Learning to Love the Waves

Learning to Love the Waves

Three summers ago, I found myself living in a beach community for the first time in my 35 years of life.

I grew up in Georgia, had lived in North Carolina, Illinois, and Texas, and was now just blocks from the ocean. A longtime lover of the beach, I had always felt drawn to the ocean, but had never had the chance to live with it in my daily view. Almost immediately, I was memorized by the surfers that filled the coastline and would watch them any chance that I got. As they danced across the waves, they seemed connected to Nature in a way that felt grounding and good. I sensed a freedom and escape that I wanted and knew I needed. My recent move had upset nearly everything about life as I knew it. When I saw the surfers gracefully gliding across the ocean, it seemed like the exact opposite of the flailing and near drowning that I was experiencing in my new job, new house, new community, and new stage in life and parenting. I don’t remember the exact moment when it happened, but I resolved that this Born-and-raised-in Georgia-and-just-moved-to-the-beach-from-Texas girl was going to learn to surf.

Now, there are certainly easier hobbies to pick up than surfing, especially in your mid-30’s, but I was committed to try.  And try I did.

With a borrowed wetsuit (a must!) and quite a few nerves, I stood on the beach and listened to an instructor “teach” all of us newbies the important aspects of surfing.

  • Paddle out on your stomach
  • When you see a wave coming, paddle toward shore and then “pop” up to your feet bypassing your knees
  • Bend your knees and balance as you ride the wave to shore

I had expected FAR more information than that. Let’s be honest, I already knew those very obvious things from watching people surf; I was looking for some insider tips…I was looking to actually be “taught” to surf.

The instructor had some large foam surfboards that were snatched up quickly and I was content to wait my turn but he then mentioned that though they were heavy and hard to control, I could try a stand-up paddle board and treat it like a giant surfboard. I headed out with this board that felt more like a boat than a surfboard and waited in the breaking waves for a chance. With a little beginners luck, some sheer determination, and a paddle board that you could almost have a picnic on, I paddled just in front of a wave and stood up. Both my mind and body were utterly shocked and I stood straight-legged, wide-eyed, and broad-smiled, and rode the wave to shore.

Very aware that I had only caught one wave and had MUCH more to learn, I was also very aware that I was hooked. I stayed in the ocean for an hour that morning and probably stood up 7 or 8 more times on both the paddle board and a borrowed longboard from a discouraged class attendee who sat defeated on the beach.  My shoulders ached and my arms felt like noodles when I got out, but what I remember the most was that my cheeks were sore from my near permanent smile.

I committed to keep learning and went out time and time again. I acquired an old, very dinged up 9’ longboard, purchased a bottom of the line full length wetsuit, and made friends with another female surfer who was willing to let me tag along.  I asked many questions, read all I could about the ocean tides, and went out as often as I could.  I got absolutely wrecked by waves and made a complete fool of myself many, many, many times, but I kept trying. I did a lot of watching, a little crying, and even sported a very colorful black eye from a surfboard to the face during my early days.  Here I am many days and waves later and I am even more in love with it than that first perma-smile day.

Surfing has become a place of deep connection and healing for me.

It is self-care in its purest form as it is a place where my mind, body, and spirit are refreshed and renewed. On more than a few mornings, I have paddled out just outside the breaking waves and breathed in the reality that all of the challenges and trials in my life are small in the expanse of the sea.  I have made new friends, experienced the indescribable thrill of harnessing a tiny fraction of the ocean’s immense power, and most importantly, I have learned that I can do hard things. Things I never imagined I would do. The ocean has the power to humble and completely over power me, but that potential does not negate its power to delight and grow me. Going from someone who had never even attempted to paddle on a surfboard to someone who now wakes up before the sun has risen to catch the first waves of daylight as often as I can, I have realized that the real accomplishment was in the commitment to try something new.

Learning to surf has not been easy, but I think we lose something really healthy about ourselves when we outgrow the natural processes of learning new skills. Childhood and adolescence find us learning to walk, ride a bike, swim, and drive. Sure there are things in adulthood that we learn and even master, but not that many of them put us in the space of vulnerability that the learnings of early life bring. There is something significant about putting ourselves in the “Yeah, I don’t really know anything about this and I might fail time and time again, but I am just going to show up and try” posture.

Not everyone lives near the ocean and has the opportunity to learn to surf, but there are opportunities to try something new everywhere.  Learn an instrument, run your first race, take an art class, or commit to try only new recipes for a week or a month.  Remind yourself that you can learn new skills and do hard things.  It will empower you to face new challenges and adapt to new responsibilities. It will remind you that just like you learned to read and run, you can learn to do new things. Whatever you do, just try something new.  After all, like the bumper sticker says: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

Surfin’ Southerner

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Melanie Wolf
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  1. Thom Slade
    January 23, 11:51 Reply
    Great inspiring story. I find that same sense of peace on the ski slopes. Once I work out how to get over my Jaws/Soul Surfer fear of being eaten I will definitely get out there and give it another try. Thom
  2. CyanideVii
    January 23, 16:54 Reply
    I agree, it was a very inspiring read. Unfortunately I'm from California so the ocean/surfing is too cold for me. I started doing more art after my break up.
  3. Aundie Donohue
    January 23, 21:14 Reply
    If I'm not mistaken.. Lots of surfers surf in San Diego!! This is was very inspiring to get out and try something outdoors!
  4. AnnAbbitz
    January 30, 20:58 Reply
    What a poetic post! Reading that reminded me of the intense feeling of freedom and openness that I feel when my husband and I are on a motorcycle ride. Something that we picked up after 10 years of marriage, riding has become such a relaxing getaway for us that I can't remember how we used to unwind! No matter what it is that takes you to your own personal place of bliss... embrace it. Love the waves!

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