I have always wanted to learn to surf. The fact that I live in San Diego and only just got around to checking this off my bucket list is a bit embarrassing, but there you have it. Recently I went camping with my son and friends at San Elijo State Beach (an awesome experience I’ll blog more about later), and lo and behold: Eli Howard Surf School was located at the campground. It was meant to be.

Even thought I very nearly chickened out, and was embarrassed to be the only first-timer in the class (everyone else was under 10 years old), I had an amazing time. I popped up on the board the first time, and nearly every time after. The instructor didn’t believe I hadn’t surfed before, but I wondered if he told that to all his students. Even if so, it gave me a boost.

I’m hooked, and will definitely be surfing again soon.

Being on a tiny styrofoam board in the middle of the great big sea, you can’t help but get philosophical. The ocean is a healing place, and right now in my life, I am open to lots of healing. Here are some lessons I gleaned from my time riding the waves.

1. Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean.

In surfing, this means not facing toward the shore in case a giant wave takes you by surprise. The ocean, like life, should be revered, feared, and respected. Not being aware of what’s going on around you can mean you get taken by surprise. We’ve all been pummeled by catastrophes. Imagine how much less of an impact they’d have if we were better prepared.

2. There Will Always Be Another Wave.

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Waves are good and bad. The ones you’re prepared for will transport you like a magical watery carpet ride. The ones you’re not ready for will toss you from your board and knock the wind out of you. But the fact is: there is always another wave. Today’s tragedy can be tomorrow’s fresh start, depending on how you choose to ride the wave. The important thing is just accepting that both good times and bad will come, and there’s nothing you can do except be ready.

3. You Have No Choice But to Give Up Control.

Just try to make a wave do your bidding! Good luck with that. As a recovering control freak, it was good for me to let go of expectations and a desire to control what happened out there on the board. In the past six months, I’ve found out that no matter how many plans or good intentions you have, wishes to change people, and desire to have things go your way, there is no way to guarantee they will. You can stomp your feet…or just accept it.

4. When a Wave Knocks You Down, Get Back on the Board.

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My biggest fear before my surf lesson was falling off the board. I’ve had a bad experience getting pulled under before, so that’s what I envisioned. But when it happened, it was surprisingly non-eventful. I felt myself falling. I held my breath and closed my eyes. I resurfaced. I got back on my board. Rather than get frustrated with myself for falling over and over again, I accepted it as part of the process of learning. And in my personal life, rather than giving in to self defeat, I have chosen to get back on the board and keep fighting.

5. You are Stronger Than You Think.

A million times before my surf lesson, I decided to cancel. After all, who was I to think I could learn to surf at 38 years old? I persevered, and it was the best thing I’ve done all year. I proved to myself that I am capable of greatness. After all, it’s not every 38-year-old woman who’s brave enough to take surf lessons with 10-year-olds and then actually be good at it. So I kick ass. And I needed that message to carry in my heart. I’ve been through a lot lately, and my attitude is “what choice do I have except to survive and thrive?” I’m not going to let this crashing wave destroy me. In fact, I’m letting it make me stronger.

So there you have it. Surfing gave me confidence, a new skill, and a better outlook on life.