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  • Brianna

Learning to Surf

I’ve never been a big risk-taker. If it were up to me, all of my days would be spent just…sitting…



When I was 21, I moved to LA – not my idea – and although I didn’t enjoy sunshine or beaches or, really the outdoors at all, somehow I ended up dating a hunky surfer dude who spent every weekend in Malibu catchin’ some waves. He even had a little monitor in his living room that displayed a live-stream of the waves, so he knew when they were at their most catching-able. This was boring and uninteresting to me. I’m the kind of person who MAYBE gets in a hot tub, and only when wearing a swim suit that covers my WHOLE body. But my friend Anna had harbored a lifelong dream of learning to surf, and since I now had a surfer boyfriend she insisted that I was in some way morally obligated to help make her dreams come true. My boyfriend was delighted when I told him I “wanted to learn to surf” and he was, at least willing to accept my terms that my friend Anna come along, too. We rented some wet suits and hit the waves. I was in the water for a total of – oh maybe 5 minutes – before a GIANT wave came rolling toward me. I tried to hide behind my surfboard, which I later learned is something you should NEVER do, and the wave slammed the board directly into my face, blood went flying everywhere, and I spent the next hour on the beach with an ice pack on my fat lip. Later I got two root canals on my dead tooth. After that moment, I was even more risk-averse than ever before. Hiking? No. What if a bear eats you? Seafood? You don’t know where that fish has been!

Going out on Saturday night? Hello! There are drunk drivers everywhere and anyway I’d rather not lose my parking spot. I was happy staying in.

Until at 24, I got cancer.

Luckily, it was treatable. And after I beat cancer, I had a new lease on life! I wanted to see the world! Try new things! Take a risk or two!

But by “risk” I still mostly meant, like, find out what Ethiopian food is.

Then, I learned about a local organization that sends cancer survivors on week-long surf trips to Hawaii. I’d never been to Hawaii before, but I loved the idea of me, sitting on a beach, sippin’ some ice-cold water, maybe read a book or something!

The only part that didn’t sound good was the surfing. Which WAS kind of the MAIN focus of the trip. But I figured, I can get out of that. I’ll give it a token effort and then say I’m tired. Play the ol’ cancer card.

But as it turns out, nobody at cancer camp gets to play the cancer card. There was a girl who’d had lung cancer, with a huge port scar and an even huger surgery scar across her chest. She proudly wore a tiny bikini and looked amazing. There was a guy whose wife had left him after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I watched him climb trees, jump off boats, and swim way into the ocean until you couldn’t see him, but we’d always find him by following the sound of him laughing. There was a girl who’d beat cancer a few years ago and had regrown this long, beautiful blond hair I was totally jealous of. She’d JUST received a call that her cancer was back. She’d have to start treatment again as soon as she got back home. This was three years ago now. And since then, all three of these people have died. I had no way to know that. At the time, all I could think about was – why was I even here? I’d never been the kind of person who wanted to know how to surf in the first place. But I was running out of reasons why not. Clearly, it wouldn’t even be my nearest brush with death that year. And at the end of the day, if we’re all going to brush with death either way, we may as pick our moments. I was scared of a lot of things. Sharks. Jellyfish. Making friends with a group of people who might die later in their 20s. My own mortality still loomed large. But this time, with a big wave coming up behind me, I didn’t hide. Hiding only hurts you anyway, that’s what I learned the first time around. So this time, I hopped up on my surfboard, and I rode it all the way until I tipped over, face-planted into the water, and was able to rise again…


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