(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.