“What’s it gonna take for you to actually go surfing?”
My friend Bri is soft-spoken and kind, a constant encouragement. She is a counselor by profession and it’s easy to imagine she’s a good one. So when—during our Sunday group a few weeks back—Bri asked the question above, we all just about fell over laughing.
Bri apologized instantly but I told her there was no need. I had been talking about wanting to surf again for months, crying wolf about a comeback.
“I’ll go tomorrow.”
“I’ll go this week.”
“The weather has been terrible.”
“The waves have been super small.”
One person in the group had talked about having a hard time with self-care. Specifically, they were struggling to take showers. They wanted to and they knew they should, but days kept going by. I suggested a deal: For every day they took a shower, I would promise to go surfing.
Sidenote: I did a similar thing with Renee Yohe in the five days after meeting her, smoking one cigarette at the end of every day she stayed sober. Not a good strategy long-term but for those initial days, it still makes me smile. This was 17 years ago and I can still remember the two of us laughing on David McKenna’s back porch, because I was so bad at smoking. (Okay, she was laughing. I was mostly coughing.)
More than a month had passed since Bri’s blunt question. The shower deal had been in effect for two weeks. I still had not gone surfing.
I almost went last weekend. I wanted to. But when it came down to it, there was no energy, no motivation. Which doesn’t make sense because for weeks I had been talking about wanting to go surfing. It kept coming up in my answers, whether the questions were about physical health, mental health, self-care, connecting with people, or simply having fun. I knew that surfing was good for me and yet I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even with a deal in place, a trade to encourage someone else to be healthy, and the accountability of eight other people—nothing.
My tone changed last Sunday when our group gathered again. I didn’t make excuses or offer any promises. I simply shared the embarrassment and confusion I felt for not doing the thing I claimed to want to do.
When the person in the group initially talked about going days without showering, I remember thinking, How is that possible? Showers feel amazing. Showers help so much.
This time I said I could relate. They wanted to do something. They knew it would be good for them. And yet they kept not doing it.
Now there was no distance. We were in the same boat.
It’s possible that someone said something and it’s possible I don’t remember because I ended up talking about a lot more than surfing. I talked about the disappointment and loneliness I feel—in my career, in my romantic life, in my friendships. My eyes filled up with tears.
No one made a speech. No one told me what to do or how to do it. We meet through Zoom and suddenly the virtual rectangles lit up with red hearts, quiet signs of caring. We see you. We hear you.
The chat filled up with kindness: I hope you know you’re wanted here. We believe in you.
The next day I went surfing.
I don’t know how or why exactly. I just wanted to and suddenly it wasn't hard. I grabbed my boardshorts and a towel, put my surfboard in the car and drove south, headed for Sebastian Inlet.
The waves were terrible but it felt great to be back in the ocean. When I paddled out, there were a couple other people surfing down the beach. By the end I was alone. (Okay, not a great idea to surf alone. If it makes you feel better, a few people were fishing on the jetty.)
I only rode a few waves before an evening storm arrived. (I draw the line at surfing alone in lightning.) It felt so good to stand up on my board again. It felt good to get some exercise. I was reminded that the entire process of going surfing feels like home—the drive south with music or a podcast, showing my annual pass to the ranger at the gate, parking under the bridge and changing in the parking lot, jogging hopeful to the water, that first glimpse of the waves. And then the same thing in reverse—curiosity and anticipation replaced by a pocket of peace, smiling tired after moving my body, reconnecting with an activity I’ve loved since I was little.
I don’t have an epic ending. No three secrets to life. Just a reminder that momentum works in either direction. An object in motion will want to stay in motion. A person on the couch will want to stay on the couch. Now don’t get me wrong—I’m a huge fan of sitting down to watch television. Being cozy on the couch with Gracie is among my favorite things. But if I’m spending too much time there, it means instead of living my own story, I’m distracting myself with made-up stories that are easier to believe in. I’m away from love but I can watch a love story. I can’t be a hero so I’ll find one on a show.
I love my dog. I like my couch. I’m thankful for an endless supply of wonderful television. But I gotta get moving too. For so many different reasons. For my body and my mind and to remember who I am. To do something that does not involve a telephone or this computer. To instead actually be present, a person alive standing on an ocean on this planet. To be every age I’ve been since five, existing in the same place where my parents used to live, where my dad worked as a park ranger before I was born.
Is there something you’ve been missing? Is there a comeback you’ve been talking about for a while now? Maybe you can relate to crying wolf and saying that tomorrow is the day. I don’t have the formula but I hope you try again. Even if the step feels small. Even if you do it for ten minutes. My guess is you’ll be glad you did.
You gotta start somewhere.
Actually, if it’s okay, can I be in the boat with you?
We gotta start somewhere.
We see you. We hear you. We believe in you.
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I’m glad you were able to get out there. I needed to read this today. Struggling to do even basic stuff this week. This reminded me that I’m not alone at least.
So proud of you for showing up for yourself. You deserve all of the pockets of peace and joy. I admire how steady you’ve been. It’s an honor to see and know you. We are here cheering you on both when you surf and when you don’t.
We gotta start somewhere.