By Lauren Ferree
When I first started surfing, I was scared as sh*t.
I grew up in a beach town, where several of my friends were on the surf team, or their parents taught them how to surf when they were young. I always felt kind of left out when they went out in the water together. I would look at “surfer girls” and think they were so cool and talented—they had something I always wanted, but didn’t have.
So during the pandemic, when all of our gyms and fitness studios were closed, I returned to that teenage desire to get back into the water, and made it a goal to learn how to surf in 2020. And let me tell you, it was HUMILIATING at first. Well, the perfect balance of embarrassing and exhilarating.
I got a used foam board from a friend, and found a wetsuit on Craigslist that was two sizes too big, but my optimism to get out surpassed the discomfort of practically drowning in it. I remember pulling into the beach parking lots with my friends and being terrified. I looked at the waves, and my friends, who are advanced surfers, oohed and ahhed and talked about how great the conditions were. Meanwhile, I was in my head hoping I wouldn’t make a fool of myself—or worse—get hurt.
As with many sports, surfing has a relatively steep learning curve. There is so much technique required for even the basics, like how to balance on the board when you’re sitting, how to paddle out over a wave, and how to turn around. My early days of surfing, really weren’t much “surfing” at all, but rather paddling, wiping out, and a lot of laughing.
I remember the first time I saw a wave barrel from the side. It was so amazing to see something that I’ve loved my whole life in a whole new way. I had seen a million photos of a barrel, but you can’t see it when you’re on the shore. The same goes for witnessing all the marine wildlife from a few feet away. We would be greeted by dolphins, seals, and even a couple sea turtles! We watched pelicans dive in front of us, and sea ducks swim beneath us. From that moment on, I was hooked and wanted to get in the water as much as possible.
As with most things, repetition is key, and due to being home during the pandemic, I was blessed to have so much time in the water. We were going out almost every day, which helped me conquer those fundamentals pretty quickly. Soon I was ready to head deeper out into the lineup.
Surfing is so unique, because it’s so unlike any other sport. Take gymnastics, for instance (which I grew up doing): The mat, beam, or bars are always the same. It’s the gymnast who brings the skills to make the spectacle what it is. In surfing, the ocean is never the same. Every wave brings something different.
Some compare surfing to snowboarding, but where they differ is that the mountain is stationary, whereas the ocean is always moving. On the mountain, the rider gets to choose their difficulty level (green, blue, black diamond, double black), but in the water, it’s not as simple. One big set wave could wipe everybody in the water out. And while a mountain can be crowded, it’s essentially the same path for everyone, whereas in the water, you have several surfers going for the same wave. That makes it all the more intimidating! That’s why there’s a required experience level to go further out in the lineup to keep everyone safe.
While I would like to think it’s only about safety in the lineup, unfortunately, there are some more experienced surfers in the water who can get aggressive and territorial over waves. In my experience, this was the hardest fear to confront as I practiced surfing. I’m not an aggressive person, and really dislike confrontation, so to feel like I’m in someone’s way (even if I’m not) and then be barked at in the water, kept me from experiencing the best that the ocean had to offer.
To get better at surfing, I knew I had to tap into my deep self-confidence to know that I had the same right to be out there as the more experienced folks, and that with my intention to keep everyone safe, we could all have a wonderful experience. That self-confidence transcends surfing. I can now tap into it in work or social settings, and enter new situations with the same assurance—that I belong there, too.
Now when I get out there, I’m quick to say “hello” to everyone in the water, and break the ice. Surfing is way more pleasant when everyone in the water is pleasant with each other. I quickly find the folks who are in my skill level, and like to stay near them, because we’re more likely to go for the same size waves and can rotate with each other. I love making friends in the water, and taking advantage of the lulls by having “social hour” in the lineup.
At the end of the day, surfing can be for everyone, the ocean belongs to all of us, like we belong to the ocean. I realized that the only thing that was stopping me from doing something I had always admired was myself. When I broke that internalized limitation and courageously stepped into learning something new, my whole world changed! I now can’t imagine life without surfing. It’s made me a better environmentalist, strengthened my mental health, and blessed me with unforgettable memories. I hope this helps anyone looking to try something new, and might be in their own way. If you’re waiting for a sign to go for it, this is it.
Lauren Ferree is a Cotopaxi Do Good ambassador and plant-based environmentalist from Los Angeles. Follow along @ReLauren