Out of Your Comfort Zone, Into Dangerous Waters

Surfboards in a surf shop with text "surfing, out of your comfort zone and into dangerous waters... Or, that time my wife tried surfing and "almost got killed" by a jellyfish and got really upset and she'll never do it again

When it comes to your partner or companion, it’s important to be able to read each other. At the very least, you need to be able to know when to push and when to be chill. Lia and I have a few expressions we say to each other that hold different meanings in our partnership. One of them is “Is this surfing?”

This is the story of the birth of that expression, and a lesson of caution about trying new things.

It has been mentioned it before, but I grew up in Morro Bay, CA. It’s a sleepy little tourist town on the Central Coast with great sea life, scenic views, delicious food, and an interesting collection of locals. Pretty much everyone from that town takes part in the absurdly Californian hobby of surfing. Lia had never gone surfing before and would tease me about how my life growing up was “The OC,” (which, to someone that grew up on a farm in Kentucky, probably wasn’t an off base assumption) so one trip back home, with our friend T along for the ride, we decided it was time she tried it.

My wife, as outgoing as she is, is absolutely an introvert. After almost a week of group camping, drinks with high school buddies, and constant running around, she needed a break from people and was overwhelmed and exhausted. I failed to pick up on that, and we planned to go surfing anyway. We pulled up to the rental shop (Wavelength’s. Check them out if you’re in town) and Lia was already regretting the decision. Last time we put on wetsuits, the manchild behind the counter gave her not one, but TWO wetsuits that were way too small. If you’ve ever tried to squeeze sausage into a casing, you know how she felt trying to stuff her tall, voluptuous Amazonian body into a size Medium wetsuit made for girls no taller than 5’5″ and 125 lbs.  Luckily the guy working this counter was a pro and got all three of us fitted perfectly in a minute. We precariously strapped the boards to our car and drove the mile to the beach.

Couple wearing wetsuits for surfing. Woman is plus sized.
Wetsuits: not for the insecure or faint of heart.

Let’s talk about these boards. They were 8 foot, super heavy foam boards. At first you think “Oh these aren’t so bad to carry,” but then you walk a hundred yards in hot sand with gale force winds whipping at your face. Also T is a little north of 5′ tall, so she was struggling just figuring out how to hold the damn thing. With every step, Lia’s level of “this is the stupidest shit imaginable” increased. By the time we found a good spot on the beach, she was already resigned to never walk with a board that big again.

I gave them a quick lesson on paddling out, grabbing the wave, popping up, and taking a fall then we set off for the water. For those of you who’ve never surfed, when you paddle out – which is essentially swimming using only your arms while lying on the board –  waves are crashing on you repeatedly. The way you combat this is to “turtle” (where you hold your board down INTO the wave and let it crash over you), or to hit the wave straight on and sort of float over it. Neither of those options made sense to Lia, because they both result in you getting slapped in the face with a wave and ending up with sea water in your eyes and mouth. Instead, with each wave, she would shriek, duck, and hit each wave at an angle, getting pushed backwards towards the shore.

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This plan did not work. As a result, 45 minutes went by before she was far enough out to catch a wave.  It was like swimming with only your arms on a giant, salty treadmill for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, T was whizzing past us getting better and having more fun with each attempt.

Once she got far enough out, Lia was screaming something along the lines of “What the fuck even is this? What is the point? You just get punched in the face repeatedly by waves until your goddamn arms fall off. How can stoners do this? It’s so hard. I thought this was supposed to be relaxing. DO I FUCKING LOOK RELAXED?!”

That’s when she saw a single jellyfish floating in the wave in front of her.

Redondo Beach in Los Angeles, California
Now THIS is relaxing.

“JELLYFISH!!!!” She screamed bloody murder. All of the other surfers immediately perked up. Did she just yell shark?! Nope. The locals shook their heads and swam slightly away from the innocuous creature. I tried to calm her down and say it’s just one jellyfish.

That’s when she saw about 40 more jellyfish floating in the wave in front of her.

She swam as fast and as hard as she could. Lia is actually a damn good swimmer. However, being tethered to a surfboard doesn’t help a daring escape and she got nowhere. She unhooked her board, cursing me, cursing surfing, cursing jellyfish, and made it to shore unscathed.

I later realized it was a barrel jellyfish – a completely harmless jelly. Lia’s counterpoint was that knowing what types of jellyfish are dangerous by sight is some California-ass bullshit. Apparently teaching jellyfish safety isn’t part of the school curriculum in Kentucky. Go figure.

Bright orange jellyfish against a blue background, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Lia says: Tell me you wouldn’t run screaming if you saw these jellyfish in the wave coming directly towards your face. According to Jeremy, THESE jellyfish are dangerous. Jellyfish 101, y’all.

After a half hour of “I could have died, Jeremy!” she calmed herself down. (Whenever Lia calls me Jeremy, it is either a really romantic moment or I done goofed.) She explained to me that her high level of frustration with the whole surfing excursion had little to do with surfing, but were being magnified by external factors. She never got a chance to decompress from all of the socialization we’d been doing, so she was feeling overwhelmed and anxious. She felt a little bit like an outsider from hicksville, Kentucky when I was with my high school buddies which made her feel even more unsure about trying out something so alien. We were both feeling that constant travel rush to spend all of our time doing fun activities on our short 3-day trip with no time to relax. And perhaps the biggest issue: as a fat person she was feeling like maybe she wouldn’t be able to surf. (A quick aside: neither I nor Lia use the term “fat” pejoratively, nor do we feel that it is a negative descriptor; rather it is a neutral statement of fact. We’re both comfortable with fatness. I’m not insulting Lia’s body here. Aside over.)  Sports, especially sports that are primarily enjoyed by beautiful, tanned model types like surfing, aren’t terribly inclusive of fat people, and she didn’t have a feeling of “I can totally do this!” going into our adventure. She felt frustrated that despite being a decent hiker and a strong swimmer, she was feeling limited by her body. Add the fact that wetsuits basically magnify every part of your body, and even the most confident of fat people – which Lia is – can get self-conscious. But she didn’t want to let her fears keep her from trying something new, even something as challenging as surfing. So she tried it. And she found out that she didn’t particularly enjoy it very much. And decided that she was OK with that.

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We went back out into the water, except now it was just T and I surfing while Lia swam. The jellyfish were all gone at this point. Lia had a great time swimming and finally being able to actually use her legs in the water. She also became really good at helping me decide which waves to surf – I swim without my glasses, so this was SUPER helpful.

So now when one of us is upset while we’re doing something and it doesn’t totally make sense why we’re upset, we ask “Is this surfing?” Is this problem actually the topic we’re discussing, or is a different need of yours being ignored or not fulfilled? There’s a big difference there, and I think it’s one that often gets blurred.

Also, shortly after this incident, Lia decided she was fed up with feeling limited by her lack of athleticism and took up powerlifting. Now she’s fat and also super strong. Take that, salty arm treadmill.

These guns may not surf, but they can do a mean bench press.

Lia and I are both the type to try new things. A lot of travel types are, I think. The idea is to always say yes to a new adventure or a new experience. But that doesn’t mean you have to enjoy the activity. Not every first try is going to be a mind altering, earth shattering, oh-my-god-you-have-to-go-to-Burning-Man event. And that’s okay.  Sometimes you just want to try it to say you tried it.  Lia may never surf again, and that’s fine. More importantly, we grew stronger in our partnership and in our ability to identify one another’s needs. Also, we both learned a little bit about jellyfish, which will probably come in handy one day.

Leave a comment to tell us about a time when you tried something new and freaking hated it!

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2 Comment

  1. Great travel/couple story! Surfing is not easy and you do need killer core strength to pull it off. (How do those stoner dudes do it???) My husband and I went to a learn-to-surf camp in Costa Rica one year. We’re from the landlocked prairies so this was definitely something new. Our first lesson was on land. 🙂 The location of this surf camp was great as it had a long low ripple of waves close to shore. We were both able to get up and surf the little waves. I know for sure that if I had started out in the deeper water I would have been quickly frustrated like Lia.

    1. Lia says: Reply

      That sounds awesome! I’m considering trying again in Huanchacho, Peru. There’s a surf school here with the guarentee that if you don’t stand up during your lesson, the lesson is free. It sounds like a challenge that I win either way! We’ll see if I dare to try again…

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