In this series, I’m addressing specific things I’ve realized because of surfing that have helped my life in its entirety. Because when you learn how to surf, you learn so much more than just how to surf. These are lessons I try to use when I’m in the water, and now try even harder to use when I’m on dry land.
It’s been a lot of fun writing about this subject, as it’s nice to sit and consciously think about all that surfing has taught me. I am infinitely grateful. And I can only hope that these posts have shined a light on even more amazing personal things you’ve learned from the sport; things I haven’t even been lucky enough to realize yet.
Okay, let’s get back to it…
LESSON THREE: LEAVE YOUR EGO AT HOME.
One of the greatest things about living in Tamarindo is that 365 days a year, you get to see the face of at least one person catching their first wave. That combination of ‘excitement/trying to look cool’ is an expression unique in and of itself, and I never get tired of seeing it.
Some people come here hoping to learn to surf, and by the time they leave they are actually pretty damn good. They arrive with an open mind and excited attitude. They absorb the information shared with them in their lessons. They bond with other guests who are learning and they bond with their instructors. Most everyone has a blast catching dozens of waves and wiping out thousands of times. In a nutshell, those who enter with an open mind are the ones who fall in love with surfing and continually come back to WRSC for more of the magic.
But there are a few who aren’t quite as lucky.
I’m just going be blunt here: The people who struggle the most on their surfboards are the ones who walk in here with egos the size of submarines. I don’t see it often, but I’ve definitely seen it. They don’t walk into the camp, they strut in slow motion. They speak nonsense like that they’ve snowboarded once… and that Point Break is their favorite movie so surely they’ll pick up surfing in no time (after all, Keanu was able to rip AND catch a team of bank robbers in less than two hours).
“Maybe they’re just excited,” I think to myself. “Maybe they’ll get their head straight, calm down, and have some fun.”
That’s what I always hope, and most of the time they relax by sunset. But every once in a while, the person’s ego just won’t exhale. I see their instructor handing them a longboard, and they arrogantly ignore them and grab a short board. That’s when I know – this person is toast.
On the beach, the instructor gets down on the sand to show them how to pop up, and they roll their eyes as if insulted by the basics. The instructor never derails from professionalism, but it’s not their first rodeo – they know the next 90 minutes isn’t going to be pretty.
They all paddle out and…
Yep. DISASTER. They catch zero waves (how could they? They’re trying to learn on a potato chip). I sense the silent frustration from all sides and the overall vibe of the lesson just isn’t working. Suddenly it’s revealed that in the water, this person is more ‘Gary Busey’ than ‘Keanu Reeves’. It’s so unfortunate because, let’s be honest, even Gary Busey doesn’t want to be Gary Busey.
The Honest Truth:
A giant ego is so gross, you guys. If you let it lead your way, you’re letting it ruin the awesome experience of learning something. And learning new things is what expands your world.
I want to pat the sorry heads of those who pack their egos when they come here. I want to remind them how every one of those badass surfers they see in the water had to learn the basics. There’s simply no way around them. We’ve all paddled in the sand. We’ve all spent days in the white water. We’ve all felt the glorious feeling of how wobbly a 12’ soft-top feels on Day One. I’m the first to admit it: surfing is hard! But that’s what makes it great, and each step is it’s own unforgettable party. There are no shortcuts, so why be annoyed by the starting line? It’s called a starting line because everyone starts there. Everyone.
We should never feel lame for not miraculously knowing how to do something. If you miraculously know everything, call Ripley’s Believe it or Not because you are a freak of nature. So rather than feeling uncomfortable and masking it with cockiness, let’s embrace the opportunity to learn. Be eager. Ask questions. Nobody wins when we get in our own way. In fact, the ego that grows inside us could be the very thing that stunts our growth. And I don’t know about you, but I’d kill to be an inch or two taller.
And sometimes our egos can lead us to danger…
Not long ago, we had a big swell heading to Tamarindo. I spoke with a guest the day he arrived and, based on our conversation, was under the impression he was an advanced surfer. Two days later, the swell hit and as I was paddling out, I passed by him in the white water where he was struggling. A lot.
“Oh, I guess he’s a beginner. HOLD THE PHONE – what is he DOING out in this mess?!”
Being an intermediate surfer myself, I didn’t understand the extent of the danger he was in and continued onward without saying anything other than hello.
Later that evening I heard a story: A guest who was told the waves were dangerously big for his level hadn’t listened (ego), grabbed a board (ego), and went out surfing anyway (ego). By the time he realized he was in danger (reality check), he panicked and shouted for help (reality check), and Andre had to paddle into the chaos to rescue him (reality check). Thanks to Andre he was safe – but his ego had put him in a place he never should have been. Remember in Point Break when Lori Petty yells at Keanu for having no business being out in those huge waves? Well it turns out she wasn’t just being a dramatic chick, she was being a very wise dramatic chick.
I saw the guy later that night and let me tell you – the look on his face was vastly different from the one he had the day I met him. I felt terrible for the poor guy. It was a scary moment and it could have so easily been avoided.
So please, I beg you – when you come here, leave EGO at home. I promise that even though you don’t know how to surf, you soon will. There is no better place to learn than right here in Tamarindo. Like I said, most people enter with an eager energy, and it’s so cool to see them progress each day. We’re all learning here, so the subject in general is our most popular happy hour topic. In fact, happy hour chit-chat might be where I’ve picked up the most pointers (see Mom, drinking a lot of beer can be a good thing after all). For me, the conversations are a constant reminder to always seek out something new, and to always be honest with myself when I need help in gaining new knowledge.
Let’s all try to remember to not let our swollen egos get in the way of having a good time. When we open ourselves up to learning something new, we’re going to learn it faster and we’re going to learn it better. When you don’t know, why not ask a question? I know it sounds obvious, but we tell kids there is no such thing as a stupid question. Yet as adults, we sure can act like childish know-it-alls. Shame on us.
And I’m not naïve… I’m aware that we live in a world where we need to present ourselves as capable people. A little ego is a form of confidence. But if you overdo it, well – good luck. Admitting you don’t know jack about surfing is NOT a weakness – it’s a strength. You will see. Maybe you won’t be ripping and catching bank robbers in under two hours, but with the right mindset, you’ll stand on a board and I’ll get to see your own ‘excitement/trying to look cool’ expression that I never get tired of seeing. And it will be magnificent.
Sara is a freelance writer and surfing addict. See her portfolio at www.meetsarashelton.com, and if you’re interested in working with her or want to say hi, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.