Mama Ocean - How Surfing Changed My Life

I'm battling the waves, and the sensation in my mouth is salty - like too much salt on my popcorn. Struggling to contain my frustration, I persevere as sinewy arms glide past me, a testament to my worm-like biceps.

They ache terribly. Oh God, how they burn. Mucus streams from my nose, as the cleansing ocean flushes out my sinuses. I'm starting to develop a notorious wetsuit tan. But as I conquer each wave, the offshore breeze paints mesmerising rainbows in the spray behind the breaking surf. I've poured my heart into this. The sense of welcome and belonging washes over me when a friendly local smiles and says, "Go ahead, you take this one." Riding my first green wave feels like a passionate embrace. I become a bird in flight, soaring across the wave, carried by its speed down the line, pursued by the white water. I am free. 

Surfing transformed my life. It helped me conquer personal challenges I never believed I could overcome - battling an eating disorder, overcoming suicidal depression, and taming crippling social anxiety.  

Growing up in Pretoria, the Jacaranda City, I was familiar with azure skies and sunny days, but the ocean remained a distant dream. However, fate led me to Cape Town in 2021. Every morning, as I drove along Boyes Drive, I'd gaze down at the surfers in Muizenberg at sunrise and think to myself, "I wish I could be one of them," despite my shark-induced fears from the movie, Soul Surfer. 

Each day, as the sun kissed the horizon, the allure of the ocean proved irresistible, and I'd swim at Fish Hoek Beach. Starting my day with a dip in the icy, salty waters, becoming part of a new day, felt sublime. But an underlying restlessness grew. "This is nice, but imagine being one of those cool surfers just around the corner, watching the beautiful sunrise from a board with my legs dangling in the salty sea," I often mused.  

After nine months in the Mother City, at the ripe age of 20, my life took a turn for the better. I messaged my yogi friend Kath, asking if she wanted to meet up, and her reply was, "Sure, want to try surfing?" Terrified, I came up with every excuse in the book: "I don't have a wetsuit, or a board, I'm too old, I'm scared." She laughed at me. She was 49 and even more scared than I was. What's wrong with a healthy dose of fear to conquer our obstacles? She had a foam board, perfect for beginners, and gifted me her old wetsuit. I had run out of excuses. On an unforgettable rainy morning, in the beautiful bay of Muizenberg, I changed the course of my life. On that same day, I started eating properly again, cooking a delicious meal and nourishing myself for the first time in a long while. 

I had encountered the love of my life, and I knew this would be a passionate romance. Suicidal thoughts that had plagued me countless times a day were replaced with light and zest, instantly uplifted by thoughts and visions of the next wave I could catch. Enthusiasm supplanted melancholy. The first time I stood up on the board, Kath and I whooped like two excited teenagers. Exactly three months later, after surfing as often as possible, I celebrated my 21st birthday by buying my first board and current love, Bodhi (I know, I couldn't resist him in Point Break). Shortly after, I booked a lesson with an instructor from Surf Emporium in Muizenberg. 

Although I must confess that the initial reason for booking that lesson was a little crush rather than my desire to improve my surfing, I ended up learning a lot, which propelled my progress. My instructor asked about my surfing goals, and I told him I aspired to cross-step on a longboard. Since then, after countless hours of watching WSL competitions at Pipeline, Hawaii, I yearn to advance to high-performance surfing, riding bigger waves on a shorter board.  

While the unfamiliar terrifies me, I know that stepping out of my comfort zone is essential for growth. I'm ready, and living my dream in what I believe to be the most beautiful city in the world, working a job I love, surfing whenever the waves are favourable, and meeting a kaleidoscope of amazing people along the way. 

If I compare myself now to who I was before I started surfing, it feels like two entirely different people. I'm healthier and more confident in my body than ever before, taking time to care for myself, connect to beautiful people, and engage in magical conversations.

Surfing has taught me humility and flexibility - navigating the vast, often unpredictable ocean has instilled perseverance, stamina, and surrender. When I'm caught inside the impact zone, waves breaking over me, my arms like jelly and breath knocked from my chest, I have no choice but to push through. To take another breath. To cast aside my ego and awaken my soul. It has also taught me immense focus. There's no worse feeling than missing a potentially beautiful wave or risking injury because I got lost in a daydream. 

As Shaun Tomson once said, "Surfing is all about uncertainty. That feeling of taking a risk, that leap of faith every time I jump into the ocean, that paddle out into the unknown - all of these elements make surfing truly special."  

I'm now willing to envision any goal, no matter how seemingly unattainable, because I've come to realise that the journey and the process are as, if not more, fulfilling than the destination itself. I wish all of you the courage to pursue your wildest dreams, no matter how far-fetched they may appear. Here's to surfing, and to life.

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