Surfing, Fear, and Letting Go

How a day at the beach became a life metaphor for letting go and having fun.

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When you move to Los Angeles, it’s practically required that you A) try a green juice, B) start a yoga practice, and C) go surfing. Living on the Westside, I saw surfboards and wetsuit-clad adrenaline junkies around every corner.

And yet months went by and I had yet to hit the waves. Then one night, a casual conversation among strangers turned into a hypothetical surfing plan. My friend Katie was visiting, and to give her a true Los Angeles experience, I turned in my typical Friday night of wine and tacos for an evening out on the town. Eventually, we found ourselves making vague plans with new friends, deciding that we were going to set our clocks for an early morning wake-up and head to the beach.

The activity gave me pause; surfing looked hard and I had never done it before, I could fall off and hurt myself, and I didn’t exactly want to look like a dork in front of a bunch of strangers. I walked from the beach and down to the sand, holding the longboard and feeling like a fraud. The closest thing I had done even remotely related to surfing was shop at a PacSun.

Some of our gang hung back, only involved in the trip out to El Matador beach for the sand and sun. They spread out their towels, books, and mesh bags of clementines and settled into what was to be their spot for the next three hours. I watched them and thought, “OK, I could totally sit this out. I don’t need to try surfing.”

How often had these fears kept me from pursuing my other life interests?

And yet, the kind boys offering to teach us were really encouraging, and also really cute. Ever the stereotypical Libra, I weighed the pros and cons of my scenario. As I examined my list of reasons to avoid the water, I realized that I was being ridiculous.

I didn’t want to try surfing because:

  1. I didn’t think I could do it because it looked hard.
  2. I didn’t have any experience, and I was afraid I would fall off and look stupid.
  3. The waves looked really scary and potentially painful.

So essentially, I didn’t want to go surfing because I was afraid of failure, looking stupid, and getting hurt. Woah. How often had these fears kept me from pursuing my other life interests? How often do these fears plague others? We don’t ever start writing that novel because we’re convinced no one will want to read it. We refuse to try a handstand in front of more experienced yogis because we don’t want them to think we’re novice. We end relationships because we’re afraid of heartbreak.

This notion hit me like a 10-foot wave. Once vocalized, this fears seemed so silly, when only moments beforehand they felt very, very real. Perhaps once we start to examine our fears, we become less fearful. We see that the consequences aren’t so bad, and that there is little harm in trying something new. “What’s the worst that could happen?” is truly a valuable question.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” is truly a valuable question.

I got in the water. I paddled out beyond the wave’s break and examined the beach from a new perspective. I fell down. A lot. The strength of the ocean is real; I was knocked down so badly that I didn’t know where the surface was. Out of the three hours I spent surfing, I think I stood on my board for approximately four seconds.

And yet, it was one of the best moments of my life. For three hours, the five us floated atop the ocean, occasionally ducking out to try to catch a wave. Our hair grew stringy with salt and everyone’s shoulders began to brown. When we weren’t surfing, we laid across our boards, dragging out fingers over the water and talking about our lives.

Many of us recognize the power of nature over our minds. When you have a cluster of individuals surrounded by it, everyone becomes a little sharper, a little more observant. We listen more, and our communication becomes more genuine. For a little bit we weren’t staring at our personalized screens, but instead focusing on the gentle dip of the ocean and the glare of the sun as it faded into the cusp of the horizon.

By allowing fear to dominate our decision making, we may miss out on life’s most rewarding experiences. Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for her book Eat, Pray, Love, once said, “Imagine living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Curiosity is what drove me into the water, and what likely drives you into some of your most intimidating adventures. Fear is useful when we’re traveling on a dark road during a rainstorm, or walking down an alleyway in a bad neighborhood. It should keep us from making stupid decisions, but that’s about it.

I’ve found that once I acknowledge my fear, it becomes less powerful. It’s not who I am; it’s just one little voice in my head that can get far too much attention. And in the great road trip of life, it does certainly not get to be the driver.

The next time you fear trying something new, I urge you to ask yourself why. The rewards will likely outweigh the risks.


Amanda Kohr is a 25-year-old writer and photographer with a penchant for yoga, food, and travel.  She prefers to bathe in the moonlight rather than the sun, and enjoys living in a state of the three C’s: cozy, creative, and curious. When she’s not writing, you can find her driving her VW Bug, looking for the next roadside attraction or family diner. She also roams the internet at and through Instagram.