New Board Feels
Last week I got a new surfboard. I’m so excited, but I found myself afraid to share about it. I’ve been careful who I’ve told before now. This wasn’t an impulsive purchase, I’ve been looking into getting a new board for a couple years. There was a part of me that felt a bit guilty about getting it. Who am I a person who earns so little and has been given so much to purchase such an expensive luxury? Those feelings have come up a lot over the years since Kerry got sick. The need to justify how we spend money. But the one that surprised me is the second feeling that came up: who am I, a mediocre, at best, surfer to buy a brand spankin’ new board? I don’t even really know anything about boards!!
I hesitated to post about getting a new board because I feel like a fraud. It’s a lot of money and I feel like I’m not enough. Not good enough, not in the culture enough, not a “real surfer”. I’ve been surfing for eleven years now. And the first thing I always want to say immediately after that is, “I’m not very good”. It’s like I want people to realize I know before they can think it themselves. But more and more I’m asking myself “why does it matter?” There’s probably a lot to unpack there about belonging, the sport, it’s culture and my own personal hangups.
The first place to start that work seems like in myself. Those high school insecurities of not being cool enough, not having the right style, not saying the right things still bubble up even two decades later. Oy. Which also feels lame to admit. I’m a woman in my mid thirties and I sometimes still worry about being cool.
What I didn’t expect is all those insecurities and self doubt to follow me into my recreational activity. Surfing is supposed to be fun!
I haven’t met a person yet who has told me about how popular and comfortable they felt in high school. So I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that I have never felt cool. But I was honestly mostly ok with that. I was top of my class academically, and a damn good swimmer for my hometown. That gave me a space to belong. I could rest in the confidence that being a swimmer gave me. I lost that confidence when I got injured my senior year and I spent a lot of college trying to get it back since I was no where near the best on my collegiate team, I was hanging around the bottom of the pack, even now that I was swimming faster than I ever had in high school.
Confidence is a funny thing.
What’s funny looking back, is that only about 3% of high school swimmers swim at a division 1 school (I’m using stats from this year, it might have been a little different back when I was competing). But I never felt like the top 3%. I could see how far I was from the very best. I was struggling to console at our conference meet while my roommate was literally winning silver medals at the olympics. Not to mention all the practices that I cried into the gutter because that’s how I deal with any sort of stressor (super stoked on that little default setting by the way).
There’s this phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect. I haven’t read very much about it (very on brand, especially given this phenomenon) but from my understanding it postulates that beginners or persons with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. The more you do a task the more you know how much you don’t know. And while the person who over estimates their ability is seen as a fool, I honestly sometimes long for the day when I was that fool, or more appropriately, that kook. The fool or kook who knows no better is having a great time! The first few years (maybe even seven) of surfing were filled with the blissful ignorance of never having seen video or photos of me on a wave, just the pure fun of it all.
Reflecting on all the feels that a new surfboard has brought up leads me to ask; why am I trying to make surfing fill that excellence void? Why am I even trying to fill that void? It shouldn’t need to, surfing is meant to be for fun. And while I lament the loss of my happy fool/kook days I admit, aspects of surfing have gotten more fun as I’ve gotten better. I catch more waves, I can stay on the wave longer, I can do more things (that’s as specific as I’d like to be)! But there is this pressure that I put on myself that wasn’t there when I first started surfing. Because when you first start something, you’re a damn fool so you think “I’m amazing!” You have no clue and to a certain extent, I still have no clue except now I know I have no clue. At times I miss that fool hardy confidence.
I would say the peak delusion of my surfing skill was 2016. I have some cringe feelings thinking about a trip to Mexico and the confidence with which I surfed poorly. But it was also a launching pad. It was the first time I had gotten coaching in surfing, and from that point I think something started to shift. My perspective was starting to widen. Interestingly enough, shortly before this trip was when I first started screen printing bags. Maybe delusions can give you the courage to start something you might normally talk yourself out of.
By the time I started looking into buying a new surfboard a couple years back I was sliding down the back side of Mt. Stupid into the Valley of Despair. A great time to go shopping. As soon as I started thinking about it I realized how little I know about surfboards. My first board was a gift from my husband that he bought from a friend to as he puts it “soften me up before he proposed”. I spent one weekend looking at local shops, got overwhelmed, a little freaked out and just stopped. I felt out of my depth. I didn’t ever meet that sales person who was just like “yes, I hear what you’re looking for, let me take you on a journey into stoke town because I am so excited about the thing I’m about to tell you about”. I had someone do that for me with booties, it was awesome. I love those booties. Thank you sir for getting excited about the thing I’m trying to buy. I needed someone who would look at me and say “you don’t know but, I know, so you don’t need to know, I’m gonna tell ya about it”. I didn’t find that. Mostly what I felt was. “You don’t know? Why wouldn’t you know?”
And to make things interesting, I had doubled down on my imposter syndrome. I decided let’s not just question whether I belong in the surf community, let’s go ahead and make art in the surf space. Making sure I combine all the ways I might feel like an imposter or a fraud or inadequate into one spot. And how about we track my success, my belonging in dollar amounts? Sound good? It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I don’t think I could have ever escaped the insecurities of surfing or of art. Maybe they didn’t have to coalesce into one place but, oh well. Because it’s never been about what I’m doing or what I’m making, it comes from some place in me. I think there’s a little bit of that in all of us. Some of us cope with it better, some people hide it better or show it differently. My armor throughout my life has always been excel, excel, excel. But how is that a fair expectation for myself now? I work full time, I don’t have that opportunity. I don’t get to excel at surfing. I don’t get to be an expert at it. It’s humbling, but honestly I think it’s really good for me. To be ok with just being ok. Maybe being mediocre and just having a good time should be good enough. What I want to seek now isn’t the reassurance that I am good or cool but that I’m not required to be either of those things. I can just be. My days of high caliber sport is done, I'm just out in the water to have fun. While my old mindsets of competition, comparison and intense training still try to creep in; each time I try to remind myself most people are doing the same thing as me: worrying that they don’t measure up, and people around them are going to point out where they fall short.
Why the pressure? What does being better at it really actually gain me? And more importantly, what am I losing? Does being a part time surfer really make me a fake?
In the middle of this small spiral I went to Sri Lanka. I felt like my surfing improved by leaps and bounds. Still had to eat a little humble pie, but mostly I was gratified by how much I learned in two weeks. The coaches were amazing and I loved the trip. I still dream about it a year and half later. I felt more ready than ever for that new board but I still was having trouble figuring out how to get unstuck, and out of my own head.
I ended up on Bing’s website. Because it was low key and low pressure. I could just look at board descriptions on their website.
Then fill out a little web form thing.
Then they emailed me with recommendations.
Then we set up a call to talk it out.
They really snuck up on me which was kind of nice and I finally got the guy who said, “I know, you don’t need to know. Just tell me about your surfing”. I still felt like a moron but Grey was awesome and so kind, explained why he thought certain boards would work better for me, asked where I liked to surf, what my goals were. I still felt dumb as hell, like I was going to get judged because of where I like to surf or that I was supposed to know everything about surfboards, just because I like to surf for fun. But they made it easier, and I am so grateful for that.
I think there is a part of surf culture running adjacent to localism that says oh you don’t know about ___________? Are you even a real surfer? And that attitude is off putting. It tells people to be uncomfortable in a community that is supposed to be for them. People who fit the stereotype of a particular sphere but are not dealing well with their own insecurities try to control entry to community spaces with bullshit expert testing. Seems like people who don’t fit the stereotype run into the expert test more often. Why is there a test?? We all love the same thing. We all love surfing. Let’s not shame each other for not knowing, let’s revel in our shared love and quest to find out. You don’t know, I’m stoked to talk to you about what I think. I don’t know, I’m stoked to listen to what you’ve learned. There’s no one sitting on the mountain top doling out knowledge as the all knowing surf lord. Because if you’re really that knowledgeable, you know your limitations and that there’s value in a beginners perspective.
I loved not feeling the expectation of having to know. I loved getting to listen to an expert get excited about the thing they do best. I want to normalize that for myself. There are somethings I don’t have to know, like what fin works best with my board, I have someone I can ask. And really the person in my life who does this best is my husband. He will watch any reality show where the people are the best at whatever thing they’re doing. He loves listening to people talk about the thing they are most passionate about. It’s basically how he picked a jeweler for my engagement ring. He found the guy who was the most excited about making this design. I want to cultivate that.
I have a tendency to not put out enthusiasm. Enthusiasm can be a risk. Being really excited can be a risk, because you are asking someone to enter into this excitement with you and if they’re not, (fully recognize this might be my damage) it feels like a complete indictment on what I think is awesome. And I’m bummed. I’ve shut that down to an extent to protect my heart. I want to encourage you to embark on the things you love with reckless enthusiasm. And when you do you’ll find people just as stoked as you, which is a ball. And if they’re not, oh well. Don’t be like me; get excited. I’m working on it, I promise, because I don’t think I want to live not getting excited about the silly little stuff.
I think we have a choice when we’re feeling out of place. We can either take part in that feeling of exclusion, pass on that anxiety that we feel or we can be who we hoped we would have met. We can welcome people in. Humbly share what we know, get excited that they want to love what we love too. The best part is, you can start this before you’ve achieved some magical skill level. You can keep the door open even as you’re walking through.
I hope you love what you’re doing and don’t let anyone talk you out of it, even yourself.
A little note Kerry left me after proof reading this post. Feel free to use it as your pep talk too.