Staying Humble The Hard Way

Lessons in humility I picked up while having a sketchy encounter with a jetty while surfing.
Staying Humble The Hard Way

Maintain humility at all costs.

It’s what makes a successful person inspirational versus insufferable.

The best way to do this is to routinely come face to face with something much larger than yourself.

Something where you have zero chance of coming out ahead and, at best, are tolerated.

For me, there is no better way to come face to face with how cosmically insignificant I am than getting in the ocean.

This past weekend I was surfing in the first bigger swell of the fall season. The surf was about shoulder to head high on set and the swell was coming in from 2 different directions.

It was getting deep and the jetty was quickly becoming invisible but the swell was big enough to punch through and continue to work through the rising tide.

It was early and while I was well rested, I felt a little off. 

Still, I really wanted to get in the water. This past month had been particularly draining and I really needed a reset.

I deserved it.

I chose to paddle out in the middle — not the easiest place to get past breakers of this size on a 7’6” board, but the jetty was quickly disappearing with the high tide and I knew it would be safer.

The rip currents, size of the swell, and the proverbial “cobwebs”  in my arms from a month of not surfing made this paddle particularly challenging. I struggled for about 15 minutes, paddling straight into wave after wave, just trying to make it out into the line-up.

“Fuck it”, I heard myself yell in defeat, after yet another wave crashed over my head. I turned the board around and caught the whitewater back to the beach. I got out and decided to paddle out on the other side of the jetty where there were a few other surfers in the water. 

I ran quickly across the beach trying to avoid the swarm of black flies attacking any exposed skin as well as biting me through my wetsuit. I jumped back in the water to start my paddle out, this time hugging the jetty.

This paddle was much easier, the current was strong but pulling me out and the jetty, although mostly invisible now, provided protection from the set waves.

I quickly made my way out. 

As the next set came in, I started my final paddle to break past it and out into the lineup. Another surfer had taken off on the wave and turned down the line. I slowed my paddle to let him pass versus making myself a speed bump that could potentially injure both of us. 

With the loss of momentum, I couldn’t get past this wave and I had to take it on the head. When I came up I started my paddle back out and tried to get my bearings.

Was I still in front of that ugly brown mansion on the beach or had I drifted?

Did the rip pull me in at all?

Where was the jetty?

It was about that moment I felt something hard and slippery under my feet and it only took me a moment to realize exactly where I was.

I was on the jetty.

The next 30 seconds felt like 3 hours as I prepared for the onslaught of set wave on set wave. The first one picked my board and I up and just as quickly deposited us back on the rocks. I felt my teeth gnash together in tandem with my board crunching under rock.

Was that sand or broken tooth in my mouth?

With the next wave came the pain of being tossed off the side of a cliff and I simultaneous felt throbbing in my left thigh, leg, shin and foot. My right heel had hit something and felt torn open.

I wondered how badly I was bleeding.

As I came up, I quickly collected my thoughts and realized that I had also been deposited close to the other side of the jetty.

Fortunately, there was lull between this wave and the next and I knew I needed to act fast to avoid further injury.

With little grace, I scrambled across the other side of the jetty, hopped on my board and rode the whitewater back into the beach. 

I ran up the sand, dodging the swarm of biting flies and back to my car, refusing to look down at my wounds.

Did I need stitches?

I was firmly convinced some new teeth were in my near future.

My poor board — so beautiful and I most likely just destroyed it.

When I got back to my car, I stripped off my wetsuit and mustered up the courage to inspect my wounds.

I got off easy this time — just scrapes, bruises and a few loose teeth. Somehow my board only took on a minor ding along the rail that would easily be repaired.

I let our a huge sigh of relief as I cleaned up the blood, dried off and drove home, both humbled and grateful that things could have easily taken a much darker turn.

I’ll hobble along for the next few days as I lick my wounds and reflect on my own cosmic insignificance.

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