Surf (and life) Lessons

by Christina on May 5, 2011

I feel so lucky to have been able to spend some of my precious days before the start of residency with my amazing friend Emily in Costa Rica: traveling, camping, adventuring, reflecting, and learning to surf at surf camp.

As novice surfers, we’ve been trying to soak everything up from our teachers here. Emily has wonderfully summarized some of what we’ve learned and applied them to much more than surfing… enjoy!

Surf (and life) Lessons

By Emily Wallace Douglas

1. Be flexible: stop being tense and rigid.

We hadn’t even left the shore yet. Our instructor, Rigo, was only showing us how to jump up onto our board on the sandy beach, but apparently I already needed some remedial help.

“Relax!” Rigo said, on the verge of laughing at how tense I was. I suddenly realized that I needed to stop taking myself so seriously; I need to stop trying to control everything.

On this trip to Costa Rica, I have learned not only the importance of being adaptable and accommodating, but I have also begun to see the gifts that come with being flexible when there is an unexpected change in plans – whether the gift is riding a wave as you relax into your board or making new (and wonderful) friends when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere.

Car break-down and new friends

2. When a wave comes, only move forward: don’t look back.

As we gingerly entered the ocean, Rigo showed us how to keep moving forward while holding our board – either by diving under or over an incoming (crashing) wave.

“You just keep going forward!Rigo yelled over the pounding waves. If you hesitate or move backwards when you are heading out in the water, a wave will crash over you and you will get raked across the sand while tumbling underwater.

My experience of being scared heading out to the waves was, in a small way, emblematic of a problems common to all of us: we all get scared.

When the ocean – or one’s life – reveals itself to be full of unexpected dangers and fears, heading backwards might seem like the safer option. But it was refreshing to remember that as long as we keep going forward, we’re going to be OK.

3. Stop thinking so much: just go for it.

Rigo pushed me into a wave, and I began to tell myself, as I raised myself up on my board “Remember the sequence. Do a push up. Then lift yourself up so your left foot is forward…or should it be my right foot? Are my knees bent enough? Am I in the middle of my board? Did I remember to put sunscreen on?”

Of course, I barely had time to think all of these thoughts before I fell off of my board.

“Stop thinking so much!” Rigo yelled as I surfaced. “Just go for it!”

I tend to over-think every decision – whether on the surfboard, with my work, or in relationships. It was energizing to realize that sometimes the outcome is better if you just STOP thinking, and start doing.

Our teacher, Rigo

4. Your thoughts become your actions: if you think you are going to fall, you will.

“Paddle! PADDLE! Stand up!” Rigo yelled. I started to stand up, but on a rising tide of panic, I began to fear that the wrong foot was forward; that I was going to be sucked under a wave; that I was about to be slammed in the head with a fellow surfer’s board; that I was NOT (nor would I ever be) a surfer. Then I belly-flopped into the ocean.

We can obviously translate this lesson into everyday life. If we convince ourselves that we are not (fill in the blank) enough, or if we are tell ourselves that we could not possibly succeed at something, then of course we will fail. As trite as this sounds, it was important for me to remember that if we have confidence in ourselves and think positively, we might surprise ourselves – either by riding a wave or excelling at another new (and initially scary) skill.

[Note to reader: While I continued to inhale half of the ocean, Christina rode a wave (unaided by our instructor!) all the way to the shore during her second hour of surfing! :)]

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris palmer May 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm

What wonderful insights and observations about life and living! Loved this post! Thank you!


Santosh May 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Wonderful post. Specially liked the way you described it from different perspective.


Annie May 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Such great reflections Em! I cannot wait to see you both and hear all of the details. Love Love.


Mariana May 12, 2011 at 8:35 pm

I love this post Em …and I love reading it again and again. Such great lessons!!


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