I’ve always loved that popular expression about cycling – that in order to keep our balance, we have to keep moving.

The same could be said of many things I guess, but for me none more so than of surfing, which I discovered for a week last November against the beautiful backdrop for learning to surf in Sri Lanka.

Rewinding a few months before that to my first time that I tried surfing, in Mauritius, the instructor told me—it’s very simple.  You’ll end up where you focus on. So if you’re going to keep looking down, you’re going to keep falling off and into the water with a splash. 

So fall with a splash I did.  For most of the next 90 minutes of the lesson. The moments where I caught a wave and focused on the shoreline, lit up in yellow and gold from the setting sun behind us, I rode the wave to the beach.

It’s got to be one of the best feelings in the world, coasting on the waves in a tropical sea on just a board, and it got me eager for more.

Back for a second try with a week’s surf camp, booked through Soul and Surf Sri Lanka.  Set up by a pair of dreamy travellers and established first in Kerala, India, they actively engage supporting local communities. For a week we ate far too much amazing fresh and local food, skipped the yoga sessions, stayed in beautiful villas and rode in pimped-up tuk-tuks for our twice daily turn to battle the waves at Ahanghama on the South Coast of Sri Lanka.

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And I do mean battle.

Well for me at least. Others were more like ducks to water.  Me, more like a diving dolphin.

Because on the first day a few things dawned on me.

Firstly, that my honeymoon moment with the lesson in Mauritius a few months earlier had been made so magical partly by the fact that I was being pushed into waves by the instructor.  Which, apparently, makes it a whole lot easier to pop-up and then hopefully stay standing. So my first moments and onwards in the waves were spent not paddling and catching waves to ride, but rather wading through white water, spotting a good wave, clambering on to my board only to be thrown off it by the ocean a few seconds later.

A similar experience could probably be obtained through being put into a washing machine on a 30 degree cycle, with a good dose of salt thrown in.

And so, for my first few days of surfing in Sri Lanka I found myself in a downward cycle. Quite literally. And the more I fell, the less energy I had for getting up and starting again, and the more resentful and disappointed towards myself I felt for my lack of being able to stand up.

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Learning to Surf in Sri Lanka

I think that’s where the life-lessons really started to kick in.  I remembered those you go where you look towards words, and found that my eyes were firmly on the water.  I also found that my eyes were firmly on others.  Which I happen to believe is an incredibly efficient recipe for sense of failure too.  When we compare ourselves to others there will always be those who seem to be leagues ahead.

In the water there were many who were doing much better, or standing up more, but in the end that didn’t matter.  And when I let go of that worry, I found myself catching my first few waves and riding them.

The surf instructors were dedicated and probably amongst the most patient and determined i’ve met. Long beyond the point where i’d given up on my abilities, they kept encouraging.

The morning sessions seemed particularly challenging—the drying salt from the intensifying sun burning hard on my skin after being churned in the waves somehow, but the evening sunset surf sessions were where I came alive.

In those evening sessions where the sky came alive and flushed with pinks and oranges, my spirit lit up as I tried to drink in my surroundings and the experience.

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I found that as I focused on the beauty of the place and the opportunity (as opposed to my focus on falling off or feeling like I was not doing myself proud), that my surfing began to change.  Catching more and more waves, success seemed less and less important compared with the joy of being in the clear warm water, on a beautiful sandy beach surrounded by great company.

On our last evening we got the most beautiful sunset as our background.

It could have all ended so perfectly, with me riding the perfect wave, but it didn’t. Such is life.  My last pop up for the week ended in yet more diving into the waves, but that’s not what stays with me.

What stays with me is the struggle with myself and my motivation when it felt like failure, but ultimately in the fact that I succeeded in some way.

And in that I mean that i’ve been bitten by the surfing bug, and i can’t wait to get back into that washing machine of surf. Learning to surf in Sri Lanka was an amazing experience.

After all, it may not be a smooth ride, and there’ll be plenty of falls, but we have to keep on moving and putting ourselves out there.

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Photo above courtesy of Soul & Surf

This post, as always, is my own opinion and was not sponsored in any way by Soul & Surf.