Day 17 - Empowerment - Part 1
Something happened to my body when I went to New York and wrote You Don't Look Adopted. I stopped being able to do yoga. I stopped being able to swim laps. Every day I felt as if I'd already worked out, hard. My muscles were fatigued. My balance was unsteady. All my life I had been a certain kind of ship and suddenly I was another, and I had no idea how to negotiate the difference, and so I just walked, often for hours. After two years of this, my muscles thinned down, got soft.
I felt old.
I intended for my final major blog post here to be the one where I wrote about Frosty Hesson taking me out for my first surf lesson. I put my heart into that post because I'd met my body again on the board on the water with Frosty. I thought it was time to step away from blogging and spend more time moving.
But after writing a book and blogging steadily for two years, it turns out I need to write as much as I need to move my body. In the past week I have put a lot of energy into movement and little energy into writing, but today I'm going for it: I am working hard at both the writing and being in the body. The fact that I am doing both feels like a miracle.
It's like I finally figured out I can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Or that I can truly be myself out in the world.
This blog post could just as well be titled KINDNESS, for it is through the kindness of others--first Kitty Stockett for giving me her New York writer's haven and then HBL for being there every step of the writing process and then Scooter and Antonia and Rhonda and Carol and Dan and Mark for basically scraping me off the floor and keeping me going when I came home and hit the wall time and time again because I had missed the class on what to do after you chase your dream and get it, but lose your job and home and car and sense of self and bodily strength and ability to focus along the way.
The kindness of others list also includes Frosty, who got me in the water after I'd been living next to it for over a year but never going in, and now, as of this past week, Burleigh Cooper and his wife Helen and their company Portside Paddle are on the list, and, in capital letters next to their names it says GET EVERYONE YOU KNOW TO PADDLE WITH BURLEIGH SO THEY CAN FEEL AS GOOD AS YOU DO.
I am a big believer in Door C. I have found that I often have a sense of what Door A is in my life (what I am currently doing) and what Door B is (what I could be doing), but Door C is the mystery door, the door I can't see. It's the door of undreamed dreams. For example, before Kitty invited me to New York to write, I knew something had to change in my life, something major, but I had never dreamed that I'd be able to just pack up and gamble on the hope that I had a story worth telling and the ability to tell it.
Rilke said every angel is terrifying. I think angels live behind Door C. You have to work up all your courage to not just find the door, but to open it, because it represents the unknown and the known, even if it's lousy, hasn't killed us yet, so maybe it's good enough. Door C is the Indiana Jones moment with the invisible stairs forming across the abyss. It's luck. It's faith. It's desperation. It's blood, sweat, and tears. It's fucking awesome. Maybe it's not that angels live behind Door C. Maybe angels are Door C.
Door C was going out to surf with Frosty. When I had started my 93-day I Want A Solid Poop blog project, I dreamed of finishing with improved intestinal health. It never occurred to me I'd watch Chasing Mavericks on an airplane and then end up in the water with a surfing legend, on his board while he stood behind me, patiently coaching me, pushing me, over and over again, into the glide. I never dreamed that one morning would wake up my body, my guts, to the deep knowing that if you let go and let it happen, you can feel the energy of the ocean, the world, and it will support and carry you. This is the root of love. This is where it all starts: with the pulse of our universe, our planet, our body, and when we are with others, when we are in nature, we can open and feel that giving and receiving are the same. Door C is the understanding that we are all connected and that anything is possible when you tap into that kind of grace and power.
It never occurred to me when I started this 93-day blog project on gratitude that I'd be out on the water again, this time on a stand-up paddle board.
Our teachers, they come to us, and if we are ready, if we listen, everything changes.
I'll tell you the rest of the story tomorrow.
I didn't ask Burleigh's permission because he's not big on self-promotion, but I want to show you the email I got from him today after my fourth lesson. I want to show you what 200% effort looks like. He easily could have just said, "Good job" when I got off the board today, but look what he did. I still don't quite know what to do with this level of commitment and generosity except to stand up at the plate and try to match it. That's what the best teachers do: they make us want to be better.
Here we are, 4 lessons in - look how far you’ve come. Before the below review, I have good news —— you are no longer an “intro” paddler have now entered the “intermediate” category. CONGRATULATIONS ANNE HEFFRON!!!!!!!!!
Before we hit the water on Thursday, we addressed the importance of checking the wind, swell and general weather reports as well as often overlooked aspects of extended paddling sessions (i.e., calories, hydration, sunblock, appropriate clothing/neoprene, PFD fit, etc..). After that, we discussed safety issues (i.e., our planned route, potential navigational issues, rules of the road in the harbor and beyond) and engaged in a thorough equipment familiarization process (paddle, PFD, leash and board).
Importantly, we engaged in dynamic stretching to get our bodies ready for a “new form of contortion” by way of standing from a kneeling position on an unstable object.
In addition, you now have launch and disembark rules drilled into your head - namely, orient your hips parallel with the board, facing the front of the board (the leash goes in back Anne :-), establish your far hand on the board, then far foot and repeat with near extremities - bearing in mind throughout the all important “slow is pro, low is pro” rules. Remember, chin up!
We remained in the harbor on Thursday however you demonstrated excellent control of the board within the first 45 minutes on the water which allowed us to paddle up to the Walton Lighthouse for a nice photo. On Friday, I put you in a spring wetsuit and we headed over the base of the SC wharf along the swim buoy line for our first “out of harbor” experience on the Monterey Bay!!
On Monday (yesterday), we got serious with another trip to the SC wharf and had a phenomenal dolphin experience. We also “shot” the wharf by paddling under and through over to Cowell’s Beach, out to sea and around the end of the wharf back to the harbor. En route, we had another amazing experience watching mama & baby sea otters grooming in the kelp fields. I’ve witnessed this countless times over the years and it never gets old!
Today, we got a taste of more serious conditions - wind, swell, swell bounce and riding “bump”. You immediately recognized the increased energy and were able to handle the conditions with ease which is a testament to your commitment over the three prior lessons.
You now understand how much more challenging bump (or boat wakes) is/are to handle when taken “on beam”, and how fun bump/wakes can be when you harness the energy to work for you. With that in mind, while we discussed triangulation and general open water navigation (hey, where did government buoy go?), we took an out route back to the harbor which allowed us to enjoy riding some bump in the last 200 yards before we hit the harbor mouth - all of which provides the basis required to take you SUP surfing.
All in all, my assessment is that you have excellent underlying fitness and flexibility, a phenomenal attitude and the ability/desire to understand the nuanced/philosophical aspects of paddling. All of this (plus lucking out with on on one instruction) has facilitated a fairly amazing progression over less than a calendar week. Stated differently, you’re awesome - and now have command of the forward paddle, stop, reverse (or tail) sweeps and front (or nose) sweeps (and far more) in open ocean conditions which normally takes folks 5 to 7 lessons.
Please do not hesitate to contact me regarding equipment selection as you prepare to paddle on your own - every minute I’ve spent with you has been a true pleasure and I look forward to seeing you again, personally or professionally!
See you tomorrow.