It’s Not Personal

It’s Not Personal

My shins smashed into the deck of my board as I tried to pop up. Again. The sting buzzed through them as I bailed into the whitewater and screamed beneath the surface.

The buoyancy of the brine pushed me up and as I inhaled the sea air, the lip of a wave grabbed my skull and drove me down. Again. I roared under water as a rock formed in my throat and salt water welled inside my eyes.

I slapped the water in disgust. My body surged with anger and shame. It felt as if my skin might fail as a boundary and my internals explode. Now floating in the impact zone I looked out the back at surfers laughing, casually paddling into waves and popping up on their feet. None of this landing on their knees crap. Nothing wrong with kneeboarding, except I was trying to surf. Standing up. On two feet.

I spotted my boyfriend (now husband) bobbing out the back oblivious to my anguish. I pulled my on my leash, grabbed my fire engine red epoxy pop out and clambered on. A wave of whitewater rolled in and somehow, despite aiming directly at the beach I managed to skew sideways and was bucked off my board. Again.

Faaark! Motherfucking Fuck fuck fuck!

 I desperately tried to pull it together but tears spilled onto my hot cheeks and the rock in my throat morphed into a cannonball. My eyes darted around- was anyone watching? A grown woman in her twenties brought to her knees by the ocean, in every sense. My shins still ached and were mottled purple.

This was supposed to be fun. This surfing caper. I should have been rollicking and laughing with the wipeouts- that was part of this playful act right? Well I wasn’t laughing. I’d gone to water. Being a novice should have been a blessing, as the Zen proverb goes “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” I knew I shouldn’t be taking it so seriously, but I couldn’t help it.

I wanted to murder someone or something. As I finally hit the sand I threw my board down and stared at the sea as my frustration simmered. It wasn’t fair. I was trying so hard and I still sucked dog’s balls.

Why don’t you give me something back? I chastised the ocean for being so cruel.

Those in the water and on the beach around me were blind to my internal combustion. I felt like a goose and didn’t want them to see how flustered I was. But a part of me did. Had anyone else found surfing this distressing? Had it brought them to tears? Perhaps I was too uptight to be a surfer.

In time I saw that it wasn’t surfing or the ocean that brought me to tears. It was all me. I was expecting something from the ocean and the ocean was just doing what the ocean does. I wasn’t even a blip on its vast radar. I made it personal. But what the sea dishes out is universal.

Some years and many waves later I stood on the precipice of the concrete steps that descend onto Manly’s white sand. It was Summer and the lemmings poured from the ferry down the southern edge of the Corso, spilling onto the beach and promenade.

I was there in a bodily sense, but energetically I’d been washed out. A couple of hours earlier my husband phoned me as I’d gone home from the hospital with my baby girl to lie down. I knew when the phone rang that my dad was gone.

I drove back to the hospital. Tears ran as did laughter as loved ones remembered my father. He’d had a good innings. Lived a full, vibrant life in his eighty- five years. The last few years had been tough. The grief had begun long before this moment. As an only child with parents who’d parted- his care landed with me. This was a burden and a privilege that I wouldn’t change.

I walked slowly towards the water as the blustering Nor’easter swirled hair in my eyes and mouth. I felt a kind of nothingness as I stood near first pipe staring at the thumping closeouts. I knew I wanted to be in the ocean no matter how unlovely she looked this afternoon.

Paddling out I got whirled by waves that churned sand like a cement mixer on the shallow sandbank. When I got out the back I could barely see as my eyes stung from the salty wind. There was one other bloke out and he began to paddle in as I felt the sting of a bluebottle wrapping around my calf.

The sea and its creatures continued to pummel and prick me. I pulled tentacles off my face and attempted to remove the large blobs of sand pooling in the gusset of my cossies. I washed in, spent in every way. I’m not sure what I wanted from the ocean that day. A warm embrace? To be held? But I know that the ocean was doing what the ocean does. And that’s exactly what I needed.

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