Throughout the course of your life, you’ll surf millions of waves (if all goes according to plan). And you’ll remember a lot of them, but chances are, you’ll likely forget most. But no matter how much surfing you’ve got under your belt, there’s always that one wave, that one session or that one trip that changed you as a surfer. Those moments that trigger a recurring dopamine rush, prompting us to seek more, more, more.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of surfing some incredible waves, but my most life-changing surf experience happened during my first surf at Bells Beach.
It was December, and the sweltering 40° heat was debilitating. Informed that the surf was about to turn on and desperate for a respite from the rare, Victorian heat, we decided to go for a paddle.
When we arrived at the car park, conditions were optimal. There were strong, offshore winds and a clean string of corduroy lines marching in from the Southern Ocean.
Every other person suiting up was giddy with anticipation, but for someone who had never surfed anything bigger than two-foot, I was silently shitting myself. Once we were ready, we sprinted down the wood staircase and across the sand to keep our feet from burning.
With no time to think about what was in front of me, we had to time our entry to avoid being pummeled by a massive shorebreak. My first run-and-jump, I made it through the shorie without any trouble and fortunately, got to the lineup without encountering any rogue sets. As we settled into our place, the old salty dogs and local crew were silly with excitement, enjoying the absolute best of what Bells had to offer.
I’ll never forget the shockingly frigid water, its biting temperature an abrasive contrast to the heat and my skimpy, bikini-cut rashie was a poor choice for the day’s session. Shivering out in the water with a mix of terror, adrenaline and cold, I could see heat waves shimmering across the horizon and the intensity of the offshore winds sent showers of chill over me with each passing wave.
Despite the buzzing excitement in the air, I felt sick. Three-foot and pumping, the sets were intimidating, powerful and relentless. I was in way over my head and kicking myself, embarrassed that I couldn’t hold my own and resigned to paddling back to shore in shame and defeat.
But I stuck it out, getting a read on the break’s patterns and how the lineup was shifting around. There was a woman nestled on the inside, catching wave after wave on a yellow longboard and having a grand old time. I wanted to be like her.
I paddled over toward her and immediately felt more comfortable, sitting wide enough so I could study how the waves were forming and how the lineup responded accordingly. After 20 minutes of paddling around (and even getting swept by a massive set), I knew I’d be alright, and my confidence switched on.
Finally, my wave came. I was in the perfect position, there was no turning back. I was right in the pocket and my hesitation evaporated like a drop in the heat. I paddled with every ounce of energy I could muster, wearing a face of intent focus that said “get the fuck out of my way.”
I felt the wave’s energy carry me, and an excess of adrenaline helped me pop up with ease. Feeling the rush of wind and the propelling power beneath my feet, I rode the longest and most incredible wave of my life.
Cutting up and down the wall on an 8-foot single fin, the ride was long enough to allow my body to feel and react. It was a classic movie moment; time slowed and I could hear the cadence of my heartbeat, my breath steady and in rhythm with the charging wave.
I weaved through the lineup traffic, faces watching me in my peripherals, but all I could see was the wave in front of me, staying wide open just for me.
Once I flicked off, I yelped and hollered, overcome with emotion as tears and laughter erupted from my soul. I caught several more waves after that, each one better than the last, the seal of my apprehension broken like shattered glass.
Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have countless surfs at Bells, but this first session will stay with me forever. It was a defining moment that challenged my ability and dismantled my comfort zone.
And so, while we may not remember every surf, we remember the surfs that count. The ones that scared the shit out of us. The ones we had to fight for. The ones that made us better. That made us remember why we surf.
Because this chase we’re on will never end, and those perfect waves that we stumble upon are worth savoring. They remind us of our humanity and what we’re capable of overcoming when thrown into the deep end.
So I wanna hear from you – share a surfing experience that is seared into memory in the comments below.