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Learning to surf with a fear of the sea

After living in Cornwall for 8 years, I’ve started to learn to surf. Last Sunday, I went in the water on my own for the first time ever. These are some pictures I took of my little escapade, and some of my thoughts on the drive home...

I’d dabbled in the past, floating around on a swell board, wobbling on borrowed boards too small for me, and floundering in the white water. What’s stopped me from learning more seriously basically comes down to fear. A fear of deep water, pissing off real surfers and looking ridiculous.

At 26, I’ve only just realized that it’s not about being the best or looking cool. Surfing is different for everyone, and when you can let your fears and self-consciousness go, it can be such a fun and freeing way of getting a skin-tingling dose of the great outdoors!

Fear

I’ve always been a strong swimmer, training competitively as a kid, but even though I’m confident in a pool, the sea has always freaked me out. I think it’s having such a huge space beneath you that you can’t see.

Strangely, I’ve discovered that this only applies when I’m swimming. On a good sturdy board, floating above the water, I can more easily ignore those unreasonable, shark-haunted thoughts.

Waves can be fun, but also terrifying! In the wrong place, at the wrong time, one can crash down on you before you can take a breath, swirling you around in an exhausting, salty washing machine. I really have to fight the suspense ad dread of this possibly happening when I’m paddling out back or going for a wave.

After a few tumbles and lung-bursting hold-downs, I’ve learned how to relax and go with it. More importantly, I’ve got better at avoiding it! If I get really beaten up, I just go back to shore, there’s no shame in knowing your limits.

Confidence

For me, surfers are intimidating. They can’t control nature, it’s all about watching the conditions and rushing to a good spot when they’re finally right. The last thing they want is their moment ruined by a newbie getting in their way.

One of the first times I went in the sea with a board, a guy got really agro at me for this, shouting at me to get out the water, and it really put me off.

Now I know that he was the idiot. Everyone is a learner at some point, and it’s unfair to blame them for not yet knowing these things. It’s only fair to get annoyed at an experienced surfer for dropping in, or hassling you on a wave, because they should know better.

It’s so easy to get caught up in how you look, paranoid that others in the water are watching you and laughing when you get nailed. But you can’t let that stop you! It’s not about being perfect straight away, surfing is a notoriously slow progression, all you can do is keep trying and learn from your mistakes. If anything, I’m way more impressed to see someone fall off, flounder around, but get straight back on the board to try again.

Freedom 

I am now in no way a good surfer. More often than not, I don’t manage to get up at all. In fact, my goal for each time I go is just to go for as many waves as possible, and it’s a bonus if I actually catch one.

Now, surfing is my perfect escape. I’m so happy floating out back, with my legs in the water, taking in the rugged Cornish landscape from a perspective I wouldn’t get from land. The biggest reward is the feeling driving home with tingling skin and a warm, fuzzy head.

Whatever age or physical capability, surfing is for everyone. My advice to anyone who wants to learn is to do it for you. Take it slow, ignore the inevitable idiots and just enjoy being in the sea!