How learning to surf helped me push boundaries – outside the ocean

05 Oct 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

Learning to surf can be both terrifying and exhilarating; and, also, slightly addictive (if you can get the hang of it).

For me, it was something I’d never even thought about trying for a number of reasons. From not being all that confident in the water to an unrivalled fear of jellyfish, trying to stand on a foam board was the last place I ever saw myself.

Where I live though, you can only put off trying it for so long. For two years my home was the surf mecca that is Newquay and where I live now isn’t all that different.

Plus, there were only so many times I could tell my surfer-turned-writer partner that I’d give it a go ‘next time we’re at the beach’. Soon enough, it was time to drag on the nylon wetsuit and live up to my word.

Jumping in

Now, I’m not the first person to be hesitant about getting in the water and I definitely won’t be the last - but to say I was nervous was an understatement.

Stepping into the water wasn’t actually that hard, though (you know, after I battled with the skin-tight nightmare that is a new wetsuit). Instead, it was the moment my boyfriend handed me his board that I started shaking. Now, I had to look after myself in the water and a giant board while I was battered by wave after wave? How fabulous.

With a lot of coaxing from his end, however, I finally loosened up enough to lie down on the board and let him push me into some tiny waves, all which landed me right back at the safety of the beach. Honestly? It was kind of fun.

That moment when a wave takes you is something that I don’t think many people can put into words, but it definitely makes the fear worth it.

Never giving up

So, after my first attempts, I decided it was worth persevering. There’s no doubt that surfing is one of the hardest sports to master, with a learning curve that seems to be much steeper than any other extreme sport.

And I can’t lie; three years later, I’m still on a foam board and I can barely stand. But I’m out there doing it, safe in the know that I’m definitely not going to be the next Carissa Moore any time soon (for reference, she’s the first woman to win a gold medal for surfing in the Olympics, which was introduced to the games for the first time this year).

However, it has taught me something else – that, sometimes, you have to push yourself to move on from your fears.

Three years after that initial surf ‘lesson’, I’m no longer scared of jellyfish, I’m a stronger swimmer and I know a hell of a lot more about beach safety than I ever did before. Hell, I even have my own board.

More than that, though, I have a confidence which I definitely didn’t before the moment I dipped my toes in, and it’s something I’ve carried into other areas of my life, from the personal through to my career.

What that means in real-time is I’m no longer scared to take risks and, when something worries me, I face it head on instead of putting it off. After a hard day, I get in the sea and that primal connection to nature washes all my stress away.

To those who have never surfed before, it may sound a little far-fetched, but there’s a reason the sport is being used as a form therapy, particularly for people suffering with PTSD.

More people are now seeing the mental health benefits of this ocean-based activity and, regardless of your skill level, everyone is getting the same thing out of it; the freedom of connecting with nature, a good exercise session and a reason to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Give it a go and, if nothing else, you’ll know you pushed yourself into the unknown – even for just a day, an afternoon or half an hour.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.