My husband loves to surf. I have made attempts to surf, but let’s be clear I have managed to stand solo on a mini mal board for a record of about 10 seconds. Well except for the one time that Craig took me out on a massive longboard in Hawaii for our honeymoon on Waikiki beach – Gidget style. If you don’t know what that means – Google it! So – that is the limit of my experience of what it is to ride a wave.
My husband tells me of stories (when he was a young boy) of waking up before sunrise, racing down to the beach to check the waves and then running back to select, from his then myriad of bashed up boards, the perfect one for the break he saw. He speaks of how waves roll differently, of how they give a different ride. How a fat, thick, rolling wave that doesn’t break, better suits a heavier longer board, about how a breaking wave needs a shorter sharper board to cut through its power. If he gets a chance, these post-kid days, to go for a surf he revels in the length of the ride. He once took a wave from Snapper Rocks to Coolangatta beach – pretty much onto the sand – or so the legend that he dines out on goes.
But it is the illusive barrel wave that excites him the most. The kind that curls right over in a deceptively comforting way until it literally spits you out at the end of the tunnel, then folds in upon itself to rumble towards the shore.
He tells me the most exhilarating thing about this ride is the fact that you have to race the ever-shrinking tunnel to make it out before the barrel collapses. To hear the wave thunder on, knowing that you have just escaped getting pummelled into the washing machine that churns just inches below the surface.
I am familiar with that churn. The feeling of being tossed about with such force that you don’t know which way is up. All you can think in that moment is to hold your breath and ride it out, come up for air and hope to heaven there isn’t another dumper coming right after.
When I went through a pretty tough law partnership spilt as a very young professional just four years after admission, there is one morning I remember distinctly. After tense and awful negotiations that had left me in a trail of sleepless nights the exit deal was finally done. Not how I wanted it, but it was over. I had woken actually feeling rested and head to the gym early (as was then my daily habit). I had finished a pump class and the instructor had asked us how we felt at the end. I remember thinking to myself “For the first time in months, I actually feel great!”. I got myself ready and head down the foyer toward the door with a spring in my step, humming to the upbeat gym music that was playing, grateful to have made it through the other side.
I remember the gym receptionist looked up and smiled and then told me that my husband was outside, waiting for me. It must’ve been my cheery disposition or hers that made me think instantly that he had come to surprise me for a breaky before work. But the minute we locked eyes I knew he was about to deliver bad news. My then “fur baby” our Tonkinese cat, Timba had been hit and killed instantly by a motorbike.
I look back at the circumstance now, from the lens of being a mum with two kids and think what was I so upset about? But that news, delivered at that moment, was like that second dumper hitting me. I had just come up for air and it took me under in a way that meant I couldn’t face work that day or take calls for a weekend. I was a basket case. The circumstance was not the end of the world by any means, but I had been holding it together to get through one thing for so long, that it didn’t take much to wipe me out.
When I look back now I did weird stuff to cope with this curveball. I grieved like I had lost a close family member – I was under a doona for days – over a cat. I had a close friend who had painted our two cats in a funky stylised way, come back and make adjustments to his painting! Seriously!
I guess what I was doing was transferring all of the stress I was feeling over the months before into this excuse to “lose it”.
Now in my humble, utterly, non-qualified opinion, I actually think giving yourself permission to “lose it” is a legitimate coping mechanism for dealing with disappointments in life.
Stay in your PJs, pull up the covers, eat a chocolate bar whole and wash it down with cold milk while binge watching re-runs of your favourite TV series on Netflix! Do that for several days, or even a week if you must. But for heaven’s sake, set yourself a time limit.
Then go have a shower, pull up your adult undies and work out a plan for a way forward.
You can’t stay in the churn forever, or you will drown.
Feel for your leg rope, that leads to your board. Haul yourself up and paddle. The next wave might come but you will get your bearings at the crest of it so you can re-set your direction and ride the next wave – all the way to the sand.