I am home from Australia. A total of 26 hours in airports and on planes to get home, but I made it and I cannot believe the trip is over already.
This trip was transformative for me in so many ways. It introduced me to other cultures, not just in Australia but also those of the other 49 people on the tour with me. I made lots of new friends from all over the world and strengthened friendships I already had. I relaxed more than I have in years. And I conquered a fear I’ve had since I was a small child. Yes, I know everyone is afraid of sharks in some way but I have always been TERRIFIED of sharks. I have regularly had nightmares of being attacked. I’ve had so many nightmares that I’ve had several of them more than once, the same awful heart-pounding moments on repeat in my head since I can remember even having dreams. They’ve gotten less frequent over the past 5-6 years but my fear and anxiety about sharks has not gotten better.
An I do it to myself. I watch Shark Week like I’m obsessed, I read any and all mentions of shark attacks and seek out even the grisly details. This does not help me sleep better. Just before my trip I also watched a shark attack special on Netflix on which a man was violently attacked on the same beach in Australia that my surf lesson was to take place. In my defense I thought I had seen all of the attacks on that show before, but this one was new. Ughhh.
So when the morning of the surf lesson rolled around, I resolved not to do it. I struggled with that decision, since I wanted to be brave and tough, but I also wanted to enjoy my trip and not deal with my anxiety-induced heartburn. So there I was, ready to sit this one out, too afraid to do it but too proud to admit it. I had breakfast with some of the other people in my group and I was listening to two others who had decided not to surf also. They were talking about it like they never had any intention of doing it, like they had no interest in doing something so out of their comfort zone like that. And something in my brain just switched.
I didn’t want to sit this one out. Did I sound negative like that? When would I ever be here again, when would I ever be as young and stupid as I am right at this moment? Can’t I just stop the worrying and overthinking for once and just try something new?
So before I could change my mind I ran back to the cabin, threw on my swimsuit, and jumped into the back of the surfing class even though it had already started. And when the time came I put on a wetsuit, grabbed a board and lugged it to the beach, my heart pounding in my chest.
As the instructor went over how to properly jump up on the board and how to catch a riptide, I breathed slowly and told myself that if I didn’t like it, I could simply turn around and walk out of the water.
The time came to get into the water and again, my mind started trying to pull me back onto the soft warm safe sand.
NOPE. I’m doing it.
I snapped one more picture of myself with my best nervous smile before I surely lost any limbs and handed my camera to a friend of mine who made the choice to wait on the beach.
As I was walking out into the water I was afraid to look down, to see all the shadows that were surely surrounding me, waiting for me to finally enter their territory. There were none.
I walked out to about chest level and jumped onto the board, knowing that I looked like a seal from below. Gulp. I started to paddle. I heard a wave coming up behind me and I paddled faster, wondering what the hell I was doing out here! I looked over my should and the wave was almost on top of me, so I gave a few more hard paddles and braced myself for disaster. But instead, the wave lifted the entire board up so high and fast, and I was rushed back towards the shore. I hopped down and realized I was in one piece. I decided, “Well I’m already out here, I might as well do that one more time…” so I walked back out into the water. An hour and half later and I was exhausted, my arms aching and my legs and head throbbing from wiping out time after time. I had swallowed so much seawater that I felt like I was going to throw up. I never did manage to stand up all the way but I got really close and the instructor and my awesome and supportive friends in the water said they were really proud of me! I dragged my board out of the water and onto the sand, gasping for air but feeling so exhilarated. I ran to my friend who was holding my camera and grabbed it, and snapped another picture of myself, and I think it says it all.
I have never felt stronger or prouder of myself in my life! Maybe I didn’t do the best, but I didn’t quit or give in to my irrational fear. I felt like I could do anything, which was good because a few days later I went open sea kayaking. Holy damn! I would have been terrified to do that but I still felt so awesome I didn’t care that there were shadows swimming beneath my kayak.
Take that, sharks! You don’t scare me so much anymore.
(One other thing this trip did for me is reignite my decision to work out and do something good for myself. I could have surfed so much better without the extra weight on me and that’s the truth. So I’m going to kick-start some hard core working out so that the next adventure I have, I’ll be completely ready to kick it’s ass!)