The young man working at the rental shack said it couldn’t be done, probably because he wanted me to rent the board for a longer amount of time and take more American dollars from my pocket. But I was adamant that I was going to learn how to surf in under two hours so that’s all of the time that I wanted to rent the board for. We were on the beautiful beaches of Buzio, Brazil (sorry for the annoying alliteration) and the conditions were perfect. The sun was out, the water was clear, and the waves were rolling in forcefully enough to get my heart beating at a healthy pace. I decided that the best way to learn how to surf for the first time was to get in to the water and watch the people that knew what they were doing (mostly because I didn’t speak much Portuguese and couldn’t really ask them how to do it). From there, I would make like Nike and just do it. When the local people were surfing, they made it look so easy. There was a rhythm and grace to their motion. Like ballet on the water. The amazing thing about surfing is that for moments at a time you can harness a tiny fraction of the immense power of the ocean beneath your feet as you engage a wave. It’s humbling and empowering.
I tried to take mental notes as I was watching these surfers. I would see them paddle out towards the horizon on their boards and duck through oncoming waves until they were far enough out and saw a wave that looked appealing to them. From there, they would turn around, start paddling with the wave, and then get up on their board and ride the tide all the way into the shore, carving and navigating the waves masterfully as they went.
And that’s exactly what I tried to do. I laboriously paddled out, ducking through waves as I went, turned around when everybody else seemed to like the oncoming wave, and got up on my board. It’s a feeling like nothing else. You watch the water slowly start to swell hundreds of feet away from you. It looks like it starts from nowhere. From what looks like nothing more than a speed bump in the distance, the water builds and crescendos until it overtakes you. And yeah, that first big wave definitely overtook me. I was tossed every which way. Thankfully the surfboard was tethered to my foot or else it would’ve went zooming towards innocent bystanders. The first few waves that I tried to catch involved me learning about the various ways that water could spin a person. Oh, and by the way, if you don’t get all the way turned around in time and the wave catches you sideways its much less pleasant. The ocean and I were doing more of an MMA fight than a ballet, and you really don’t want to fight the ocean because it doesn’t lose.
I realized that the main differences between the other surfers and I, were knowledge and skill. The same waves were hitting us all, but they knew what to do with them and had much more experience. In life, the people that rise on top of their circumstances, use their momentum, and navigate them with grace are the people that have had enough practice with the waves of life that they don’t get tossed around. Some people might look at the oncoming wave with fear of what it could do to them. But when surfers see a wave coming in, they greet it with excitement and anticipation about the possibilities of what they could do with it; they work with the wave. Understand that it’s the exact same swell of water hitting everybody in its path, but the meaning and significance of that wave differs from person to person. Time and chance happen to us all. What we need is the wisdom to harness the power of the tide that is rolling in and an opportunistic perspective that looks beyond the fear of what is on the horizon. Instead of looking in fear at what your circumstances might do to you, shift your view to what you might be able to accomplish because of the situation. Adversity and opportunity are different interpretations of the same wave.
I’m happy to say that I did manage to learn how to catch waves and surf after about the first hour. Granted, I still wasn’t shredding up the ocean like these other surfers, but even my friend over at the rental shack was able to share in the joy of my accomplishment.