full moon, black, white, tropics, dominican republic, palms, night

10 life lessons learned from surfing – Episode 2 – Fear


I thought I was just learning to Surf… turns out I was learning how to live.
This series illustrate 10 life lessons I learned form surfing.


for my baby girlllll (1 of 1)

Fears need to be faced head on

month leading up to full moon surf

The fear of failing is only one of the many potential fears that can paralyze us. What about the other ones?


I’d heard of this thing called full moon surfing. During the full moon, when the ocean is at least partially lit up by the beautiful lady in the sky, you take your longboard and go ride the waves.

This sounded great to me, it really drew me in as a concept but there’s just one little issue.

I’m scared of dark water.

If you knew me as a kid you’d never know, because as children we seem to be more able to ignore our fears. It’s not just dark water, it’s any murky water. If I can’t see my hands and feet in it, it gives me the heebie-jeebies. I have no idea where this comes from but it’s a full body phobia. My skin wants to turn itself inside out and I need to get out stat!

I was always around water when I was a kid, but I was taught to treat it with respect; that if I’m careful and respect her, she won’t hurt me…. maybe this got translated in my brain somewhere down the line as water having a soul that needed to be respected and that dark water had some ulterior and dark motives, like the smoke monster in “Lost” or something.. I don’t know I have NO idea what it is.

It’s not the little animals in it i’m afraid of, not even the big ones.

I talk a little more in depth about the possible subconscious meanings behind it in our post about snorkelling Sosua, but essentially, surfing at night when you can’t get in dark water without jumping out of your own skin is slightly difficult to accomplish. (understatement much?)

Having a background in psychology, I knew of a little something called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, where one learns to overcome fears by replacing irrational thoughts with realistic ones. Also, at the time I had just been delving into the world of meditation. I decided full moon surfing was more than worth a try, so I created a plan for myself for the next month.


Identifying your fears is the first step to overcoming them.

You can’t make a plan if you don’t know what you’re fighting, but at the time I wasn’t really sure why dark water repulsed me so much.

I first meditated on that for a while. As in, I tried to think about being in dark water.

I listened to my reactions, both my thoughts and my bodily reactions. This helped me clear up exactly what kind of water scared me, and also how that fear manifested itself.

Now I just had to trick my body out of those reactions. So easy!! Right? I know!


There is an easy way to walk yourself out of your fears.

I’m working under the assumption that my fears are just irrational emotional responses to normal stimuli.

Most are too old to even remember forming, but they’re just roads between things in my mind.

A sort of maze that has a safer shortcut I need to find. For this one specifically I devised a plan to lie down and visualize myself preparing my surfboard and walking into the dark water. They say all the best athletes visualize before a game, right?

In great detail I visualized taking my board out of its bag, waxing it, putting the leash on etc… Meanwhile I would monitor my heart rate and pause in my mental exercise whenever it started to become elevated. If I was waxing my board, I would just stop and look up (in my mind) and tell myself there was no reason to be scared and wait until I was back to normal, then move on to the next step.

I did this until I lost my concentration, which at first I did all the friggin’ time! But, I got a bit further everyday, for a month leading up to the big day. By the end of it I had successfully walked myself through this preparation without a rapid heart beat a few times.

So on the night of, 4 friends and I made it to the beach, conditions were perfect, smallish waves, just enough to longboard, not a cloud to filter the moonlight.

I visualized the sequence once more, and then I acted it out for real.

I was in the water.

I was surfing in dark water.

I was really really doing it, and it was so incredibly liberating.

Unlearning a fear frees up linked subconscious issues.

There are all kinds of other symbols, conscious or not, that are tied up to a simple phobia.

Unlearning the emotional response to a stimulus also seems to break the fear response to all of the subconscious symbols that stimulus was related to.

Say you’re afraid of blood because of some traumatic experience, blood is red, and most likely, your fear response bleeds into the realm of red. pun intended.

I mean, just the idea of red probably puts you in a state of anxiety to some extent or another. Unlearning my fear response to dark water liberated other symbols that had become collateral damage to my anxiety. There were soooooo many of these damn things, the void, the unknown, uneasy spirits, etc…

Actually, now that I think of it, I’m not sure if these more abstract concepts were what I was actually afraid of in the first place, or vice-versa, but visualizing myself at ease in the dark water seemed to release all of them from the spiderweb of problematic neural connections.

Well, mostly. I still am not a hundred percent “cured.” It seemed to only work for water that I know is normally not dark, but is now dark because it’s nighttime. Water that is dark because it is deep, or water that is milky and murky I still can’t stand, so I have a lot more work to do. Who knew these things were so gosh darn specific!

In Conclusion:

Because of my stubborn and irrational obsession with surfing at night, I managed to dislodge a stubborn and irrational phobia of dark water. I think the technique I used is helpful for other situations, so I think I’ve learned a lifelong technique to overcome mental barriers on my own. I have a lot more work to do even on this specific fear; when I say it’s easy I mean it, but it’s really very tedious.

That night in the water I learned something else, when you can’t see a wave come, you have to trust your instinct to catch it, but that’s a story for next week’s episode of 10 life lessons I learned from surfing.







  1. A wonderful story. I also meditate, and I enjoy visualisations, but I haven’t tried this kind of therapy-visualisation. Thanks for sharing it with the world.

    Wishing you all the best,

    1. No prob! Make sure to let me know if it comes in handy in the future, I’d be curious to know if it’s helpful to anyone else.

      On another note I remember stumbling upon this article of yours http://www.yachtmollymawk.com/2011/03/hich-hiking-across-the-atlantic/ back in June while trying to research crewing and I really loved it! I thought it was so honest and insightful!! We still haven’t found a crew, nor really search, been so busy with the blog, but in any case, I hope we run into each other somewhere on our wanderings. :)

      Wishing you all the best as well, to you and your family.


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