3rd surfing lesson; fear and coming through it

I take back my statement about my second surfing lesson being tough going, today’s lesson was beyond tough going and I spent the first half of my lesson conjuring up the courage to stop shaking and catch some waves on my own again! My feet are bandaged up, I’m hobbling around like an old woman and feel like I’ve had my torso worked on by a top boxer but let me tell you how AWESOME today’s surfing was (eventually).

I wish I had my mum or Thom around to take shots of how mental the ocean was today, it really was all happening; seasoned surfers at the back, beginners at the front, 23mph winds, sporadic heavy showers and 6 – 8 feet waves according to the local forecast. When I found my groove again after a big confidence wobble, I really enjoyed my lesson, but I had to work through a lot, so apologies for the sentence of intense cursing. Click the ‘more’ link to find out how I went from petrified to ecstatic!

First of all, I have no idea what’s going on with the weird spacing. It was a cut and paste job and I’m far too tired tonight to fix it. The perfectionist in me will probably wake up with horror in the morning and will have to edit it. ;)

I’ve never been in the ocean when the waves had been that high, let alone while attempting to stand on an unstable foam board and stay up there. I managed really well with keeping my cool until I came out of the changing room in my wet suit and looked out down the beach to the ocean. Our instructors were cheering on their friends who were riding these colossal waves, showing us how it was done, and laughing at them when they wiped out and didn’t pop up again in sight for a good 4 or 5 seconds. Watching wide-eyed, I felt the colour drain from my face. I brushed my anxiety off and tried to tell myself that it was just a little pre-surf nerves and I’d be fine in the company of such competent people.

After the pre-ocean safety drill, we got out to the water and as well as being conscious of the strong waves knocking you off your feet, you also had to worry about the wind blowing your board right into your chest, forcing you on to your knees and gasping for air. When people referred to their knees as nearly knocking together due to nerves, I thought that was somewhat of an exaggeration until I saw these huge waves cresting into foam about 20 metres from where I was stood. Due to the wind, the swell went through phases of tall, powerful waves crashing one after the other with a seemingly tiny space until the next wave and then about 5 minutes later, you’d get a couple of minutes calm before the next set of towering waves came. My group eagerly raced out to waist height and in the interest of safety, my instructor was getting everyone to stay in a zone of being waist height or less and calling an individual name before taking out that person further out on their own so he only had to worry about one newbie drifting out into trouble.

I couldn’t even get my legs to take me past knee height, watching people wiping out again and again laughing. I’m a very introverted learner in the sense that when I’m only a little bit out of my comfort zone, but it’s still within reach, I’m laughing, confident and thrive. If I feel myself go even a step further out from my comfort zone before I’m ready, I absolutely freak out. It doesn’t happen often because I know my hobbies at home enough to push hard without breaking through my thresholds and damaging my confidence. Today I hadn’t even noticed these thresholds I was crashing through, I just thought I was being silly. I wasn’t angry, sad or embarrassed, I didn’t have room for those emotions, I was just absolutely petrified.

I heard my instructor yell my name and ask why I wasn’t going out further but my self-preservation had over-ridden my brain and I was slowly backing out, eyes glued to the crests of these waves. I was like a rabbit in headlights, but thankfully slowed down instead of bolting out of the water and up the beach, that would have been very embarrassing. My instructor watched the student he’d taken out deeper reach the safety area and swam over to me. He asked me what was up and I said I was having a big confidence wobble and felt completely out of my element. He held my shoulder and said he understood and wasn’t going to make me do anything he thought I couldn’t cope with and my logic believed him. Still trembling, he told me to get on my board and hold on in the proper position tightly. He took me out to where the other students were catching waves on their own, turned me around and held the board as he told me there was a wave coming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and let go. I didn’t have to worry about gauging where the wave was or paddling, and the standing up bit is a technique that has become easy for me so I got up and rode the wave to the beach.

I felt a bit better but knew my instructor hadn’t got all the time in the world to check I was OK, so the catching waves bit on my own was still too scary. I was so caught up on adrenaline, the thought of catching waves on my own and making sure I wasn’t in the way of the seasoned surfers without my glasses on was just too hard. So I stayed about waist heigh in the safety zone, but didn’t attempt to catch my own, while the others were excitedly catching waves and happily nose-diving, falling off their board and whatnot, waiting for their turn to get out deeper. I had the board rails in a death grip with my upper body leant over it, facing out to the sea, riding through these waves, pressing my head flat against the board with my eyes shut at the last possible moment before a wave washed over me, trying to stay as close to the same spot as the sea would let me.

My instructor came to see me again and asked, “How’re you feeling, Luce? You’re not looking like I just told you someone died so that’s good, right?” with a sympathetic but chirpy tone, to which I replied, “I’m okay”. He laughed and said “Uh oh, you shouldn’t have told me that, hop on the board properly, mate”. I didn’t argue, I just got aboard and gripped on.

As we were walking out, I thought we were heading towards a rock so I squinted and said, “What’s that, John?” to which he replied, “Oh, it’s just a seal”. Just a seal? JUST A SEAL?! That little insecure voice screamed at me inside my head and I was off on the full-blown wobble again. “But it’s 15 metres away from us, oh my fucking god, is it going the other way? Oh shit, don’t they have a dirty mouth that will give me gangrene if it bites my hand? Oh fuck, what’s it doing so close to the water’s edge on a busy day like this?” and I probably would have continued with my ‘brain-fart’ but John shut me up by saying, “Don’t you worry, I’m the one in the water, you’re up on that board! Worry about me, though I have heard they have a penchant for nibbling the fingers of short young women who talk a lot”. I instantly forgot what I was worried about and had to laugh at that. Once again he warned me about the wave coming and I stood up and rode it in okay.

He called after me that my technique was fine, I just needed to work on my confidence so to just stay at the level I feel most confident at and work my way up to getting out deeper.

My feet were shredded to hell by this point because I had been holding on so tightly to my board out of fear. They were bleeding and very sore so John sent me back to the shack to get some boots. They made a huge different because I wasn’t so tender about holding on when catching the waves and paddling for them on my own. I stayed in an area below the waist line and didn’t rush myself or put pressure on myself to catch every wave I could, I sat and watched the waves and surfers to gauge what kind of waves looked like ones to look out for. And for the last 40 minutes, I was waist-height, catching waves on my own and smiling like a goon.

I’m so glad I stuck at it throughout my panicking, knowing that it had to get worse before it got better, but that it would get better if I didn’t get angry. I recognised panicking was okay so long as I didn’t let it turn into blame because I was feeling insecure. You might as well get out the water for a bit and give yourself a time out like a kid if you lose your temper because otherwise you will be snapping at your instructor, your lesson-mates and anyone or anything in your vicinity as well as wiping out time and time again.

After we got back to the shop and changed out of the wetsuits, I went over to John and said, “Thank you so much for today’s lesson, I learned a lot and I’m really happy with how it turned out in the end” and shook his hand. He said it was more than alright and he was proud of me for sorting myself out and not relying on him to catch each wave.

I’m having the weekend off to rest up and will be back again on Monday or Tuesday. If you read this far, you deserve a cookie because this post is ludicrously long, but I just wanted to document all my details of these lessons so I can refer back to them if I can arrange to come back to Cornwall to surf again next year. :D


Fancy learning to surf and find yourself in Cornwall this summer? Be sure to check out St Ives Surf School, where you can learn to surf in Cornwall with fully qualified, funny and supportive instructors who’ll get you stood up on the board in no time.

11 thoughts on “3rd surfing lesson; fear and coming through it

    • If yesterday’s swell was my first ever lesson, I doubt I would be back for another, haha. But thankfully it wasn’t my first exposure to surfing so I’m slowly getting my head around the unpredictable swells. Imagine how tough it would have been once upon a time to book people in for lessons without the internet to check swell patterns!

  1. For your feet being shredded up, everything showing outside the bandages are completely manicured–you are a success at being a girly-girl AND an adventure-athlete!

  2. Well done from me too! Surfing is hard work and uses every muscle. As for the feet… LOL, but not LOL. I feel your pain but like Ooalang says… Adventure-athlete. They always write how Cameron Diaz is so fit from surfing (US celeb) and all I could think in my naive way is; seriously? She’s standing on a board.

    • Hahaha, totally get what you mean. I never saw the appeal of surfing until I was so bored down here on my own that I thought “fuck it, let’s give this a whirl!” and now I’ve found a great way of working out while having fun when I come to the coast on vacation.

      My feet are still looking bad but they don’t hurt to walk on any more. To replace that pain, I trapped my finger in a door and now my nail and nail bed are a tender, bruised mess. I’m not normally this clumsy, honest! ;)

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