Overweight and out of shape, I told myself that surfing is the type of adventure that is simply not for me. I'm the leader of the pack in most other areas of my life, but when it comes to outdoor adventures I tend to sit on the sidelines, despite a deep yearning to join in.
I decided it's time to change all that. I was going to California and, dammit, I was going to learn how to surf.
I met my instructors, Jonny and Heidi, on a chilly Monday morning and wrestled into a wetsuit before hitting the water. By design, wetsuits are made small so they suction-cup to your body for warmth. Wriggling my way in, I felt as glamorous as a walrus slipping into a bikini.
It didn't matter. I was going surfing. With my surfboard balanced on my head, I walked toward the ocean. I felt empowered. Hell, I felt badass.
My badass-ness dissolved when Heidi suggested we run on the beach to warm up. Warm up? I was more likely to burn out before I even hit the water. Regardless, I huffed and puffed my way across the beach. This is what surfers do, I thought. And today I am a surfer.
I quickly learned that surfing is much, MUCH, harder than it looks. The waves that looked teeny-tiny from the shore knocked me around with ease. The whole experience was an exercise in letting go. You can't control the ocean. You have to give in to it, work with it. I was definitely out of my comfort zone and that is exactly where I needed to be.
A rookie, and with my back to the ocean, I relied on Heidi to tell me when to paddle out, which waves to catch, and when to stand up on my board. I asked her how you know which waves to catch when you can't see them coming. "You'll know", she said "because you'll feel it pull you backward before it picks you up and pushes you forward".
That stuck with me. What a perfect metaphor for life. If I look back to the most difficult times in my life, they have also been the things that have pushed me forward. Consider some of the difficulties you have experienced in your own life -- job loss, illness, major changes, broken relationships -- these are often the trials that pull you backward before lifting you and launching you forward.
It's a lesson I carry with me when times get tough. When you feel something start to pull you back, recognize it as the very thing that may pick you up and carry you forward. Let it happen. Let go, and ride the wave.