyond the broken---helps us move on to something better.

Great post!


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