The Inland Paddler: Facing the Dragon

Lisa Schell Columns, The Inland Paddler Leave a Comment

Paddle Surfing Notes

Paddle Surfing Notes

Sometimes, Mother Ocean knows you need to learn something.

Sometimes, well, all times really, in order to progress you have to leave your comfort zone and accept a bit of risk.

Sometimes when you do that, you get worked. No matter how well you think you have considered all the possible outcomes and prepped for them.

And that’s a good thing.

Well, except for the part when you get out of the water, or get home and see that your board took the brunt of the beating.  But boards can be fixed.

Since I started paddle boarding some seven or so years ago, I have wanted to learn to paddle surf.  And it’s finally coming together, thanks to the help and encouragement of a lot of really wonderful people.  A couple of weeks ago, it was time to put things to the test – we had some pretty big waves at Wrightsville Beach.  I went out with my best surf buds and we faced the dragon head on.

We studied its talons, and scales and plates of armor and we found a few chinks in it.  Confident, yet ready to accept the risk and consequences, we charged.

But despite my willingness and my assessment of the situation, the dragon breathed fire on me then chewed me up and spit me out.

At first, it just swatted at me, as if I was an annoying fly.  But I persisted.  I punched back.  I was almost outside, just one more wave to go and then…

…the dragon rose up, puffed out its chest, and let me have it.

Paddle Surfing Notes

The biggest wave of the set rose up like a brick wall then broke right on top of me. It held me down and tumbled me hard.  My leash was pulled so tight I thought it was going to snap.  When I managed to break the surface, there was time for just one quick gasp for air before another wave hit me on the top of the head and repeated the process.

I was underwater for what seemed like a really, really long time.

Usually in situations like this, I remind myself to breathe and I can calm down.  That’s problematic when you’re underwater.  I tried to just relax and go with it. No other choice, really.

Held down twice in a row. Just trying to paddle out.

Trying not to panic, trying not to let emotions get to me, I managed to surface, then scramble onto my board.  I let my legs dangle cowgirl style, and I scooted to the tail and rode the white water in to the beach.

Sitting there in the sand, catching my breath, I looked out to see my pals struggling.  One of them was on the outside but he was getting totally worked trying to catch something rideable.  And then, he’d have to battle that dragon all over again just to get back outside. For not much of a payoff.

The work to fun ratio was way off.

“Just what did you think you were going to do once you got out there, Lisa?” I asked myself.

Paddle Surfing Notes

We tried once more  to get out, after some Cheez-Its and tangerines but conditions were worse and I called it a day.  A teachable moment.

And at least we tried.  We made the effort.  Gave it our best shot. Bodies were bruised and bloodied, maybe some ego too, and the boards. Ouch.  Yes, it was disappointing not to make it out and not to have fun catching waves. It was not the outcome we were hoping for. But we all learned something and the experience will no doubt be transformative, as we move on to the next session.

Kind of like a lot of things in life, when you think about it really.  A lot of things. Thanks, Mother Ocean, for the “gentle” reminder.

The next session for me was Maui.

That experience at Wrightsville was extremely useful to have in my playbook when I arrived here a week later.  On my first session at Kanaha, on the North Shore, remembering that experience helped me stay calm(ish) when I paddled out into waves bigger than just about anything I’ve ever paddle surfed.  Having solid instruction from the amazing Suzie Cooney added into that was fantastic. Yes, there were reefs to be conscious of, and the shark I thought I saw, which turned out to be a turtle….so the brain was in hyperactive mode..but still…I kept telling myself that I handled that day at Access 4, so I can handle this. That day at Wrightsville Beach, as crazy as it was, was necessary step to getting to the next level in my progression.  When I caught a rather sizeable wave at Kanaha and did not wipe out, it made me cry.

Paddle Surfing Notes

So for the last week, I have been catching waves like I never have before – the last few days on a board much shorter than what I am used to riding.  And when I get back to North Carolina, just think of the tools that will be in my paddle surfing tool kit!! I won’t ever underestimate the value of any experience in the water again. There is always something to take away, always something to learn.  And that is how you grow, improve and eventually, reach your goals. 

No experience is ever a fail.

Paddle Surfing Notes