Conquering Fears One Wave at a Time

“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear” – Buzzy Trent

“Ready, Ma’am,” his words reverberated in every cell of my body, which was lying on the water.  My stillness belied my pounding heart.  My body stiffened despite his earlier advice to relax.  I held the only thing that separated me from the air and salt water – a surfboard.

Then a push.

I suddenly found myself moving, white foam forming around me.  A voice was shot in the distance.  “Ma’am, tayô!” (Ma’am, stand up!)  Everything seemed to be happening so fast and the heavy beating of my heart began to crack my chest.  I followed his command and got myself up – too quickly and too nervously, unfortunately – and then fixed my eyes on the board and then to the white bubbles.  I felt my body tilting to the left.  The next thing I knew was that I was entering the water, and the water entering my nose and ears.  As I clung to the board and flailed an arm, I struggled to breathe and all I could think of was Oh, my God!  Oh, my God! 

nope, that’s not me in the photo!

“I won’t surf,” I told my sister and friends when we headed to our summer getaway and well-known surfing spot, Baler, Aurora almost three weeks ago.  That position of mine did not change despite their persuasion.  “Why go to Baler when you’re not even going to surf?” my sister’s friend even asked rhetorically.  Just to swim! I replied in my head, a bit annoyed.  Technically, I would not swim because I couldn’t, which was the main reason why I didn’t want to try surfing in the first place.

You see, I have a love-hate relationship with water.  I love and enjoy going to the beach and other water resorts but I also don’t like a lot of things about it.  I don’t like the sound of bubbles underwater, and even when I hear sonar, it makes me uncomfortable.  The sound of creaking boats floating on the water disturbs me.  In some rare and extreme cases, I feel like there’s this sinister force tempting me to jump into the water, wanting me to commit suicide.  I don’t dive, snorkel or go down water slides, or float face up.  And oh, the sight of corals, beautiful as they are, scare me especially when they’re dead.  Water is my friend, yet it is not.  I have a deep respect for it and fear of it at the same time.


It was the second day of our stay in peaceful Baler that the four of us dropped by Mahdox, the first surf school and shop in the area.

“Ilang estudyante?” (How many students?)

“Tatlo,” (Three) my companions said and then looked at me.

I felt some pressure, but slightly only from them and more from myself, for although I may not be as ready and excited as my companions were, there was also a part of me, albeit scared as hell, that was willing to try it out.  Bahala na, I thought to myself.  And as if I didn’t have the power to control my lips, I corrected my companions and said, “Apat na.” (Make it four.)

We didn’t have to wait long until our surfing coaches arrived.  They asked us to choose a surfboard lying prettily on the ash colored sand.  I didn’t know what to pick.  My initial choice was grabbed by another person.  And then I noticed this smiling man who had sun-burnt skin standing beside another surfboard.  I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to another person behind me so I ignored him.  Moments later, I realized it was me whom he was calling.

After an exchange of smiles, handshakes, and names, the basic lessons were shown – the parts of the surfboard, the stance, and the techniques on how to stand and balance.  Everything seemed simple, of course, because we weren’t standing on moving water, and all the while my coach was teaching me, my head was wrapped around one question: Why the hell did I say ‘yes’ to this?! I can’t swim.  I don’t do prop-ups (heck, I don’t even do push-ups!).  Moreover, my legs and arms are still weak and wobbly from yesterday’s unbelievable physical activities!  I looked at the surfboard.  The end seemed a bit truncated; I could see its white foamy insides.  I couldn’t even find a leash attached to it.  Great, I got the lamest board!  The board, however, was blue.  At least, there was something correct in the situation.

the board that i used was similar to this… without the leash.

Before long, we were in the water.  Each wave that hit me seemed to erase the bits of information I “learned” from my coach, Xander.  My companions and I were brought far from the shore, lined up alongside each other, and waited for the right waves.  He must have seen and felt that I was afraid so he asked me to calm my mind down and relax.  He was nice and to make me feel at ease, he talked to me to get my mind off my fear.  It helped… a bit.  I was still nervous and my head was making all sorts of scenarios: What if I can’t come up immediately after I fall?  What if I get hit by the board on the head?  What if I drown?  What if I die?  He assured me I wouldn’t drown because the water was not really that deep.  Easy for him to say, he was a child of the sea!

And then, the moment I was dreading for: the arrival of my first wave.  I felt Xander launch my board.  The surfboard was suddenly traveling and I, ready or not (more on the “not” part) had to prop myself up and balance.  As expected, I was unsuccessful.

“Bakit ka tumalon?” (Why did you jump off the board?)  Xander asked.

“Hindi ako tumalon.  Nahulog ako,” (I didn’t jump.  I fell.) I replied.

“Tumalon ka.  Ok ka naman eh.” (You jumped.  You were doing fine.)

I realized then that he was right.  My fear controlled me.  Fear – that was the reason I fell.  That was the reason I decided to fall.  Immediately, I resolved to be confident.  To trust myself even a bit, despite my fears.  I asked him to tell me the mistakes I had committed: I didn’t squat low enough.  I jumped off the board right away.  I didn’t try to balance.  I continued to cling to the board even when I was already off it.

I took note of what he said.  When we got back to the “starting line,” I conditioned myself.   I tried to calm both my mind and body down.  I breathed in deeply and simply focused and told myself that I could do it.  When the waves arrived, I failed again.  And again.  And again.  But after each time, I was able to do better than before.  In a way, there was incremental progress.

I also learned some techniques on my own when Xander took me farther out into the ocean.  At first, I got worried because I thought we were already too far away from the original starting point, but he said that it was OK. While waiting for a wave to ride, I once again readied myself mentally.  I breathed in and out deeply.  I focused and reminded myself to do something I was good at – taking things slowly.

Then a wave came, and I was again launched.  Actually, I was not completely prepared for it, but I didn’t have much of a choice.  I had to stand up.  And stand up I did, but more slowly this time around.  I recognized then that being farther out had an advantage.  It gave me more time to gain my footing, to adjust, to balance, and to enjoy the ride itself before I reached the shore.  Then surprise, surprise!  I was finally able to stand all the way to the shore.  In short, I was able to surf! I felt so happy.  I didn’t think I could do it, but I did!

The lesson was for one full hour but time seemed to pass more slowly than usual.  I was already tired and exhausted and I thought of cutting the lesson short.  I was able to stand and reach the shore, anyway.  That’s enough, I thought, but I also wanted to get all my money’s worth, so in the end, I decided to continue.  To finish things properly is also a value I consider important so I carried on with the lesson.

To finish the lesson proved to be a good decision after all because my final wave was the best one that I made.  All the little improvements I did seemed to have added all up in that final ride.  It was perfect!  As soon as I got off the board, I looked at Xander, who was approaching the shore.  He was giving me a thumbs up.  I felt really good.  I did something I thought was not possible.  I did something I once feared to do.  Later on, I learned that I was the first among the four of us to stand up and the only one to have reached the shore “perfectly.”

Saying yes to that surfing lesson may be one of the best things I’ve done this year so far.  It has taught me how to ride a wave and more importantly, these:

1  It’s all right to be afraid, but don’t let fear control you.

2  Learn to let go.

3  Have faith in yourself even when the situation seems frightful.

4  Sometimes, even when not prepared, you just have to go and do what’s necessary.

5  Breathe.

a calm Pacific Ocean

a calm Pacific Ocean

Almost a month after my surfing experience, I can still see the details of the event in my head, and every time I remember it, I can’t help smiling and feeling proud of myself.  It may be just an hour of surfing lesson but I consider it as an achievement.  I’m actually thinking of having swimming lessons in the future, too.

How about you?  What fears of yours have you conquered recently?

For more information on Mahdox Surf School and Shop, visit their Facebook page or their official website.

Visit this Philippine website to know more about Baler, Aurora.

One thought on “Conquering Fears One Wave at a Time

  1. Pingback: Under Southern Skies | anglesinasphere

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