Surfer Girl • September 2013
A couple of weeks ago, I got to do something I have been dreaming about for a long while: I took a surfing lesson!!!
I was in San Diego on vacation and knew it was a place of mild/little waves which I figured would be perfect for learning how to stand up and get some practice navigating surf. I'm a strong swimmer, so the only potential risk I could foresee was being hit by another surfer, and thought that as long as I stayed alert and avoided high-traffic areas, I should be fine. But I really had no idea of what else could go wrong, or how common injuries are. It's a pretty hard core sport, certainly not for the faint of heart.
According to Sportsinjurybulletin.com, the most common surfing injuries are:
- Lacerations to the head, lower leg and foot appear to be the most common injuries, usually caused by contact with the surfer's own or another surfer's board or fins.
- Soft-tissue injuries comprise the second-largest category, ranging from contusions to acute strains or sprains to the lumbar and cervical spine, shoulder, knee and ankle.
- Fractures occur frequently. The head is the most common site, mostly involving the nose and teeth, and many ribs get broken.
Hmmmmm. I guess I've been officially initiated then!
After doing the on-the-beach technique training for how to stand up, my instructor Adam and I headed out into the water and it was time to try it for real. I found getting to my feet fairly simple (thanks to core muscles I developed while training for Tough Mudder!), but finding balance and STAYING up was the hard part. The board itself was bigger and heavier than I thought it would be (longboard for beginners), and it did cross my mind that I might get tossed and tumbled around a bit as the board was attached to my ankle by a long cord.
On only the 2nd ride in, I wiped out (not unusual) and got up, only to see to my horror that my board was headed directly at me! I remember turning away from it as there was no way to stop or block the board except with my body - and took a direct hit right in the back/side/ribs. I thought for sure I had broken some ribs, punctured a lung, or ruptured a kidney as the pain was excruciating - and I couldn't take a breath without feeling like my whole left side had collapsed. When my instructor realized I wasn't moving and saw the grimace on my face, he came over to see if I was all right. I think I was more in shock initially, just trying to do a mental inventory of where it hurt and how bad it was, and then many foul words left my mouth out of frustration for this happening at the BEGINNING of my time in the water! I had spent the money and even prepaid the photo package, and felt really pissed off to be taken out of my big surfing adventure so early.
Then something interesting happened. My instructor asked, "So, do you want to quit?" He didn't use the word "stop." He used the word "quit." And "quitting" is just not something I do. I had no idea what had just happened to me physically, but I figured I would keep going and just see if it got worse. I couldn't take a deep breath. It hurt to even get myself onto the board in paddling position. And every time I did, I thought to myself: "Oh boy, this can't be good." But I can be more stubborn than smart, and adrenaline ultimately took over.
As it turns out, I had cracked one of the ribs in my lower left back area. To this day, I have no idea how on earth I got through another hour in the surf, wipeout after wipeout. I would grit my teeth and tell myself to "suck it up" until it was the end of my lesson time, and eventually even managed ONCE to stand up fully and ride a wave in!
The pain and muscle soreness afterwards was BRUTAL. It hurt to move; it hurt to breathe; it hurt to laugh; and I think I may have even screamed in agony the first time I had to cough or sneeze! But probably one of the worst things was getting in and out of bed. I felt like a turtle flipped over onto its shell, as I could only lie on my back, but then couldn't get up! Ice packs and painkillers became my new best friends, along with anyone who could help me when needed to schlep stuff as I was now officially an invalid traveling with a suitcase.
Since returning home, the healing process has been slow. Patience is not exactly one of my strong suits, and I can't believe I've got at least another 4 weeks or so in front of me of the "rest & manage pain" prescription to let my ribs heal! As with my hip injury leading up to Tough Mudder, I'm finding the mental aspect to be the most challenging part of getting through this, as having to abruptly stop doing exercise has been killing me. The mantra of "one day at a time" has been helpful - but more than anything, it has been that now-all-too-familiar knowing that me getting frustrated is not going to help. If you can't change it, then shut up and quit your whining. Accepting "what is" with grace and humour is the only reasonable way to respond.
Something I've learned this year about being an athlete / adventurer / badass is that injuries are just part of the game. When you dare to venture out into the unknown and push your body beyond what it's comfortable doing, chances are that you'll end up twisting, pulling, straining, spraining, bruising or breaking parts of your body along the way. Even with all the right stretching and preparation, the risk of injury is always there during sport. It's just part of the journey of living life out on the skinny branches where all the fun is!
In hindsight, would I do it again? Hell yeah. That's just how I roll. And in the wise words of Bishop T.D. Jakes, "A setback is a setup for a comeback."
Hangin' loose and healing,
Inspiring others to live inspired lives
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