“Waves are not measured in feet and inches,” Buzzy Trent is credited with proclaiming, “they are measured in increment of fear.”
Fear, of course, is hardly as wholesome or pleasantly stimulating as Mr. Trent might have one believe. When choppy saline waters of the Atlantic are bearing down on you with a maddening menace, you want to run right back out of the water with the surf board above your head and feet moving inhumanly through the water.
But the insight credited to Buzzy Trent, the first big-wave surfer in the 1960s applies most unequivocally to the more popular ideal of going to the edges of our comfort zones to discover new experiences that redefine what we call “fun.”
Surfing is liberating. But to surf for the first time is to face crushing fear. I speak for myself, of course, but it is not a stretch to assume everyone in my company on the day we surfed at Tarkwa Bay harboured the same sentiment.
When you’ve overcome the first colony of waves that once knocked you down to the fine tightly-packed sand of the beach and you suddenly begin to feel you are the master of the sea, a bigger wave comes in to pull you and your board – protectively corded to your leg – back to the shore.
For a Lagos millennial surfing for the first time, there is little more to write about it than the crushing fear and the resulting transcendent joy when you catch the waves.
“Jesus walked on water, I am cruising it. If that’s not transcendent, I don’t know what is,” you might find yourself thinking.
Most of it was fear, though. Every step deeper into the water to catch a wave was a step into fear. It was also where the joy was.
Trent’s idea affirms what children intuitively know to be true but are gradually taught to forget, then to dread – “Comfortable is not fun.”
It’s why we loved to jump higher and from loftier platforms in elementary school. It was why we were cunningly enamored with fire. It was why when playing with fire became boring, we started toying with the grotesque allure of electric mains.
Fear is an uncomfortable, but necessary, stimulant.
As we started to surf, our company of amateurs who once stayed on the edge of the shore holding tightly to the surf boards and to dear lives forded deeper into the ocean, prodding our fears and absorbing the addictive highs of ludicrous joy. Every pop-up on the board elicited higher decibels of vocalized elation.
I should be honest and perhaps present a uniquely useful fuel for taking up a board against the ocean. It’s this – nothing prepares you for surfing (and perhaps any adventure) like the groovy pictures you expect would indubitably result from it; a nifty digital souvenir that affirms your “state of chill” to the world.
I will shamelessly confess, running into the ocean and staring down the tumultuous water, I prayed the person on photography duty in our little surfing company would pick up good optics.
—Wisława Szymborska, that great polish poet reflected that humans “have an inborn need to experience powerful emotions.” Somewhere along the line, the desire to run towards the forbidden – rather than away from it – get beaten or trained out of us.
Instagram optics help, but fear gets us over the threshold. Thank the heavens adventurers like ourselves rediscovered fear in ourselves. Thank the heavens we know fear is what keeps us wanting more. Thank the heavens that we do it afraid.
Written by Gbenga Onalaja.
Gbenga is a oatmeal-obsessed 90s kid exploring self through adventures and the curation of them. When he’s not doing cannon balls, you’ll probably find him working out of a cafe in Yaba.