January of Lauren Ní Cholgáin Part 2.
Don’t start reading before you read her awesome journey back to the sea in part 1 .
Winter in Bundoran crept bleakly into conversations with people back when I moved here in September. Images of battered Atlantic Coastline, monks on Skellig Mhichíl (or Luke Skywalker if you like), and stews beside a smokey turf fire were the expectations of Lauren-past.
My January was disappointingly less harsh. Blessed with mild temperatures caused by cursed climate change, on occasion I didn’t even need to heat my house. The harshness arrived in a forced solitude early in the month. Bundoran emptied out. The cafe I work in was closed during January. While I was looking under the sofa for stray pennies all month, I didn’t have to look far for spare time.
With two weeks at the beginning of the month spent either vegetating in bed or going for runs in the middle of the night along the cliffs (in hindsight not the safest thing to do with near gale strength gusts and no one around), I resurfaced from hibernation with a gym membership and a few days joining the instructor course.
During my hibernation I had a very exciting milestone for my surfing: my first reef. The reef breaks just past the mouth of a river and is a long mellow right-hander with generally few people on it. The difference -for non-surfers- between a reef and a beach break is that while beach break has sand under the water’s surface, a reef is rock. This has many benefits like consistency in how the wave breaks. Beaches in the area have been affected by the winter storms as the sand banks beneath the water get moved with violent currents and change how and where waves break. Rock is kind of hard to move.
Beginners start at beaches because learning to take a wipe out is important. In shallow places you have to learn not to hit the bottom. If you hit the seafloor at a beach, at least you hit sand and are less likely to be injured.
Rivermouth is a beginner’s reef if the swell is below 2.5m. I was a nervous young padawan all the same. I paddled out with my friends and a set came in which they all caught waves on and as the last wave of the set lolled towards me I felt my brain say, ‘Ah sure, fuck it.’ and suddenly without thinking -as if using the force- I was on the wave going right. It closed out quickly but I was grinning ear-to-ear, shoulder-to-shoulder… beaming with every centimetre of my self. It was one of the cleanest take-offs I had done to that point. It was my first surf on a reef, one of the first since Christmas, and it reaffirmed the sense that I am getting better.
Surfing has a way of making you feel that you have taken a zero-gravity leap forward in progress only to plunge you all the way back to Earth with no parachute. Weeeeeeeeeuooooouououuoouououououo. Whack.
It’s a wonderful thing about the sea. No one is its master. You are at its mercy.
The following week, despite being enthused by my big wave, I began to suck. It’s the second last week of the month, the swell is pumping all week, the wind is light and offshore to cross-shore offshore, we surfed for seven days in a row. I couldn’t even paddle into a wave. It was as though all the Christmas pudding had found it’s way into my arms and taken control. All I was able to do was either miss a wave or wipe out spectacularly with extra style points for limbs hitting other body parts. A whole week where my gut knew I should be acing it and I felt like it was September again and I was a noob.
January brought on my surfing more than I could tell at the time. Firstly, it reminded me that even if I’m a terrible surfer until the day I die, being in the water and getting excited for my friends as they catch bombs (read: get great waves) and sharing that stoke makes me happy. I can’t wait to be an instructor. I can’t wait to get paid to be excited for a beginner as they scramble to their feet for the first time.
Secondly, January taught me about -here comes that Jedi theme again- controlling your mind. I spent most of late January in my head. I had all sorts of worries. The first anniversary of my friend’s death had me pretty depressed and bed bound for a day or two. I had money woes and various worries ping-ponging around the place. As if generic January hardship, grief, and lonely Bundoran hadn’t been enough to deal with, I also had some of the worse PMS of my life. This continues to be a monthly challenge which I talk about here. Oh, and after an especially cold rescue drill off the pier for lifeguard training (a spot known for its sewage outlet) I got sick too. With all of this shite to deal with my surfing suffered because I wasn’t just being my loo-lally self. As my surfing sucked more and more, I worried about it more and more which added to the spiral. I have heard a lot of talk about mindfulness in surfing. Not everyone calls it that but it’s what they mean. I have begun to practice it once I paddle out back. Get there, breathe deeply, enjoy the sensations of the sea. I like to focus on each of my senses to get me out of my head and alert to what’s around me. I’ll notice three things I can hear, see, taste, smell, and feel. Once I’ve done that I try to think if there’s anything bothering me that I haven’t given mind to yet. Finally it’s back to breathing and singing to myself and then I’m generally relaxed, aware, and ready for the next set.
Love, Lauren x
About the author:
Lauren is a spark of life. Irish at heart, she brings joy and simplicity wherever she goes. She knows how to connect with people and has always a fun story to share. Her goal is to become a surf instructor. But her mission is to find balance in her life, and help others find theirs. It’s all about the community or all about Nutella. Yes, she’s the one that emptied the last jar. You can find her beautiful writing and personality here on the blog.