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will a life in the sea be a life for me?

There is a list of things I’ve been meaning to write about but right now, writing feels a bit like meeting a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. There are umpteen things to catch up on but it’s been so long that you’re not sure where to start. Hopefully it’s a good friend, the kind you could talk to till sunrise, and everything will flow from the first ‘happy to see you again’.

On the list was surfing: the almost monthly trips, learnings, breakthroughs, sunshine, flying as well as tears, fears and injuries. Every time I go to the coast sentences pile up. I want to describe the natural beauty, the friends to spend warm evenings with after a day in cold water and everything I learn and unlearn about life when I mingle with waves. But save for intermittent notes in a personal journal, the sentences don’t come out. Maybe because I’m fixated on the notion that all my writing should be accompanied by pictures. Pictures that don’t get taken because I can’t be bothered with a camera when wearing a wetsuit.

But it’s funny, here I am deciding to finally just write – without the help of pictures and their 1000s of words, 3 weeks after my last surf and 2 weeks before the next trip planned and…in Saskatchewan. Far, far away from swell and sexwax smell. Though at the same time, perhaps a fitting place to be writing about where surfing currently stands in my life. A distraction from blue green fantasies.

Other than a lesson in Japan now foggy in my memory, I started surfing two and a half years ago. It was the passion of my boyfriend at the time and what seemed to be key to his lifestyle and demeanour that so attracted me. Falling in love with him I felt like I was also falling in love with salt, sand and neoprene. But just like love, learning to surf ain’t easy. Especially when you lack the confidence to stand tall and trust that you belong on a wave. The first year was a challenge, more emotionally than physically. I made the mistake of believing the relationship was dependent on me being able to surf. Trip after trip as I didn’t get up on that board, I feared that I was failing as a surfer and that the relationship would soon crumble around this deficiency.

When the relationship did end, for reasons other than my poor surfing skills (I think), I panicked. Would that be it? A year of attempts and then a future being a person who says, “oh yeah, I tried surfing a while back. It’s sure hard isn’t it?” and who enjoys the ocean as something to hear and see but not feel?

I promised myself that I would continue to try. I bought a wetsuit and a 9’6” bus from my ex. It was dinged-up and heavy with water and emotional baggage too I’m sure, but it felt special and right for me at the time. I went out alone which was absolutely stupid but luckily I learned that without injury. Then I went for a weekend with friends and finally, after a year of trying, I caught a wave and planted two feet on my board. It may have been because of the lesson we took (yes, lessons = good) but I like to think it’s because I finally detached myself from surfing as something exclusive and with emotional importance. I just had fun.

In the year and a half since, I’ve been fortunate to have good friends who are rare to consider going anywhere other than Tofino for a long weekend. My progress is still slow. I need to be less cautious and to accept wave poundings or the occasional wash cycle. But I’ve made enough progress to be encouraged to keep going and have noted that the breakthroughs only happen when I stop caring about how well I surf and just. have. fun.

Sunshine and what friends amiably refer to as “Meghan waves” (inversely proportional to my height and the coffee I brew) help too. Oh, and so does my lovely new board: pepsi-coola.

There are still discouragements. There are sessions where it feels impossible to understand the waves and even ones where they feel adversary enough for me to call it quits (let any future children be thankful for 5mm of neoprene!). I guess these are to be expected. But a more constant discouragement is the reality that Vancouver is far from breaks and while it’s possible to have a surfing holiday lifestyle, it’s very difficult to live and breathe surfing. This discouragement is amplified by the thought that maybe I’m kidding myself; that there’s some element of surfing I’ll never experience being a girl from the prairies with a first trip to the ocean at the age of 21 and still a 5 to 6 hour journey from the closest break.

The subtext here is that this discouragement extends to other things I want to be, have or create. At times I wonder if they are too much of a departure from the experiences I’ve had and who I’m able to be.

Jump back to Saskatchewan. It is the first time that this place feels really truly foreign. The air extra dry, people holding themselves and speaking in different manners, a different mix of groceries in shopping carts and more dyed hair. It isn’t foreign in a bad way, just different and well, in a way where I don’t feel like I belong here anymore.

I guess anyone who has moved away from a place for a substantial amount of time could tell me, ‘that’s what happens’. But it’s an important milestone to me because when I found myself walking through Extra Foods feeling alien and wondering “where do I belong?” I finally realized – I fully belong in Vancouver, in BC, by the mountains, close (enough for now) to the ocean. It is who I am.

How does this relate to the surfing? Well first, feeling like I belong in Vancouver and in BC is one step closer to feeling connected to the ocean. Some would argue it’s still a pretty far step but it’s much closer than the prairies. But then secondly, this realization of where I belong has demonstrated to me the impermanence of identity, or the ability to adapt at least, and it’s wonderfully exciting to think of who I might be 10 years from now. So different from myself now just like myself now is different from my 20-year old self. And I feel great comfort and happiness knowing the very high possibility that when I’m 40, I’ll still be out there, playing in the water.

Phew. Now my good friend remembers why we live in different cities. She wishes I would just bake more pies. But perhaps a long self-reflection post was needed to put some space between the past (breakfast poetry…really?) and future tales of more summer bike rides, chasing men in kilts and maybe even some notes from my old-new consulting gig.

Soon to come home and dreaming about Easter surf evening sunsets guitars by the fire and chilly morning bacon.