The alarm’s brash sound cut through the peaceful morning, setting my heart racing. I’d been restless all night, never fully falling into deep sleep, yet still it managed to startle me.
I stumbled to the bathroom, turned on the shower to warm the water, and glanced in the mirror.
“You excited about today?” my husband Kris yelled from the other room. I could hear him rummaging through his suitcase, opening the curtains to let in the morning sun, and turning on the portable speaker.
“Mmmhmmm…” I mumbled non-committedly.
Soon Michael Franti’s reggae happiness filled the air as I stepped into the spray and let the water cascade over me.
“I say hey, I’ll be gone today, but I’ll be back all around the way….” the song reverberated off the tile and I tapped a toe to the rhythm. I was anxious about the day. We were heading to the beach to learn to surf.
In the past when the opportunity had presented itself, I’d sat happily on the sidelines watching. Neither a fan of the water nor of new activities for which I had no skill, I’d been content to let others go, cheering them safely from the shore.
“It seems like everywhere I go, the more I see, the less I know…”
But this was a honeymoon, so I was the only other person available to go. While Kris would have gone alone and enjoyed his time, I knew he would love it more if I tagged along. So gamely I’d agreed the night before.
“But I know one thing, that I love you…” his head poked around the door as he sang along, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
I smiled. His excitement was contagious.
An hour later, standing on the shore next to surf boards that towered over me, I was less certain.
“I didn’t realize they were so big,” I said to our instructor, Alejandro.
“You’ll do great,” he smiled back. “Pura vida. All is well, I will help you.”
We spent what felt like a frighteningly inadequate amount of time practicing on the shore and soon after I found the board strapped to my ankle and shoved under my arm as he turned and pointed me to the sea.
“We’ll be right behind you. Just don’t let the board get in front of you once you reach the water or it could crash into your face with a wave. Very bad.”
“I can do this,” I muttered to myself. “These waves are tiny, how bad can it be? And if I fall, the water is shallow and I can at least say I tried it.”
I made my way into deeper water, trying to pass through the water break into the calmer sea beyond.
“Be brave, not perfect. You only need to try it. No one cares if you fall. It’s your first time. If nothing else, you’ll have something to write about.”
Finally in calmer water, I turned to wait for the other two students and our instructor who were making their way towards me. In the distance, the group photographer waited on shore, camera poised waiting to catch every moment so he could sell them to us later.
“These photos will be priceless,” I thought to myself as I waited for the others to close the gap between us.
“Ok Sara,” said Alejandro, “hop on like we practiced. You’re up first!”
“Me?” I asked. “Surely one of the others should go first, I’ve never done this before.”
“I’ll be right here,” came his answer. “I’ve never had a student not get up. A few tries and you’ll have it. Up you go.”
I grabbed the edges of the board, not sharing his enthusiasm or his certainty, and half jumped half flopped my body onto the end of it. I pulled myself forward, stretching the length of my body in the center of the board, settling my toes towards the edge, and prepared to wait for a wave, taking a few deep breaths to steady my rapid heartbeat.
“Here it comes, ready?” he called.
“Wait…already? What do I…”
“Now!!!” he yelled. “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!”
My arms flailed at my sides, trying to catch traction in the water around me as I scrambled to follow his directions.
“Up! Jump up!” he called.
I could feel the momentum of the wave but couldn’t process fast enough. The routine we had practiced on the sand slipped immediately out of mind. Frantic, I pulled myself onto my knees, wobbly and unsteady. I could hear voices cheering me in the distance. I planted one foot in front of me, looked to the shore, and steadily tried to get the second one balanced beneath me on the board, distributing my weight evenly.
“Wait. I’m standing.” I thought. “And I’m moving still. Am I surfing? Why am I not falling? I should be falling.”
My legs shook beneath me with the effort and adrenaline. I heard my name in the distance.
“Sara!! Sara!!! Look over here!!!”
I turned my head to the sound, spotted the photographer waving at me with his camera and smiled.
“Oh my gosh!!! I’m actually surfing a wave!!!”
I raised my arms triumphantly over my head. The moment captured on film, I turned my attention to the beach rapidly approaching.
“Shit,” I thought, “how do I stop? We never talked about stopping. We only talked about getting up. What do I do when I reach the shore?”
I started to panic. I was running out of water as I sped towards shore. Making a gametime decision, I stepped off the board and into the shallow water, intending to run gracefully to the shore. Insead, unable to keep up with my momentum, I sprawled into a spectacular crash, bouncing along the bottom of the ocean, tearing up the side of my leg and inhaling a gallon of seawater. Eventually screeching to a stop, I sat up and looked around.
Everyone was clapping and smiling.
“You did it!” I heard Kris yell. I waved in acknowledgement as I took stock of my body parts.
“I’m good,” I said under my breath, “A bit banged up, but good. And I did it, I actually did it!”
I collected my board and hoisted it under my arm, and turned back to face the sea. As the sun warmed me from above and the surf crashed around me, I paused to soak in the moment. “Be brave, not perfect,” I thought, “look how far I’ve come.”
“Well done,” Alejandro called.
“We really need to talk about the dismount!” I yelled back.