Susan Edlinger wrote this article for Creative Living Magazine five years ago, when she was 55. There is a video on her blog of her surfing and describing her passion for her sport. She lives in Woodland Hills, California where she has her own business as an Executive & Life Coach, helping others tap into their own “inner surfer.”
The scene: early morning on a beach in Santa Monica, California. I’m waiting for my instructor to arrive for my first surf lesson. I’ve got butterflies in my stomach and fear in my heart. What made me think I could do this? Why would I want to?
But within an hour, I am on my board and have just stood up on my first “white water.” (That’s surf lingo for catching the churning water just after the wave has broken.) And I am hooked. Surfing is like flying, or racing across a field bareback on a horse—a feeling of riding on a sheer force of nature, out of control and in control at the same time. The sense of freedom and power would change my life forever.
Fast-forward one grand first wave and hundreds of wipeouts later, and I’m spending a week at “Summer Fun Surf Camp” in San Clemente, California. I’m obviously the oldest “camper.” Everyone keeps telling me I am such an inspiration. I try to take this as a compliment.
I would not call this week “summer fun.” Surfing is difficult—in fact, the hardest sport I’ve ever attempted. By the end of the week, I was beyond exhausted. I had swallowed more water than I drink in a year. I had been tossed and held under by waves. I had cut my feet on rocks. I had cried daily with frustration.
The surfing rule of thumb is that surfers spend 90 percent of their time paddling for, waiting for, and trying to catch waves, and 10 percent actually surfing. To really surf, you need great upper body strength, quick reflexes, and incredible balance. I realized quickly that if I didn’t build significant upper body strength, the only waves I’d ever experience would be waves of frustration. But I was determined to learn.
By now you’re probably wondering….why on earth would a sane, safe middle–aged woman even want to learn to surf? A year before I began, my oldest sister, and best friend, died of breast cancer. She was young; she fought the pain, fear, and sorrow heroically. When she died, I realized I was not only sad, but also afraid of dying, and worse, afraid of really living. But I vowed not to live in that prison. I would do one thing; take one small step, to say “yes” to the future. Surfing was my personal testimonial to embracing life.
Now five years later, surfing has carried me through. I’ve ventured to a women’s surf camp in Mexico, and on a surfing expedition to Peru. Sunday mornings routinely find me at “Mondo’s,” a family surf beach near Ventura, California. My sons have learned to surf, and as I sit with them waiting for waves, I can hear my youngest singing to himself as he scans the ocean for his next ride. And I know joy.
Susan also has some wise words on her blog about how to live an exciting life. She prefers to surf without a leash tied to her and the board. And she uses that metaphor to describe some of her attitudes about life.
To surf without a leash is, in fact, to take the risk of letting go of what we believe is our security. To actually untie ourselves from our security boards and still paddle out into the waves of life. What are some of these securities we are leashed to? For some people, it’s a familiar, though stagnant job, or a safe, but unfulfilling relationship. For others, it can even be smaller things, like majoring in a degree at college, because we think it will “make us money” vs. studying what we are really passionate about. It can be keeping quiet when someone has said or done something that bothers us vs. taking the risk of speaking the truth about how they affect us.
Surfing without a leash, is simply choosing to surf through our days, not necessarily without our security anchors, but rather not tied to them. It’s the courage to be willing to venture out into life, not knowing what will happen next. To leave that job, without another job in sight, to move away from an old relationship, without a new relationship on the line. To say what we really think and feel, not knowing what will happen.