Learning to surf is a lot like kindergarten. There's nothing like trying to balance on a small piece of wood atop a pounding 10-foot wall of foaming water to crash you straight back into childhood.
The Joyful abandon and unabashed resiliency with which children throw themselves into any new realm is what truly defines childhood, and a quality we adults sadly lose. It took Galen months to master the Canadian national anthem, but only hours before he was already singing it confidently to anyone within earshot. At first it was just "Oh Canada", repeated a few times for emphasis, with some beautiful nonsense syllables and melody lines to complete the masterpiece. Over time more correct lyrics filled in spaces, until that sad day when no longer happily announced that we canucks "stand on God for these." But throughout the process he was never embarrassed, never apologetic for mistakes, never aware that he ought to be doing better or ought to wait until he can do better. He just did it, to the best of his ability, and had utmost confidence that it was already a masterpiece and would continue to improve.
As for his grown-up papa, I still don't know the words to the French version of our national anthem. In grade 3 I could sing it as confidently as Galen, though I didn't know what any of the words meant. I can still sing those same phonetic lines I learned so uncritically then, but never do (except once to amuse our Quebecois friend). Nowadays I need to get all the words right before uttering a phrase in another language. I've become afraid to make mistakes while learning, even while knowing that mistakes are the cornerstone of the learning process.
Back to the humbling experience of learning to surf this week in Tofino. With each missed wave, each tumble before my feet even found the board, and each mouthful of salty Pacific Ocean bubbly, I thought of Galen. Instead of succumbing to frustration, despair ("I'll never get this!"), embarrassment ("Is my mom still watching?") or even blame (the board, last year's instructor, that vengeful wave), I instead look over at Galen going through the same process. He just smiles, happy that he made it 4 feet on that last wave, and bounds back to do it again. He is gradually improving without any conscious evaluation of his technique or self-worth, so surely I can do the same.
So as I let go of trying, of thinking, of over-analyzing, and most of all of self-judging. I just enjoyed being in this salty swirling world, let myself feel awe and respect for the power of the Long Beach surf, and experienced thrill that me and my little board could somehow tap a bit of that power. And sure enough, by letting go of all that cluttered thought, my body slowly figured it out for itself.
Jesus said something about us needing to come to God as a child. Maybe Jesus was just a really wise surfer dude? Anyways, time for me to head back down and try walking on water again. No, not try - just do.
PS - Also check out Sarah's posting about her surfing experience - she's awesome, dude!
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