Last week I went surfing for the first time in my life.
I was apprehensive. I mean, this is the North Sea we’re talking about. It was going to be freezing cold.
The deal was thirty minutes of yoga, an hour of surfing and another thirty minutes of yoga to stretch out.
I’d been to yoga around four or five times before so whilst I was nooo pro I knew was to expect. I was the master of downward facing dog and I’d even learnt a few sun salutations. That bit would be fine.
As the yoga began, I was excited. We were right on the sea edge, listening to the cracking waves and tasting the salt in the air.
“And back to Warrior Three”. Called the instructor. Warrior Three involved putting all your weight on one leg and using your arms to stabalise you on the matt. I could reach my left arm to the matt but not my right arm. I can’t straighten it. It happened when I was born and I used to be really bothered by it; trying to hide it at every opportunity, avoiding activities that would make it obvious…like dancing, likes swimming, like yoga.
And yet here I was. I didn’t care any more. I’ve realised what a gift my life is and the fact I can’t straighten my arm doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy life and try everything everyone else tries.
The yoga teacher came over, crouched down on my matt and my heart sank. Suddenly I was 12 years’ old again in PE class and the teacher was telling me I didn’t have to try that move. I could sit it out and watch as everyone else did it. My eyes burned with tears. There was obviously some trigger around this for me.
“Have you hurt your arm?”, the yoga teacher asked me gently?
“Erm, not quite, I just can’t straighten it”, I replied. “But I can do the moves, just not perfectly”, I added. Desperate to continue, to have the chance to do what everyone else gets to do.
“That’s okay”, she said in a lovely quiet voice with an accompanying nod, “do what you can” and off she went. I was grateful. The last thing I wanted was everyone listening in. I hated any kind of attention for the fact I couldn’t do something.
We tried a few more moves. I felt calm. The sea waves washed in and washed out. The air was cool but not cold. And I melted into the session, feeling grateful to stretch out my back and neck.
“Okay for this move I’d like you to rest on your arms and POP your legs up behind you, like a bunny”, the yoga teacher said as she demonstrated the move with practised ease.
I can do that, I thought. I got down on my arms, putting most of my weight on my left arm and using my right arm for balance as I normally do.
I was starting to feel excited for surfing and I could see how all of these twists and turns and poses were preparing us for that moment on the board. I felt good.
As I lent forward, preparing for my first ‘pop’, I looked up to see the yoga teacher in front of me.
“Hmm, you might actually find getting up on the board really challenging if you can’t do this move”.
She said it with such love and care. She was stating the obvious. But it wasn’t obvious to me, until that moment and then it was painfully obvious. Of course I can’t surf, of course I can’t do this. What was I thinking even coming down here?
I turned to Alice as the teacher walked away and said ‘I don’t think I can do this Alice’.
I tried regardless and Alice said it doesn’t matter; ‘even if you just have fun in the sea it doesn’t matter’.
She was right.
We changed into our wet suits, all helping each other pack ourselves into a rubber body armour that would protect us from the cold waters. It was hilarious. We laughed as I jumped and Alice yanked up my suit and vice versa. We’d forgotten all about what we were about to do. The laughter had reset us all.
“Okay everyone grab your boards and bring them down to the beach.”
Shit, I thought, here we go as I looked up to assess our new instructor. A man fully kitted out in his rubber suit and ready to go. He had a beard, long blonde hair in a pony tail and tanned skin. He’s a surfer I thought.
We grabbed our boards and headed to the beach.
“Watch me everyone”, he shouted with authority I respected – a man who’s done it a million times.
He showed us how to stroke our arms forward into the wave, grab the board and pull ourselves up.
It was our turn to practice and that’s when I realised my limitation.
I lay down on the board, pulled myself down so my toes hung off the back of the board to give me balance. My left arm stroked through the air (think front crawl move) effortlessly, I was a pro. My right arm however did not have that range of motion. It could barely hang over the right side of the board, never mind rotate up behind my body and over my head to form a front crawl motion that would pull me forward in the water.
It hit me: ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do the movement’.
I was gutted, embarrassed, annoyed!
Not one to give in easily I did what I decided I’d just do it with one arm and before I knew it, it was time to surf. We grabbed our boards, massive planks of yellow foam and ran to the ocean. The board was heavy and it distracted me from what we were about to do for just a moment.
As our toes hit the water I knew it was cold but I couldn’t feel it. I was excited, focused. I wanted to surf like everyone else.
One by one people dove forward, hitting their boards with a thump. They threw their arms over each side of the board and started to paddle in a front crawl motion.
“Let’s go, let’s go”, our surfing instructor called, ‘to be a good surfer you must be a good paddler so let’s see some effort’.
I hooked my feet over the bottom of the board, I shuffled my body to find my balance, I looked up and threw my left arm into the water.
Stroke, stroke, stroke. ‘I’m doing, I’m doing it’, I thought with a smile.
After five strokes I realised I wasn’t going anywhere. As I committed to more strokes with one arm I looked up to see my worst nightmare happening right in front of me. Everyone else had paddled away. They must have been 50 metres ahead of me and paddling on.
I was being left behind and I felt immediate shame.
‘You can’t do this Lisa, get out of the water and just watch’ my head said.
I looked down at my arm and back up at the other students paddling away and as I did I remembered something we learnt at the Tony Robbins event in LA.
At the event Alice and I walked across hot burning coals. Tony (fricken) Robbins (the man!) had conditioned us for about three hours before hand to prepare for the moment when our physical bodies would step up to the white hot stripe of burning coals. He told us about the wave of heat we’d feel. He told us everything in our bodies would say ‘this is dangerous, turn away’, and he told us that before that moment even comes you must step. You must step on to the coal and walk forward, calm and cool reciting the chant he’d taught us: ‘cool moss, cool moss, cool moss’.
The moment on the coals came just as he described. The heat was unbelievable. It took my breath away. My body said ‘no fucking wa…’ before I let myself complete the sentence I’d taken my first step and I walked across 10 ft of hot burning coals and it was the best feeling in my life.
“If you can walk across hot burning coals, you can do anything” Tony had told us.
Here I was again. The moment where you think your way out of it or step your way into it. ‘Shut up’, I said to that jabbering voice inside saying ‘you can’t do this, get out and watc…’ and I plunge my arm into the water and drove my body forward, fighting back the tears and tearing through my limitations.
#DARETOGROW, I thought.
I paddled into wave after wave. Paddling with all my strength and pulling myself forward on the board. Each time I rolled off and was swept under in the current of the water.
‘Again’, I said, as I paddled back to my starting position.
“Here comes a big one”, shouted the instructor. I missed it. I was too slow to get back to the waves with my one-armed make shift paddling manoeuvre.
As I watched others catching the wave and pulling themselves up on their waves I smiled and I wooped: “GO ON ALICEEEEE”, “GO ON MELISSSSAAA”, I cheered everyone on.
As they tumbled off into the water at the end of the wave I paused. I looked back over my shoulder and I could see a stream of three beautiful waves coming my way. I looked ahead and I saw myself catch the wave, pull my body up and pop to my knees. I felt the exhilaration, I felt the rush, I felt the motion.
I looked back over my shoulder again, there is was: the wave.
I looked ahead, grabbed the bottom of the board with my feet, pulled my head low to the board, found my balance and I fucking paddled. I could feel the pain in my tired arm but I didn’t care. This wave was for me.
I missed the first one but used the energy of it to move me forward in the water and get that initial momentum. I paddled and I paddled and before I knew it I was moving with the wave. I’ve never felt anything like it, the power, the floating sensation. I was flying on water.
It was time. I reached each side of the board and I pulled my body forward like my life depended on it. It took all my strength, all of my grit, all of my energy to pull my body up, tuck my knees underneath me and look ahead.
I’d done it, I’D FUCKING DONE IT. LOOK AT ME, I’M DOING IT, I’M RIDING THE WAVE HAHA, I thought to myself.
It was beautiful. In my mind the moment lasted forever. The noises on the beach, the crashing of the waves and the sound of me breaking every limitation ever placed on me.
I threw my arms in the air and smiled, falling sideways off the board and under the wave. I found the sand bed beneath me and pushed myself up. I stood to my feet and I caught Alice’s eyes. We were both screaming and wooping and jumping. She knew what this moment meant to me and I knew what it meant to her.
I jumped back on to my board and paddled out for another go, thinking of my DARETOGROW community.
I knew in that moment that we are all capable of anything but you can’t think your way into your dream, on to that stage, into that conversation: there comes a time when you must take a step: onto the coal, into the water, into life.
Limitations are lessons. Once you’ve overcome one, you can overcome them all.
So get out there and make your move.
It’s time #DARETOGROW