Learn Something New

Have you outgrown your innate yearning for discovering new things?

I know I did — because for a number of years I lived my life following a very strict and deliberate routine. During that time I rarely ever tried anything I hadn’t already done before.

Regrettably, I was letting my rigidness get the better of me as my life zoomed past on autopilot.

In an effort to let go of my rigid qualities, I planned a spontaneous trip to my home along the Jersey Shore. In doing so, I’ve been reminded how it’s never too late to learn something new.

I planned the trip because I wanted to learn how to surf.

It seems backwards — I spent the first 24 years of my life growing up along the Jersey Shore and never tried to surf. Then the year I move away to Michigan I suddenly express an interest in a shore-bound sport.

Moving away was a larger priority at the time, but the interest in learning how to surf grew so strong after completing my move I planned a trip specifically for a surfing opportunity.

I enrolled in a group surfing lesson at 7th Street Surf Shop in Ocean City with my friend Robin.

She and I were admittedly nervous — we were both anxious to learn but had no idea what we were in for.

The lesson was in three parts:

  1. Safety instructions and practicing method on the beach (30 minutes)
  2. Practicing in the water with the surfing instructors’ assistance (1 hour)
  3. Practicing in the water without an instructor to assist you (30 minutes, optional)

In other words, after 30 minutes of pointers from surfing veterans, they’ll spend an hour in the water pushing you into waves before they set you loose on your own.

Armed with my wetsuit, longboard, and recent instructions, I waded out into the surf and climbed up onto my board. Robin joined me as I paddled out to where the instructors were stationed.

An instructor named Kevin waved the two of us over to him. After a quick introduction he explained he would be positioning the both of us in line to catch the next good wave. At his command, we were to begin paddling at which point he’d give both of our boards a good push to help us along.

I was clinging to the sides of my board nervously, teeth still chattering from the cold ocean water. I stared down the nose of the board to the beach straight ahead.

Kevin began saying “Paddle paddle paddle!” — I cupped both my hands and pulled water from each side of the board. I felt myself gliding on top of the forming wave as Kevin gave Robin and me a generous push using each of his arms.

The board began to accelerate as the crest of the wave formed behind me. I felt the back of the board under my toes being lifted by the wave as Kevin shouted “Pop up!” after us.

Just as we had been practicing on the sand earlier, I performed the three-step “Pop up” maneuver:

  1. Still holding the board, move both hands under your armpits.
  2. Lift your torso and arch your back.
  3. Slide your foot up under yourself and stand up, keeping your knees bent.

In the water, however, I performed an additional (albeit unrecommended) Step 4:

I thought to myself “Holy crap I’m surfing!!!” and in my excitement I turned back to see if Kevin was watching.

In that fraction of a second I managed to lose my balance. The board kicked forward out from under me as I toppled backwards into the water. I must’ve kicked the board pretty forcefully, because the leash attached to my ankle painfully dragged my butt along the ocean floor until I resurfaced. Once I got my bearings and caught hold of my board, I wiped my hair out of my eyes to see Robin gliding safely onto the shore. She stepped off her board with ease and shot me a triumphant smile — Robin successfully rode the wave all the way to the shore on her very first try!

We repeated this process over and over again for the entire hour the instructors were in the water with us. Robin and I took turns standing up on and falling off of our surfboards, gaining more experience with every attempt.

In an hour’s time, I’d ridden about half a dozen waves all the way to the shore — and fallen twice as many times. Regardless of my unimpressive rate of success, I was having the time of my life.

When the hour with the instructors’ assistance concluded, our entire group met on the beach to thank them for their help. Their surfing expertise was invaluable to me, as I am certain I wouldn’t have caught any of those waves without their helpful pushes.

After many Thank Yous, Robin and I head back into the surf alone. My arms were sore from all the paddling, my face felt burned from the sun, and I had salt water slushing in both ears — yet I was still drawn back into the water to try to catch a wave on my own.

By this time it was afternoon, so the local surfing regulars had populated the water. I got the impression they knew of my amateur abilities judging purely from my rented longboard.

It was at that moment that I understood why I was so reluctant to try anything new for so long: Being a beginner is hard.

Being new to something can be very frustrating, intimidating, and consequently terrifying. In order to avoid feeling like a beginner, I was choosing to just not try new things — I ensured I’d never look or feel foolish by simply removing the chance of that happening.

Looking back on that mentality, I realize that was a dumb choice I constantly was making.

What was I afraid of? Being showed up by my friend who turned out to be a natural? Or was it this sensation I was feeling upon re-entering the water and feeling unwelcome by the seasoned surfers?

What a dumb thing to be fearful of. Though I was initially very envious of Robin’s immediate success, seeing her accomplish what I sought out to do only inspired me to try even harder. As for the surfing veterans, who knows what they were really thinking, and why should I let that stand in my way? At some time, no matter how long ago, they must’ve been feeling some amount of uncertainty when they made their first attempt to surf.

Learning to surf was one of my many goals for 2007. I can enthusiastically say that I’ve succeeded in conquering this goal.

Reacquainting yourself with the feeling of discovery is incredibly fulfilling. You’re bound to surprise yourself when you set out to take on a new challenge. In fact, I believe the best way to defeat morbidness is to learn something new.

So if you’re examining your own life and your own ambitions, and you can pick out something that you’ve “always wanted to do,” then I encourage you to try and do it. Learn something new — you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.

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