I seized my opportunistic setting beach-side in Florianópolis to regularly paddle out and attempt to surf. I've only been out on a scattered few occasions in my life, with minimal victory, so I figured some concentrated effort would be fruitful.
Little did I know this mindset was setting me up for disappointment.
My first day out, I fought the endless charge of the waves. I could only make it a few feet before having to duck under another one. Doubtful thoughts came in cycles with the crashing of the waves: What the hell am I doing out here? How much longer am I going to be out here? Another wave. A quick breath. Under again, clutching my board with an outreached hand.
Any little victories would quickly become swamped in defeats. I couldn't get a decent standing streak. I kept losing my balance. And then I'd have to paddle out again.
I marched to shore that first day with my board under my arm, head still ringing with negative thoughts. And then I had an odd realization: I have fond memories of waves.
It's so difficult to recall a prior headspace, especially one as far back as a dozen years. But I can recall associations. Like the rigid system of Inside Out's colored memory balls. This is a great experience. This is a bad one.
My memories of waves are brimming with fondness.
As a kid, I would bodyboard every time my family went to the beach. Going to the beach and bodyboarding were one in the same activity. I had special fins I would wear to paddle out deeper, to catch the biggest waves. I would catch as many as I could before it was time to go.
I also recall being tossed around by the waves. I couldn't touch the ocean floor. A particularly strong one might hold me beneath the surface as I clamored for air.
But as shaken up as I'd get, I was still having fun. I was playing. And this was part of the game. And so I'd always paddle back out.
I could fail a dozen times, but when I finally got one — "Hey, did you see that? Did you see that one? Did you see how big it was?"
I emerged from the water today feeling defeated — "No, no, I'm still really horrible."
I had lost my sense of play.
My mind was instead dominated by what amounts to fear. Fearful about the time and effort I'll have to put in to "get" it. Fear about how I look to others. Fear of messing up another's ride or violating some social code. Fear of fatigue and injury and rip currents.
I wasn't paying attention to the beauty of my surroundings. To the rush of being thrust forward at a high, smooth velocity. The surge of endorphins when I'd finally stand up. The thrill of feeling like you've bested a force that's bested you so many times before. The game between you and the waves.
I've been mindful of my diminished sense of play and have been actively trying to recover it. It's both fascinating and tragic that this default state of mind is seemingly expunged from us as we age.
Luckily, I made a friend in Florianópolis who still seems to have a good grasp on his.
Gustavo had never done any kind of wave-catching before in his life. His first day on any kind of board had been the day prior while sand boarding. But among his thoughtful list of things he wanted to do on the island, surfing was one of them. He asked if I could take him out.
I told him he should probably get a surf instructor or at least someone that could actually surf. He insisted it was fine. I warned him that the boards on hand at the hostel were small and not super easy to learn on. He insisted it was fine.
It's a cold day on the island and the two of us make childish yelps as we enter the water. It occurs to me that I have to, you know, teach the guy. We exit the water. I do my best to give him the short lesson on standing up. I draw a line in the sand just like my teacher did the day before. I demonstrate. The lesson is less than sixty seconds long. I don't even know the word for surfboard. He doesn't seem to care. Prancha. Good enough. Let's go.
The first few minutes we're getting pummeled by waves. Poor Gustavo is still trying to figure out how to gracefully get himself and the board through each wave. It's a total struggle. I'm shouting uninformed direction at him in a language I've only spoken for a few months. We haven't made it out yet and we've already been pushed too close to the rocks. We struggle to return to the center.
And all the while the two of us can't stop laughing. The waves are unrelenting. We don't know what we're doing. It's ridiculous. But we both know Gustavo has to get on that board.
Finally we catch a break between sets. Gustavo climbs on to the board. I'm trying to figure out how the hell surf instructors hold students while waiting for the right wave. The next set starts up. Gustavo and I are getting tossed around. And then I decide that it's time. A botched push. Gustavo doesn't make it very far. I shout an apology. He slowly makes his way back as I laugh at his skirmish with the waves.
The second push off I give Gustavo — would you believe it? The guy stands. Stays low and rides the whole wave out. It was amazing. I lost it. I quickly cycled through the obscenities in my limited vocabulary. He emerges with a huge grin on his face. "I'm exhausted. One more and then I've had enough."