Catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world

Berry D. Simpson

I’ll just say right up front, I enjoyed surfing lessons more than I expected to. I can’t claim to have surfed in the purest sense of the word, but I was up on my feet on my board at least two times, maybe three (depending on your minimum threshold of verticality).

I never thought of surfing as something I could do, but the momentum of the group swept me along. If Britt hadn’t tried it, I doubt I would have, either. If Drew (who’ll try anything) hadn’t proposed it, if Patti (who loves the water and the beach) and Cyndi (who loves to move) hadn’t found the instructor and signed us all up, it never would have occurred to me to look for it. However, there we were, Monday morning in Kauai, six Texans at Hanamaulu Beach Park for surfing lessons. It was a great beach with smooth sand, free of rocks, and the waves were perfect for us. I had no excuses.

My resistance to surfing had nothing to do with my age, as some may’ve suspected, but with water. I really have no confidence in things that happen in the water. My people are not water people. As my mom recently reminded me, “We don’t like to have our head in the water.”

However, in spite of that family tradition, I was not afraid of drowning or injury. No, I was afraid to look stupid, which is much scarier than getting hurt.

It would be fair and accurate to say that I have no intrinsic athletic ability at all. I didn’t play sports Patti (50)through school save mandatory P.E. classes. As an adult, I run too slow, weigh too much, limp too often, and quit too soon. I took up running in 1978 for one reason only - to win back my girlfriend who had been dating a track-and-field jock. It’s true that I’ve recently taken up cycling again, but that hardly qualifies me as an athlete. Running and cycling demand endurance and tolerance of discomfort more than athletic grace and skill.

Surfing caused me to wonder: how many other adventures are out there - not just scary ones, but fun ones - where all I need is someone to sign me up, and a group of friends to sweep me along. Maybe I should give myself more credit and try more often; make my default answer, “Sure, I’ll try that!”

Well, courage and risk come in a variety of ways. On Friday, the next week back in Midland, I had a chance to go cycling with a good friend who was in the USA for a month. Cycling with Todd was an opportunity for an extended conversation with a valued Christian friend. However, since it was going to be just the two of us riding, I also knew it would be hard cycling. Todd is a coach at heart and I knew he would push me to ride faster and maybe ride further. To ride with him was to take an intentional risk in hope of moving up another level.

What was the big risk? That I would fall apart in front of someone I didn’t want to fall apart in front of and have to limp home, or worse, call home for Cyndi to come get me. I might embarrass myself in front of a friend, which, as all men know, can be worse than death.

Todd and I rode to Odessa and back, a 47-mile round trip from my house, and a long way for someone like me. In addition, we rode at least 2 mph faster than I would’ve ridden by myself. I spent the rest of the weekend telling my story and beating my chest. I was a proud and happy man.

Don’t get me wrong. I know the difference between what I did and what real cyclists do. The riding speed that I was so proud of didn’t even approach what Todd rides regularly back home in Saudi Arabia, and it was less that 40% of what Tour de France cyclists do over the same distance. I also know that standing upright on a surfboard for a cumulative 20 seconds is hardly surfing worth a Beach Boys’ song.

I’m not deceived by my efforts, but still, my mind is different today that it was three weeks ago. I’m a different man on the inside. Sometimes something happens that makes you think of yourself in a different category, allows you to use new adjectives inside your head. It is a mental step forward. It is a gift.

My advice? Spend time with faster people, and let them pull you into the future. Being brave and trying new things is part of growing up. Admitting fear, even over small things that no one else thinks are scary, and risking failure in front of friends, is learning to be a man. Accepting help is often all it takes to push through the fear to the fun. As Erwin McManus wrote, “You can’t just sit back and hope that the life you long for will simply come to you.” (Wide Awake)

Oh, and by the way, I have considered buying some official board shorts to signify my new status as a surfer. Any suggestions? This is all new to me.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

To learn about Berry’s books, “Running With God,” go to , or “Retreating With God,” go to ,… Follow Berry on Twitter at @berrysimpson or on Facebook … Contact Berry directly: … To post a comment or subscribe to this free journal: