Soul Surfing

“Did you get Anna’s wetsuit yet? Thursday looks good,” Kristi’s text read. “Oh boy, I guess this is really happening.” I say to myself. The anxiety hits me.

In the abstract, I’ve been interested all these years in surfing but I never thought I’d be physically or mentally strong enough to pursue it. My friend Kristi had been gently nudging me to get in the water. This was back in May. I’m a people pleaser and I didn’t want to disappoint her. I thought she felt it would be something like a fun hobby or good exercise for me. Later, I learned Kristi knew surfing was something I needed.

My alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m. I guzzled down coffee while awkwardly pulling up the borrowed wetsuit, inch by inch, in the middle of my kitchen, naked. I felt like I was suiting up to launch into outer space. I was nervous of the unfamiliar endless abyss and the multitude of forces out of my control. I grabbed my neighbors foamy, adjusting it every which way under my arm as I crossed Shore Front Parkway barefoot.

Kristi instructs me on “the pop up.” I’m on the sand practicing. I feel like a heavy-footed Gorilla wrapped in rubber, jumping up and down with no sense of rhythm. We paddle out. She’s ahead of me. I can’t get past the break. Finally, we’re side by side atop our boards. Kristi begins with the basics. I’m trying to absorb all the information she’s sharing but I’m looking at an oystercatcher plunging into the water. He caught something I think. The sun is rising through the clouds. The sky is pink and orange like Mars. The salty breeze is warm against my face. I’m looking out into the ocean and I see the container ships on the horizon. And I think, “There’s a whole world out there.”

I’m all in.


My coach, Kristi Dickerson (Left). Kristi is an excellent surfer. She catches the (invisible) waves

I’ve learned so much already about the tides, waves and wind. There are endless variables and as Kristi often reminds me, each session will be different. Surfing is unlike any other sport. Every time you “play,” the “court” will never be the same. What’s working for you one morning, may not work the next. You need to be present and be malleable. You need to surrender, leave your ego at home, be open minded and never give up.

Paddle strength, arch flexibility, turning on the board, timing the wave, looking back, looking up, popping up, feet positioning, getting low, wiping out, and watching out – it’s all so hard for me. But I’ve been told by Kristi and my new friends in the water, that they’ve noticed improvement. The surfing community has been so supportive!

Each time I surf, the ocean teaches me something new, mechanically but more importantly, emotionally. I started the first week of June. It took me about three weeks to catch my first wave. The adrenaline rush was extreme! But I know now catching waves isn’t even the point, it’s bigger than that. It’s spiritual.

One day Kristi and I are sitting on the sand observing the line up. She casually mentioned how surfing entered her life. And then she said, “When you’re in the water you’re faced with the waves. They will come whether you’re prepared or not. You have a few choices. You can go under it or over it, or you can ride the wave. But you have to face it and get through it. There’s no other way.”

This is when I realized why Kristi kept pushing me to surf.  She knew I needed the spiritual gift of surfing in my life. I was unaware until that moment on the sand, that she knew how much of a struggle this year has been for me. And teaching me to surf was and is her way of telling me that she cares. This is what friendship looks like. I’ll never be able to bake her enough banana bread to thank her for taking me under her fin, for becoming my surf coach, for her time and for her patience with me.

I’ve met a new community of surfer friends. I’ve asked some of them, “Why did you start surfing?” The stories are all different but each narrative ends with, “Surfing changed my life.”

tagged in surf