Baby Waves to Bigger Waves: One Surfer’s Journey Through Progression

The journey to surfing glory starts with a single step.

“Go now, amiga! PADDLE! Duro! Duro! DUROOOOO!”

My heart begins beating faster and my brain starts yelling at me: “I WANT THIS ONE. DO NOT MESS THIS UP. NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BAIL…”

On the smaller days I can honestly say that I’m a confident, wave-catching machine. But on the big days? Not a chance. I’ll paddle for one and tell myself it’s go-time, but when I see how steep the drop is, I panic and pull back.

It’s incredibly frustrating. For me, and for the rest of the lineup.

Last week, a bunch of us were surfing a big day at Avellanas. I was frustrated because I kept pulling back at the last second on the biggest ones. David, who does surf tours at WRSC (if you haven’t seen the way he surfs, get here immediately) would see me paddling for one, shout at me (“duro, Sarita!”), and then sigh in frustration when I wouldn’t go. Finally, he called me over and told me straight up, “If you don’t try for the big ones, you won’t get respect from the lineup. You have to at least TRY.”

David is so absolutely right. I need to grow a pair and TRULY commit to taking that wave. Otherwise, I’m just wasting my time.

But… c’mon!

This can’t be 100% my fault, right? The ocean is a player in this too – and I’m sorry, but that thing is super Bi-polar.

Of course I love the ocean, but some days it has a major attitude problem. And I’m not experienced enough yet to know when it’s in a good mood (this wave is smiling because it wants to love me) or in a bad mood (this wave is smiling because it wants to kill me). Yes, the ocean is my friend, but it’s not my best friend. You never want to punch your BFF in the face, and I definitely have moments when I want nothing more than to give that ocean a knuckle sandwich.

Do you know what I mean? I’m talking to all of you intermediate surfers out there.

I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Hello?

Fine. If you’re all too proud to admit it, I’ll do it:

When it’s big out there, it’s really scary!

And the ever-changing conditions drastically mess with the success of your sessions. One minute you’re sitting in glass, and then it’s choppy daggers. An hour of baby waves, then an unexpected giant set. A strong current you don’t understand, and have to use all your paddling energy to fight. ALL of this is a lot for an intermediate surfer to take in. Not to mention, general fear.

Glory awaits us all!

Here’s how different my surf sessions can be:


My appreciation for being out there is so strong I get choked up just thinking about it. “What an amazing THING this is,” I tell myself. It’s like I’m playing with the ocean and IT’S PLAYING BACK. It’s spending all this time to make these waves for me, and then excitedly bringing them over so we can go for a ride. It’s a fun exchange, like throwing a ball with a puppy. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, and it’s boatloads of fun. I end with a walk back up the beach exhausted, thinking about how awesome it would be if I had detachable arms so I could pop on fresh, fully charged ones and go back out. Yep, it’s THAT fun.


I paddle out with a smile and get welcomed with a bitch slap. A bunch of unapologetic smacks, one after another. I even get pouty in my mind- “Why are you being so mean to me, I’m a nice girl!” Those waves coming at me are not happy puppies, they are mean angry monsters with sharp teeth and they are very very upset about something. I end with a walk back up the beach, defeated and upset, wishing I had paddled out with a sawed-off shotgun to take out each monster, one by one.

It really is a roller coaster of emotions.

There are no shortcuts to getting to those monster waves. We just have to keep surfing (poor us, right?). The more time we spend in the bipolar ocean, the more we’ll learn about it. And the more comfortable we’ll be so that we can push ourselves to go for the bigger ones.

The other day, I met my friend Liz for a smoothie and we were discussing this very topic. She told me her rule with herself: Surf whichever waves you want, but you have to try to get at least two waves that scare the crap out of you.


It totally explains why she surfs so well – every session is solid and fun – but she’s also pushing herself forward in EVERY session to TRY.

2 scary waves a session. No big deal.

Even if you’re trying and wiping out, at least you’re out surfing. It sure beats sitting in a cubicle (no offense if you are reading this from a cubicle). Over time, more and more of those bigger wave attempts will end in success.

Every day I surf with people who seem fearless in all conditions. I can only hope that in time, I’ll become one of them. Because I really really reallllllly want to know what it’s like to get barreled, you guys!


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