Life offers the chance to be a student every day. Yesterday the role as student was extremely evident for me as I pointed a stand up paddleboard toward the wavy waters of the Hawaiian Pacific Ocean.
In the follow (student) position, each paddle brings me closer to the rising walls of water. My teacher steadily heading out to waters I now encounter for the first time. Waves of any magnitude rolling toward me, only in imagination up till this very point in my life.
My breath a steady flow of calmness, as I steer my way along the same path as my instructor. The action of following had me consider how my role has predominately been in the reverse over the last couple years on the water. Thoughts wander to the vision of students, making their way onto the water for SUP yoga, their feelings of anticipation surfacing in me right now. My instructor gently guides me on to more turbulent waters with encouragement and confidence without coddling me despite my disclosure of never having been on waters this high (2-3 feet).
Within myself thoughts of a student, different this time for me as I confront something I am uncertain of. A curious confidence consumes me instead of a subtle terror that clouds the whole scene. The teacher’s obvious trust in me rolls across the waves as I work to keep up in the paddle toward the breaking waves. This pursuit of deepening my relationship with the water is a competition with my fears, which is gratefully lessening each time I encounter a new body of water.
We arrive on the backside of the breaking waves. I am sure there is an actual term for this… all the stuff yet to learn. * My teacher watches the waves as I talk to him to calm my slightly surfacing fear; I am about to ride a rolling wave of water. He assures me beginning on my knees is an acceptable way to start, that is good since there is no way I am standing on my first time out. I need to first feel the wave under the board and how my body must move with it all. I position myself, as he instructs, in the middle of the board and we wait and watch.
Then all I hear is, “Paddle, LauraLynn! 2 left 4 right.”
And with all my might I dig the paddle into the water along the board, two strokes on the left and four on the left. I feel the board lift and catch “lean back!” I shift my weight from forward to deep dig paddling position toward the back end of the board. I ride the wave with a howl of glee. “YOW!!!! HOLY CRAP! I am riding a …!!!” (The surfers to my left hear this each successive time I head out. The thrill is beyond measure. J) The sensation overtaking me on every level.
The ride calms, looking back I see the instructor waving to come back. Flashes of movies (Blue Crush in particular) catch my mind, remembering how the return to the backside of the waves can be just as tricky. Amazement presses a smile across my whole being as I maneuver my way back without much challenge and with so little fear I do not even know myself.
Once back with the instructor, who is actually a friend newly reunited with after 20 years. Don, a native Hawaiian, and I met during my “wild child” (his term) days in Southern California. The mid-1980’s was a time of bleach blonde hair worn at max volume along with fishnets, short mini-skirts and torn punker t-shirts. We had talked and texted over my first month on the island, each time including an offering of surf lessons any time I was ready. In reflection I guess building trust needing to come first.
Trust…in knowing a bit about these new waters
…this person, someone safe in my vulnerability on the water
…in myself to be buoyant in the moment as I step vastly into the waters
My second ride a firm opportunity to freak out. Riding a wave too far up on the board sent me tumbling into the salty waters. Everything moves fast so the set for a ride is a reflex communication between body, board and rolling water. Salty lips let me know where I am before anything else registers. A tug at my ankle indicates the connection with the board is gone. I bob up and see my bandana and glasses floating next to me on the water’s surface, great another big fear, falling off, now tackled. I tread water with my paddle still in hand as the board comes into view to the left. I pull my leg to jerk the leash and bring it back but it floats further away. The chances to face fear just keep rolling in. I don’t have my board to immediately pull myself back up out of the mysterious water so I work to stay afloat as I see another wave coming toward me. I brace to ride it with my body, another moment for poise.
Don grabs the escaped board as I swim toward it. Once on it again I am truly proud of myself. I am certain the energy of my being beaming like so many times I have seen others light up after finding their power in a yoga pose, especially after multiple attempts.
“I love that you get the importance of the fall!! It’s so hard to see falling off as a good thing, but it’s exactly the same in learning to rock climb. You have to fall a few times to know that the ropes will catch you before you can really progress with your climbing. Doesn’t make it any easier for the first few falls.” (a friend’s response on FaceBook to my “FAIL.”)
This fall and recovery is truly a success for me. My motivation to pursue soul sport ** beyond my comfort zone, break new life milestone ground and reach new heights (2-3 feet to name it literally) is a pure and personal endeavor. My hope is that I never lose memory of this desire to evolve. Almost thirty years ago I committed to myself this pursuit of life living when it was evident I was to become part of the 50% who survive the cancer I had.
One more ride to finish out my lesson for the day. I ride it all the way. A whole new world is now open to me.
* Anybody who knows of a great resource to learn of the water, surfing, etc. please feel free to share!