Learning to surf – a lifelong process

I made a few changes last year; besides quitting my job of ten years, selling and giving away most of my worldly belongings, and heading off into the blue with little to no idea about where the road would take me, by far the wildest choice I made was to learn to surf.

In July, 2014, I made my way to Sri Lanka to work with Seva Lanka, an NGO two good friends had served immediately after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. After testing out the role I realised that I’d put myself back into an office seat, the last thing I needed after ten years working for a bank in Jersey, Channel Islands.

In late August, 2014, I beat a path to the island’s eastern province and during my first week in Arugam Bay two Norwegian travellers convinced me to take a surfing lesson with them. It was the last thing I fancied doing, but I went along anyway.

Our instructor, Aatha, unbeknownst to me at the time, is one of Sri Lanka’s top surfers. Every time I fumbled and half drowned this mad man kept picking up my board and dragging me back out into the water. I thought he was trying to finish me off once and for all. What I didn’t realise was that he was leading me back to life.

I was too stunned by the power of the experience to notice what I was falling in love with that day, being totally terrified and utterly incompetent. I certainly didn’t think I’d go back. I’d been completely useless, not even able to select clothing that stayed put (my saviour was a visiting goddess from Dubai, Leia, who leant me her shorts and got me through the first lesson) let alone do anything remotely resembling surfing, and yet, despite my distress and my distressing performance, I kept booking more lessons.

I ended up staying in Arugam Bay for the next five months, eventually surfing every day…

I’m still learning. I’m about to go back to the waves in the Sri Lankan east after a two and half month break in Tanzania, East Africa, and I expect to be almost as clumsy a surfer as when I first began, but I have found I can think of very little other than surfing while I’ve been away from the water.

And so I was delighted to find this article on The Inertia this morning; the author expresses an experience of learning to surf which is a near carbon copy of my own. After a year of surfing, Genesse Carillo can also count her memorable waves on both hands (it’s not just me!) and expresses that thing all the surfers I know agree on: that surfing is the secret.

Surfing is a liminal experience. I cracked ribs, scuffed skin, even bruised my face trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to do it, but it has helped me to heal wounds I didn’t know I had.

I look forward to failing and falling better than ever this surf season.

Bring the waves!

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Watching early morning waves with trepidation. Whisky Point, Arugam Bay.  Photo credit: (c) Jessica Balla

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