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What Are You Afraid Of?

Night Surf

Who would have thought that the best way to overcome my fear of big waves was to go surfing at night?

After a year of surfing three-foot waves on a ten-foot surf board, Shane started to push me to try bigger waves and increasingly challenging situations. However, the idea of a wall of water threatening to hit me with my 10 foot surf board was hard to swallow.

I liken the feeling to balancing on a curb… 40 feet off the ground. You know that 6 inches off the ground you can balance just fine. Though for some reason the extra 40 feet stirs a distinct uncertainty.

The Freaks Come Out at Night

The relatively warm Santa Cruz Spring night featured a full moon. I thought it was a joke when Shane proposed night surfing. There was a sizable swell in town and at the time I had never even heard of surfing at night. It didn’t take much convincing though. True to his inner CEO, Shane led me on a mission to catch waves in the dark.

My heartbeat was throbbing in my ears as we found ourselves negotiating our way down the rocks into the barely visible ocean. Towering shadows in the sea, the waves roared as they revealed their breaking points.

We soon started to paddle, the icy cold salt water harmonizing with my adrenaline. The sound of the sea bashing the rocks near the lighthouse conducting my heart beat.

Paddling into the darkness was an act of faith. An act of loyalty. An an act of youthful bliss. And at the time it felt like an act of sheer stupidity.

Shane quickly disappeared with the next passing shadow. I couldn’t see him, though I could hear him holler as he dropped into the face of the wave and took off.

I picked a spot where I knew the waves could not quite reach and did my best to learn where they break.

I See the Light

After 30 minutes of sitting in the water, watching the shadows of waves pass by, my heart had started to calm down and my imagination began to find peace. I began taxiing to the runway. I didn’t know how big the waves were for sure, but I had a vague sense of where I needed to be to take off.

Suddenly, there was a massive shadow right behind me. I was paddling away from it as fast as possible when it scooped me up and threatened to throw me over its increasingly tall face. Before I could think, I jumped up and stood on my board!

Voila! I was riding a wave taller than me! And I never even saw it coming.

Unbearably beautiful, the eight foot glassy wall reflected the moon. I could move around. I could shift my balance. I could sing.

At one point I kneeled down and ran my hand across the water for a while. It had been cold before but now it felt warm and firm. My body relaxed and a vast endless smile stretched across my heart.

Now I Know, and Knowing is Half the Battle

In what seemed to be the most terrifying conditions, I was able to learn a little more about controlling my fear. I gained confidence and have since been able to apply it to much larger waves in the day. I also found a new passion – night surfing.

The most profound result of this however, is that i came to understand an approach to fighting fear. In many cases the best way to fight fear is to face it head on. That means, learn about and understand the things that scare you. Learn what you can do to engage with those things. Be informed. In this case it meant knowing how to stand up on my board and knowing fundamentally how to catch a wave.

If you simply can not handle facing the thing you are afraid of even when you are otherwise prepared, perhaps it is time to stop focusing on it. Perhaps it is time to put yourself in a position where you will encounter that which frightens you and you will react with all your education and conquer in one fell swoop.


Question: What are you afraid of?