I just watched a woman with one arm paddle into 20ft Jaws and get a wave. Wow… respect!
She also got seriously worked, almost finishing on the rocks, but just in time she hopped on the jetski and then went back out for more. I’m speaking of Bethany Hamilton (no relation) but one helluva lady-surfer. She lost her arm in a shark attack, but refused to quit surfing – in fact she just got better. She is quite literally amazing in both ability and sheer courage.
I wish I were ‘half the woman’ she is!
On Friday last week we went to Newcastle for lunch and afterward I strolled down to the beach to check out the surf. You can’t go to Newcastle and not visit the beachfront – it is stunning.
We had been there two days before at Merewether when the swell was up – a solid 4-6 ft – and the waves were challenging for even good surfers. I didn’t paddle out that day because I was recovering from back pain.
Well that was part of it…
What disturbed me was that I doubt I would have paddled out even if I wasn’t in pain.
That’s hard to admit – because I am a surfer and I love to surf… but… I knew just looking at the size of the surf and the size of the crowd that even if I managed to get through the shore break to the waves out the back, I was unlikely to catch one of them.
The other surfers were obviously much better than I am now and while surfing may give off a mellow, chilled vibe, on days like these it is anything but. It is survival of the fittest – dog eat dog – and in the pecking order that day I ranked pretty low. Partly age, partly ability, partly that I’m not a local.
I also feel fear these days in a way I didn’t use to. I have never been ‘Mr Psycho’ who charges everything in sight. I feel fear and even as a younger man I was cautious in the face of huge surf. That said I also relished the opportunity to get among some serious waves and test my abilities.
The waves I saw on Friday and on Thursday would have been perfect for me – if I were 22 again. But I’m 55…
My fear is based mostly on a decreased lung capacity. It’s a real fear. One serious hold down and I am gasping for air. 3 or 4 consecutive poundings and I could be in trouble. I have felt the panic reflex kick in a couple of times over the last few years when I have put myself in surf that challenges my capabilities and the last thing I want to be is that dude who made a fool of himself because he just couldn’t accept his limits.
I guess you could call that wisdom, but it also feels pretty lame and it’s disheartening to think that it’s only gonna get worse.
All that said – as I watched perfect waves roll in I struggled… it was an internal struggle. The voices in my head were one moment egging me on and the next telling me I was a wuss.
I actually want to be able to paddle out confidently knowing that both my fitness and my skills are up to the challenge. I want to do so free from fear – from worry or embarrassment at some point.
I’m 55 and bizarrely surfing more regularly than I ever have since my teen years. I have both time and opportunity up in Yanchep and I still have passion for the ocean and love surfing.
So my tussle is between ‘letting it go’ and accepting that age is working against me – or – choosing to become the person I would like to be – of training, of pushing myself, of improving so that I am confident and capable in more of these types of situations.
It seems the question I face when I consider this is simply ‘what do I really want in life and how much time am I prepared to give to this pursuit?’
And can a 55 year old man train himself back to a place of fitness and skill that will see him enter the water with greater confidence and capacity or am I just better off accepting the limitations of age and enjoying what I can.
Reality is we all have limits – most people I know won’t surf 20 ft Jaws even with two good arms – and we don’t think less of them for that.
But then the issues of identity and aging are rarely rational and flow more from the gut than from the head.
I know in my head that I’m ok – that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. But… I’d still like to improve and get better. I don’t wanna be a wuss…
The struggle is real 🙂