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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Wave that Got Away | Conquering Your Fear and Surfing Big Waves

By Rick Bickerstaff
It was a rainy day after Thanksgiving, and a friend had tipped me off to an incoming swell that would hit our home break. I didn't expect much, though, as the beach we often surf is rarely outstanding, but surfing sounded better than Black Friday shopping, so I headed to the beach.

Apparently my fear of water is greater than my fear of people's opinions, because I ended up grabbing my sister's NSP (I like to call it the Butterfly Racer - pictured below). It's wider than my short board, which helps in smaller waves, but still responsive enough to do some carving. I wouldn't advise you to go out and buy one by any means, but I've been surprised at how much fun I've had on this thing.

Riding the "Butterfly Racer" at Trestles...don't judge me.

When I got to the spot, I was surprised to find a guy dropping in on a head-high left - a rare sight at this break. I watched a set come through (a key to paddling out on days like this) and headed into the water.

It was an amazing session: big lefts, hardly anyone on the water, mist off the white caps and a little rain all led to a memorable morning. Towards the end, however, my friend and I decided to paddle over towards a groin where some folks looked like they were getting some nice right-handers. This is when the fear set in...

We were sitting on glassy water pretty far out when I saw a set approaching. The water got shallow beneath me as the oncoming wave sucked the ocean right up into its lofty hallows. As I examined the growing bulge of water that approached me I literally thought, "this could be the biggest wave of my life." I paddled, asking myself whether I could survive the wave: Would it close out on me? I hate dropping in on steep closeouts. If I paddle for this, I'm just going to go over the falls. Do I really want to deal with that right now?

Those were the thoughts that ran through my head as I paddled and, as fear won over, pulled out. I then watched the wave move past me as my friend caught it. I can't remember how long he rode it, or if it closed out on him, but what I do remember is that I felt like less of a man at that moment.
I keep this issue of Surfer up at my desk as a reminder to not live in fear.

Courage is a big part of surfing. "Normal" people don't paddle out into walls of water twice their size for nothing but the thrill of riding or conquering it. It takes a lot of courage to face something bigger than yourself. For some this is just coming to terms with sharing the same space as the predators of the sea, and for some it's riding the heaviest wave in the world. Both take courage, and both are well-worth the risk.

So how do we conquer fear? I found a great blog post about it that gives three basic principles:
  • Share your fear with others
  • Concentrate on breathing
  • Catch a wave!
For me, this will forever be the "wave that got away." Whether or not it would have been a ride worthy of that title, I'll never know. But what I do know is this: a life lived in fear is a life lived in bondage, and sometimes the only way to recognize that is through missed opportunities and missed waves. What you do with that knowledge is the real test of courage.

Any epic waves you've missed? What about a wave you're glad you took? Let me know!