The first time I surfed was at the behest of my roommate's 40th birthday. I had grown up loving magazines like "Swell" and my first two-piece swimsuit featured a fabric print of the legendary Aaron Chang's surf & sunset photographs, so it's no surprise that a surfer existed somewhere inside of me. Even before I could remember, I was lucky enough to visit many beaches on many coastlines. In junior high, I would watch a wave machine's mechanical fluid motion until it, just like the sound of constant surf, lulled me to sleep.
I flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico and made my way to Rincon, on the west side of the island. My roommate had a house thanks to the good men at Rincon Surf School, and on the back porch, overlooking massive trees and vines, were three longboards, speckled with wax and absolutely massive. "Go for it," my roommate said, and the first late afternoon I struggled to carry a board to the pier. The water was warm, but the waves were unforgiving.
I didn't know, really, how to read a break, nor did I have the patience. All I felt was the desperate and urgent need to be in it. I don't believe I made it past the break. I think, if I could have gained my footing, I would have found myself standing in thigh deep water. But the board was attached to me, and the sets came quickly.
In all honesty, it was terrifying. But I truly believe that what scares us is important to re-evaluate. And my fear of drowning was revisited and re-evaluated so much in the course of my four days in Rincon that it disappeared. Now it is an inevitability. I love the ocean, I greet her with a full heart and fully know she has much more than the teasing surf to occupy her. I remember fighting. Maybe it was unnecessary- if I hadn't been so eager, if I had waited for instruction, or observed the break more. It didn't matter. I went in because I had to, and as a result I overcame a fear and learned how much I still had to learn. There's something humbling about barely surviving. And there's something therapeutic about finally moving past the swell and sets into open, still water.