Surfing, Writing and Life: What My Daughter’s First Lesson Taught Me



Yesterday, I took our oldest daughter to a friend’s birthday party – a surfing birthday party. Okay, okay, it’s a SoCal thing.


Helped by professional instructors, the girls got wetsuits, boards and surfing lessons, many for the first time (like for ours). The girls studied posture and technique on the sand, then spent the rest of party going out into the water with the instructors, rotating constantly after three waves each, trying to stand up on the board and ride their first wave.


For two hours, basically, I stood on the sand watching and taking pictures of my girl falling. Falling. Over and over. Trying to get up but falling over, and over. Wipeout. Same with many of the other girls, though it seemed (for this typically oversensitive parent) that it was happening more to my daughter.




Again and again, the patient instructor took her out, even farther out, into the water, got her positioned, and they tried again. And again.




After what seemed like a long time — BAM! She was able to get up, WOO HOO!



But she fell off after not even a second or two.


And then more and more of this. Over and over. Getting up and falling, up and falling. So many near misses are on my camera, where I anticipated a great moment or shot, only to capture one of her falling either right before or right after she got her footing. I didn’t want to show my feeling to her, but I wondered: how could this possibly be fun for her?


But then, after who knows how long, out in the glistening water, She Did It.


She stood up, and stayed up.


She kept her balance. She glided across the wave for five seconds, which in this realm is a long time. And I couldn’t stop cheering.


When her turn was over, she came back to the beach exhilarated, saying she loved it.


Loved it? She was falling 90% of the time. But her face, her fearlessness, her excitement said everything about how this sport made her feel. As soon as a board was freed up in the rotation, she asked to go out again. And again. She did not want to stop. She was not discouraged by her failures — she didn’t even see them as failures. They were essential to her eventual success. She saw it as one big package, one big mission, that she loved. And I could see it all over her face.


Near the end of the party, she was able to stay up a little longer, coming all the way in to shore.


Oh, the glee on her face.


She amazed me. And I was so proud of her.


And of course I got all the questions: Can I have a surfboard? Can I have surfing lessons? Can I go to surf camp? Can I, can I, can I?


Then I realized a few things as my little bundle, getting bigger every day, relaxed on the sand with her towel, spent in the best way:



1. Get Up.


Whenever I fail or fall in what I love to do in life (helping raise a family) or work (writing), over and over, I have to keep getting up.  I have to keep trying to swim out, get on that board and stay on it, keep trying to sail forward, no matter how big the waves.


I can keep going. I can keep trying and training at my craft. I can keep revising that manuscript and sending it out, even if I get more rejections.  I can see the failures not as failures but as the necessary precursors to my success. I can involve others in my journey to get the help and direction I need. Yes: I can do it. But I have to get up.


Several years ago, I jog-walked the LA Marathon — a lifetime ago when my pre-child-bearing body was in way better shape, though still not great. But I did it — my sister and my friend helped me along the way. And if I can do it once, I can do it again. If the old me can do it, the new me can do it. If my eight-year old can pursue what she’s passionate about, so can I. If she can do it, I can do it.


But I have to get up.


2. Encouragement is Everything.


The highly professional, patient and sensitive surf instructors made all the difference in I.) teaching my daughter correct technique and II.) her initial strong effort and success. She could have never done it alone. My annoying mom-cheering from the shore is not what did it — it was that there was, literally, someone in the water with her, steering her board and helping her over the tougher waves then pointing her in the right direction.


We, too, cannot go it alone — whether it is writing (solitary though it is) or family life, business ventures or anything else. Eventually, we need mentors, peers, encouragers, advisors, at every turn.  My directors, dramaturgs, editors, fellow writers have been invaluable to my growth and success as a writer.  My family and friends have been even more so, in my life.  We thrive on encouragement.


3. She Needs To See Me Do It.


My daughter inspired me at the surf party, but she looks to me for inspiration too. I know it affects her when she sees me victorious in something, or failing in something. She has seen both. And that’s okay. She needs to see the whole gamut of my experience; she needs to see me keeping the faith, praying to God for help; she needs to see me trying my best, doing my best, never giving up; she needs to see me passionate and joyful about what’s important to me, just like I saw in my parents, so that she can keep going herself.


4. EnJOY.


To see how happy, how energized, how eager my daughter was in this surfing lesson — I realized that her joy was not dependent on how well she was doing. She had a confidence that eventually, the standing up would come, the riding of the waves would come. She didn’t care and wasn’t counting how many times she fell — nor how many times she stood up. She was enjoying the moment, every moment, the whole package. To quote the lyrics of one of my favorite songwriters, Michael Card: “There is a joy in the journey…”



In our writing and our lives, we should enjoy every step of the way and not lose sight of all the incremental joys before us, merely because we’re too obsessed with the end result. And others need to see us living that way too.


Because the surf’s up. No time to lose.




(repost at readers’ request)


6 thoughts on “Surfing, Writing and Life: What My Daughter’s First Lesson Taught Me

  1. As always you find inspiration from what others may fine mundane. Get up and enjoy. Life is very short and your time with the nuclear family is closing fast.
    You can do it,. Successfully.

  2. You are so wise to point out that there is value in letting our children see us fail. So many parents will try to hide their failures from their children, but modeling resiliency is one of the best things we can do as parents. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Thank you for your insightful response as well, Dave! Here’s to our future failures (and thus successes!)

    And the Lilo & Stitch song is one of our favorites too. “There’s no place I’d rather be…”

  4. Although the waves on the coast of Florida are not the same as those in SoCal, I have always wondered about the feeling that riding a wave provides to the surfer. The look on your daughter’s face certainly conveys the joy 😉

    I sometimes think that one of the most valuable aspects of being a parent is learning from our children. I have been educated by my now eleven year old son too many times to count over the years. It took me a while to open my eyes to the fact that kids teach adults as well as, if not better than adults teach kids.

    You have made some keenly insightful observations and I sincerely appreciate each and every one of them. As a recovering perfectionist, I have an innate problem with “failing”. Go figure, huh? One of the most valuable and salient points of this post for me is to allow my son to see me fail, and subsequently move forward towards my goals with the same passion and mental fortitude.

    Being a Disney fanatic, I can’t help but here Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride playing through my head, Lilo & Stitch riding the waves. I am so ready to join them 😉

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