Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Contest Within

(wait for it, it builds)
      Looking back, I was so nervous. My mind normally goes into auto-pilot when I'm surfing, my feet sink into the wax footprints created sessions before, but during this contest, out in the ocean that seemed to transform into a stage, I felt I had to remind myself how to do a bottom turn. 

     It's for charity, just go and have fun, help out, I told myself when I signed up. I intended to do exactly that, but on the day of, I knew I had expectations for myself, even if I tried my best to stuff them away. I wanted to go out there and perform to the best of my ability, show the judges what I had learned in all my surf sessions. More than anything, I wanted to enjoy the day and be free from the pressure I had put on myself in the past to win.

     The last time I had competed at Pacific Beach Drive was about four years ago. The waves were closed-out and kind of big, just as they were yesterday. I fell or went straight on almost all of my rides and ended up getting dead last in my heat with my soon to be sister-in-law and a few of her friends on the beach watching me surf for the first time. It was stressful, upsetting and kind of humiliating. After that, I decided to take a break from competition. Why add that pressure to surfing? Why feel the need to win and the feeling of failure after losing? I realized I didn't want to. 

     I was pulled to the idea of competing again because I hoped I had moved on from those feelings.

     I entered two divisions: Greek Athlete and Open Women's. I was excited for both, but especially Greek Athlete because I would be competing against the boys, since no other girls had entered. What if I beat one of them? I had to remind myself that I could. The waves were pretty tricky-lots of closeouts and onshore wind, but I thought I could find something to ride. I just had to think of it as a bad day at home-there's always something if you surf smart. 
     It was time for me to put on my white jersey to challenge (and perhaps embarrass) myself as I took on the frat guys. We got an ample five minutes to paddle out and thank God because it was a rough one. It was much more consistent than it looked from the beach. PB (and the whole Mission Beach stretch) is lined with difficult waves when the swell rises because they go from deep to shallow water rather rapidly. While I was watching from my tent sanctuary on the beach, I assessed the waves to be 2-4 feet. Once I was paddling out, they seemed more like 3-5 feet with the occasional 6 foot set.

     Although I was ahead of the boys at first, they quickly gained on me and eventually left me on the inside, swallowing water. Like a scene out of Blue Crush, I duck dove one wave, only to be greeted by another behind it that crashed right into my open eyes and drug me back five feet. When I finally made it out, I let the guy in the yellow jersey get position on me and take an open faced left I really wanted. "Crap! Come on Devon!" I paddled into the next one, a meaty left with a big lip that crashed almost immediately. I tried to get up on it with a quick bottom turn-foam climb combo, but I fell. I didn't allow myself to get discouraged though, and luckily made it back to the outside without getting clobbered by any sets.

     My second and third waves were my best-a quick right with a spray turn followed by a left with a backside off-the-lip. I felt a little more relaxed after my second "keeper" wave (your top two best waves count towards your ending total) and paddled back out just as a set of six footers marched in. I scratched over them in a minor panic. Because I was nervous this whole time, it was even harder for me to fill my lungs with air. I duck-dove a thick one and opened my eyes. The big waves out in the deeper water were such a pure dark blue like the night sky when there's no moon. I felt immediately relaxed and weightless within them. I took a moment to look around underwater and think about how lucky I was to be doing this. My last wave was a close-out right and then the heat was over.

     They announced the winners as I was making my way back to the tent. They read it in reverse order--last place to first. The top three advance. When I heard I didn't get fourth I knew I advanced and I allowed myself a mini-celebration inside my head. When I found out I wasn't in third, but in second I was astonished and called my dad immediately, as I always do with surfing things. 


"Dad! I beat the boys!"

     The sun made its way from the east to the west as the warm day went by. Scott showed up after finishing the Junior Olympics with his elementary school P.E. class kids, which I was very thankful for. I surfed closed-out waves, a little more cautiously than usual, made it through my Open Women's semi-final, but got eliminated in the Men's Greek Athlete semi-final with a sixth place, dead last in the heat. Nerves came as each heat approached, but I was enjoying myself. I felt excited for my next opportunity to test myself on this surfing stage. At the end of it all, I made it to the Open Women's final and got second place. A victory resembling an iceberg, so much bigger than it appears. 

     As I sat reflecting in my living room that next day, I knew the contest had been a victory for me in so many ways. I had allowed myself to enjoy it even though my performance wasn't perfect. I had challenged myself in ways I had been afraid to before and put myself in a situation where I was likely to lose by entering a male-dominated division. I had lost and I was ok with it. In fact, I felt good about it.

     Losing had been part of the triumph because I've seen the kind of good and growth that comes from it, and it's not something I fear anymore.

     The people who have beat me in contests, the women who were mean to me at my old job, that jerk from surf camp who told me I wasn't worth the money, the places that have rejected my work, they all have helped me become better at being myself because they have helped me accept myself. 

   Winning is an artificial thing I don't need anymore and that's a victory I would take any day. 


  1. one of the most lovely things I have ever read

  2. It's so true, winning isn't everything - if you feel your own victories with the strongest of convictions it's way better than a 1st Place or a medal / award any day!

  3. Y-A-A-A-A-Y! Well done Devon, you are an absolute star. What a beautiful post with stunning photos. I am thrilled that you did so well, and thrilled that you are in such a positive, strong place. You are living your life to the max it is very inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I love living vicariously through you on your surf board. Congrats on 2nd place, buuuuut I love your last sentence! You rock!

  5. I love your writing. Your reflections are insightful.

  6. Devon, this is just amazing. You're amazing. It is such an incredible thing for me to read this. To read your perspective on something that I was there to watch. It's honestly like a scene from Blue Crush where I'm watching everything take place as you narrate what's really going through your mind.

    To have watched the contest from afar, as a spectator, and now to see it through your own eyes. It's literally eye-opening. And wonderful. I am so happy for you and I was so proud of you that day! You have been an inspiration to me through this blog and to see you there, doing what you LOVE... it was really something special. Congratulations to you, not only on the contest but in learning from life and growing through it all. I'm going to hold on to those last three paragraphs of yours in this post... so, so beautiful.

  7. I agree- right from Blue Crush. Your post was wonderful to read, and a big congratulations to you! Living in London (for the year) it's nice to settle into your blog and be transported back to the West Coast!


  8. Just the fact that your able to compete at such a high level is such an accomplishment Devon. Congrats on doing so well even though you didn't win. You inspire people to push beyond what they might expect and to do the best that they can!

  9. you rock! and also this was just what i needed to read today. thanks bunches and keep on keeping on- no matter what the conditions. xo

  10. These pictures make me want to go to the beach so badly! Seriously in awe of your skills, lady! :)

  11. CONGRATULATIONS!!! That is so awesome! I love how you beat the boys:) This post was so beautifully written and inspiring--as always:) I love reading your posts, because they are always so insightful. You're totally right about winning. I always put so much pressure on myself in competitions that it takes the fun out of the event. I remember in high school when I played tennis, I would just freak out when I lost. I would get so nervous that I literally felt that my elbow wouldn't bend the right way so I could hit the ball. I'm usually so mild mannered, and I didn't like what I turned in to when I competed. This is one of the biggest lessons to learn, and I'm glad you reminded me of it so eloquently! AWESOME JOB! Now treat yourself with whatever makes you happy-you deserve it:)

  12. Wow, this is beautiful. I love what you said about losing being part of the triumph!

  13. First of all, congratulations! I always LOVE stories where the women beat the men, because I know we totally can. I found your blog from Story of My Life, and I'm so happy I did! I grew up in San Diego near Point Loma and never tried surfing, though I'd always wanted to! I love nature and the peacefulness of the world, too, and it will always be a regret of mine that I never sucked it up and tried it (but hey, there's still time! :) ). Anyways, just wanted to say hello and I'm happy I found you! It's always nice to connect to other ladies, especially ones who understand the San Diegan in me. :)

    Take Care,
    The Nectar Collective

  14. Excellent post! I agree that sometimes it's hard to get out of your own head and allow yourself to enjoy the moment (especially when nerves are making everything harder). Congratulations on beating the boys and taking second in women's!


    Oh, and great song choice as well, I love Band of Horses!

  15. Woah woah woah. First off...I found you through Story of my Life's intro to you. Second...are you a Pi Beta Phi??? Your shirt says Pi Phi and it made me go weeeeeee. I'm a Pi Phi!

  16. Loved this post - and go you for doing so well competing against the boys. I also just did a mini-happy dance - I've never "met" another blogger that surfs. :-) Although, our east coast baby waves aren't much compared to yours!

  17. Congratulations, Devon! I loved this post so much. More than that, I love that I get to SEE/HUG you in two weeks!

  18. Congrats Devon!! Not only for beating the boys but for getting out there and pushing past your comfort zone. And I LOVE that last line - "Winning is an artificial thing I don't need anymore and that's a victory I would take any day." So awesome.

  19. Congrats Devon! It must have felt pretty amazing to come back to a place where you had experienced failure and triumph.


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