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10 life lessons learned from surfing – Episode 1 – Falling

Learn HOW to fall instead of NOT to fall

Big swell in El Salvador

I’m going to preface this whole series by stating that I’m a strong believer in learning your own lessons.
These are the lessons I learned myself.
I hope they, more than anything else, inspire you to go out and learn your own lessons.

One of the first things that happened to me while I was surfing is that I tried to keep up with the big boys. I had been surfing for only about 3 weeks and was still on a 6’7″ fun board. We were getting some epic swell and three friends wanted to go ride the bejesus out of it.

They know what they’re doing, they have years of experience.

I’ve been surfing three weeks, I have no idea what I’m doing.

What’s the problem here? There is no problem here… I’m an independent woman, and I  speak for all females when I say this: there is NOTHING these boys can that do I can’t do (better.) Right?

So we hitchhike our way up the ten kilometres in the back of some pick up.

Wind in our hair, life is so amazing, I’m about to surf like a pro.


Now I’m face to face with this right point break, mere yards from massive rocks, and it’s six to seven foot waves in consistent sets of eight to ten. I have NO IDEA what I’m getting myself into.

Sheepishly I paddle out, and even more sheepishly I attempt to drop in. I don’t know any better, really…

Surfing’s not dangerous right? No one’s ever died doing this right?

Every wave I try to catch gives me vertigo, and I bail every time. I spend three hours in the water trying to catch the first wave of every set (rookie move,) bail, try as hard as possible to starfish during the hold-down to slow the wave dragging me toward the rocks, frantically try to paddle out of the impact zone for a few seconds between every set wave, get held down and pummelled by the next seven to ten waves, make it out, paddle around, and go back for more.

Now to most of you, whether you know how to surf or not, this sounds like useless torture, and you’re absolutely right, but there are lessons to learn here still.


You’re bound to fall at some point, don’t make it such a big deal. 

Getting my butt handed to me at the very beginning of my surfing, ::ahem::, “career” showed me there was nothing to be afraid of. You can fall and get right back up. I did it for three hours, got out of there without a scratch.
In fact, you get better at anything you do over and over again, so I learned HOW to fall, as in how to fall in a controlled way, a way that kept me from getting hurt. By the end of that session I’d become a pro at avoiding rocks and paddling out of the way of the sets.


Knowing how to fall gives you the freedom to take bigger risks.

Now that I know that falling will not hurt me, and that I’ve mastered subtle techniques to keep myself out of danger even as I am falling, I’m much more likely to drop in on a wave that gives me vertigo, I know even if I fall, nothing will happen. For a while after this, when I hit swell that was bigger than anything I’d surfed before, I would bail on purpose a few times, just to build my confidence.


A controlled fall gives you peace in a time of stress.

For those of you who don’t surf and have never experienced a hold down, I have to admit that it can be pretty scary. Seconds seem like hours as you try to hold your already heavy breath. In this specific case, I would have just long enough to catch a tiny little breath and get held back down by the next wave all over again, and again, and again.

I learned very quickly that panicking makes your heart rate go up, which uses oxygen, which makes seconds seem like years.

The best way to deal with a  hold down is to calm down.

I learned to look at my time under the water as a real break. There’s nothing better to do than to be idle, so if you see it as a peaceful experience in the midst of chaos, time slows down, in a different, much more useful way.

Above water it’s “go, go, go” to try to very quickly get out of the path of danger, but underwater, it’s dark, calm, and peaceful. You just hang, waiting for the wave to pass over your head….

And then, BAM! It’s back to GO, GO, GO!.

That time underwater can be a real blessing, if you choose to look at it that way.

In conclusion:

Because of that day surfing big (everything is relative) swell in El Salvador, I learned to approach failure differently.
Failing is only as big a deal as I let it be. Not being scared of failing will allow me to practice it, and therefore be better at it when I eventually do fail.
We all fail at something at some point, if I get really high up before I fall, and never gain the experience to fall safely, my first failure will be enormously difficult to overcome. Knowing that small failures don’t ruin my life allows me to take bigger risks, and knowing how to fail with tact allows me to be calm in a situation that would otherwise make me freak out.

Alright, let’s not be scared of failing. In fact, let’s not be scared of anything… but how? Well that’s a very good question, and one I’ll tackle in next week’s episode of  “10 life lessons learned from surfing.”



    1. I really think this is true of all sports. I have a rock climbing friend who told me she related very much :) I’m glad I’m surfing and not skateboarding, that’s all I’m sayin’

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