It was a sunny, warm day in mid-May — my first real beach day of the year. I decided to spend a good chunk of the day in the warm sand. I sat on the beach under my shade screen with a book, a surfboard, and a wet suit.
The water in May is still quite cold. The average ocean temperature is 50 degrees, so a wet suit is a good idea if you’re wanting anything more than a refreshing dip. The waves looked fun; waist-high and punchy, breaking off a shallow sandbar that had formed after the last spring storm. It looked like it was going to last through the summer.
The warmth of the sun had me feeling good. I picked up my shortboard, glanced at my wet suit, and decided I would jump in for just a moment, catch a few waves, and warm back up on the beach.
Almost an hour later, I was back on the beach, shaking to my very core, feeling vibrant and alive. My muscles ached from the cold; my skin felt new. I nestled down into the hot sand to warm myself up. It would be three hours before my body temperature was back to normal. I loved it.
I have been pushing myself to say yes to experiences that are uncomfortable. To try things to which my first reaction is “No.” To do those things I have told myself “I can’t,” “I won’t,” “I don’t.”
In the water, I felt my skin flush with blood. My body kicked into a sort of survival mode and came to life. My muscles became tense and almost sore. Every bit of me felt fully engaged in the experience, firing on all cylinders, alive.
That moment marked a pivotal change in my relationship to surfing. Since that day, I have not worn a wet suit. I have surfed every session in my shorts. Something interesting happened when I eliminated one small step in the process leading to experiencing joy. I surf more often. I surf for shorter sessions, and I am more fully present during them. I feel my environment. My attention is more complete. My mind wanders less. I can’t help but be very much with myself when there is so much to feel. My presence is demanded of me in these sessions, and I show up. Because I am not planning to stay in the water for two hours, feeling cold no longer carries the threat it did before. The whole experience carries less expectation. It is more momentary.
Putting on a wet suit is not the worst thing. It is just one step, but it can become an excuse not to go out. Eliminating this one step seemed to clear a roadblock to going in the water. If the waves aren’t perfect, it does not matter, because I’m only going in for as long as it feels good. The pressure is taken off. Removing the wet suit step allows me to seamlessly move into and out of the water. It is one reason less to postpone joy.
Doing the things we love is essential. Clearing the way so that we can do them more often and more freely changes our experience of daily life. I have surfed more often this summer than I think I ever have before. I enjoy it more. If I have only 30 minutes to spare, I can surf for 20 of them, and my day is better for it.
What else are we to be doing with this life if not creating opportunities to be in joy — to be fully immersed, feeling its vibrancy? This makes us more present, and so more able to be of service to those we share this life with. It makes us more fully human.