I’ve been trying to surf since I was in my late teens. I grew up getting dragged out of bed for dawn patrol by my brother and his friends to bring along my camera and shoot photos of their morning surf sessions. I didn’t mind because I loved shooting.
I often lied though about not wanting to be out there too. The truth is I was scared. Not scared of the ocean, or the waves so much, but of failure and the people. There is this overriding notion in my world that I live to please, and when I have not pleased, I have failed. I live to be invisible, but when visible I should be standing on a neutral ground that in no way, shape, or form should cast of light of failure on me. Failures should be managed in private, not in front of others.
The anxiety of failing in front of others, of not being pleasing in front of others, is crippling. And not growing up an athlete made it easy for me to crawl into my books and my music and my movies, and avoid the world. This would be fine if I didn’t long to see the world and experience all the things I was afraid of.
When boyfriend took me to Oahu to meet his mom for Christmas 2014, we came up with a hit list for my very first trip to Hawaii. On this list: surf. Billy was convinced that my lack of being able to surf had to do with the level at which I had attempted surfing at. Of course, my scoliosis didn’t help in any of my surfing attempts over the years, but I was told, with utmost confidence, that Waikiki was the place for me.
“If you can’t surf Waikiki, you can’t surf anywhere.”
After hearing that, I most certainly did not want to surf Waikiki. Talk about the ultimate set up for failure. As the trip approached I pretended like I was going to love Waikiki. I was going to surf it up and this was going to be my moment. Even other friends assured me, Waikiki was going to the place I would catch a wave.
Inside I was panicking. Every person who reaffirmed my future success was another nail in my coffin. When the day finally arrived, I felt like not only had I been nailed into that coffin, but buried alive.
It was the day after Christmas and there wasn’t any free real estate on the sandy beaches or in the water. It was a party to say the least: in other words, a total nightmare. I don’t even like dinner parties over 6 six people, much less hanging with hundreds of people at one of the most famous surf spots in the world during a holiday.
As we paddled out Billy gave me pointers. I suppose it is hard to image a girl who has been on a surf board as many times as I have, charging waves double over head, a complete ocean lover, not knowing how to stand up on a board, much less paddle into one, but I was treated as such. I tried to pay attention to his pointers, tidbits of information I had heard many times before, but all I was truly doing was trying to talk myself off an edge.
“You can do this Erica. You won’t hit anyone. They are watching out for you. Don’t worry if you paddle into the same wave as 15 other people, that is a party wave, right? And who cares if you don’t stand up? You have nothing to prove to anyone.”
Yeah anyone but myself. I would like to say I listened to positive voice inside my head, but eventually my anxiety took over. As the voice in my head continued to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, reminded me of how pathetic I was for failing at something most of the world could do, and how I was in everyones way, my heart rate sky rocketed and the tears began to well. I fought them off for as long as I could, let one or two slip out here and there, hiding the tears between ducking waves and quiet words.
I can’t recall if Billy ever noticed the tears themselves as I smiled for photos and pretended to be keeping my cool. But they were there. Eventually, the panic and stress became too much and we headed in. We bellied up to a hotel beach bar for some post-surf drinks and frankly some much-needed alcohol to calm my nerves and anxiety.
He didn’t understand. But he tried too. And as I tried to explain the crippling affects of anxiety the tears welled again and although I tried, a few still snuck out here and there without a vast ocean to conceal my shame in myself. A shame I still drag around with all my failures from anxiety. A shame that still causes tears to well in my eyes as I write this article.
I debating on writing this, and even after that, posting this. But my depression and anxiety are a crucial part of who I am and why each adventure I take is important to my life and well-being. And it is also a reminder to my that my adventures and challenges are not always defined by the obvious forces of nature, but rather the people around me and my own mental fortitude. It is sad for me to think back on that day and wish I had never gone out. I know we aren’t suppose to say such things.
But it breaks my heart to feel at one with the ocean and to feel so defeated not by nature, not by the waves, or fear of the unknown, but rather by fear of myself and the people around me. This is a trend that follows me from place to place and adventure to adventure, but has never been so pronounced in my journey to surf.
I haven’t tried surfing since, but I need to remind myself that I have, two times now, stood up on a surfboard, and neither of those times were in Waikiki. My failures may be more numerous than my successes, but I am here to remind myself that I have succeeded.
Side note: One moment didn’t define my entire trip, and I’m happy to say I had someone who was there for me in a time of need, however minute or ridiculous it may seem. To see more of the better parts of our trip check out Hawaii Bound n’ Down!