/ Mar 1

Overcoming Fear: Surfing is Hard and Terrifying… Oh Yes it is!

Words by Pilar

Overcoming Fear: Surfing is Hard and Terrifying… You’re probably thinking, why would I choose the most controversial and pessimistic title for this blog? Especially since it’s coming from a business owner of a small company that thrives mainly on teaching people how to surf

I have something to say, I hope you make it to the end of the blog. You have my word, all this is going to make sense. 

I don’t really have any traumatic ocean-related experience or an excuse that I can use to defend the great amount of fear I experience whenever I tried to surf. 

However, I feel I have been able to identify the reason (or reasons) why I feel so much fear in the water. My fear shows itself especially in the impact zone or “the laundry machine” as I call it. But I’ll get to that later.

Let’s start with the real reason I decided to title my blog this way and how surfing ties into overcoming fear in general.

Overcoming fear in surfing

Surfing and the ocean: a metaphor for life

Now let’s go back to the title of this blog and why I chose it. You see, I like to think of surfing and the ocean as a metaphor for life. All of us — beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and even professional surfers — can relate to this. Life is about overcoming fear and surfing through the waves.

Surfing is hard, challenging, demanding, unpredictable, and full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. Each wave, moment, and situation is different. You will never find yourself facing the same wave twice.

Although you can learn the technicalities and basics of how to surf, nothing will beat the actual experience. You might be athletic or physically gifted and that will help you for sure. But still, to improve, you need practice. Sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound like life itself? 

Why we keep surfing despite the fear

Of course. I am saying this as someone with minimal surfing experience. However, I am also relying on the information I have gathered from the well-experienced surfers and instructors around me, as well as from past guests who have shared their thoughts and feelings about their surfing experience with us.

You might wonder, why? If it is hard, challenging, and in some cases, terrifying, why do we keep trying? …for one simple reason, because it is WORTH IT! 

This morning we were having breakfast all together at Bodhi and the conversation developed to the fear of surfing and overcoming it. Of course, it was a great topic to talk about with our guests, as they are actually learning how to surf and they were about to paddle out and catch green waves, right? 

The thing is though, I am not here to make people believe surfing is awesome. I like real human connections. I like when we all take our masks off and say things as we feel them. Because when we do that, we can all relate. 

Surf gear for beginners

Facing your fears and living your best life

During our conversations, one of our instructors, mentioned that even she still feels some fear inside when she goes surfing. Mind you, she is an advanced (competative) surfer.

However, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this from an advanced surfer.

One might wonder why they keep surfing regardless of the fear. I think this question has a simple answer. In the end, we live for those moments that make us feel alive. 

It really comes down to that. Once you experience this amazing feeling of riding a wave, it won’t matter if you look great or not, whether you are a beginner or an advanced surfer, we can relate to one thing, we feel present and alive. 

And maybe life is just like that. Life is hard and full of uncertainty and there are many things that are out of control, anything can happen at any moment. We somehow get trained and instructed on how to go about life.

However, in the end, it comes down to our own personal experience, how we deal with every situation, every wave, how we decide to navigate the ocean and how much we enjoy every “green wave” that we are able to catch. 

Beach yoga in meditation

Yoga and meditation: tools for overcoming fear 

So where does yoga fit in all this? Well, not only can we use yoga as a tool to stretch and strengthen the body for our next surfing session, the philosophy, meditation and breathing techniques can help us in overcoming our fear of surfing and allow us to pay more attention to our internal state and our thoughts while on the water. 

So perhaps we feel surfing, paddling or catching a wave is hard and scary because we are already married to that idea. Yes, paddling, turtling, and catching a wave may be hard, but why do we tend to see challenges as negative things that need to be avoided? How about if we try to enjoy them? Wouldn’t it make surfing and life, in general, more enjoyable? 

Having said that, yoga and meditation can be used to train our minds as much as our bodies. If we really do the yoga work we can start the difficult journey of overcoming our fear of surfing and enjoy every paddle, stroke, and challenges we face as much as we enjoy that elusive ride on a green wave. 

Yoga Retreat Costa Rica

Meditation: Clearing Your Mind of Fear and Regaining Mental Focus

When it comes to meditation, it may feel like our mind is all over the place. That’s because it probably is and has been that way for a long time.

Meditation will help clear your mind and take you out of being on automatic pilot. Once this happens, you’ll notice how you’re paying more attention to the fabrications in your mind and realize how those affect the way we perceive every experience. 

So the more we pay attention, the more we can distinguish between the fears that keep us alive and the fears that stop us from living. 

This discernment will help us be honest with ourselves when answering the question, “Am I avoiding this challenge because is not a good idea for me right now? Or because of fear?”

This also applies to surfing, catching waves, jumping to a waterfall, running a marathon, letting go of things that no longer serve us or embracing a new change in our lives. It applies to everything we do that somehow is taking us out of our comfort zone and into that space where we can feel ALIVE. 

Costa Rica surf camp

Accepting fear: my personal journey with surfing 

Coming back to my personal fear, I have dug deep into the reasons why I am afraid of the “laundry machine”. There’s definitely a common denominator in all the situations that I fear the most. More than fear, it’s the illusion of control, the compulsion of wanting to control things that are completely out of my control. 

Uncertainty exists, and yes, the worst thing can happen at any given moment, but that can happen whether we are taking a risk or not. We fear that, so the need to control is a response to that fear. 

On the other hand, it is through surfing that I have learned one of the most valuable lessons in my life.

When I tried surfing for the first time, I did it with the intention of overcoming fear. I was looking for a way to overcome the fear and anxiety I was experiencing in my life after my second pregnancy, and losing a very dear friend of mine in an accident. 

I thought that if I did this and I was able to paddle out and catch green waves, my fear was going to disappear. 

Guess what? It didn’t

The Moment I Took Control of My Fear

I found myself alone, out in the water accompanied only by a terrifying fear. There, for the first time in my life, I sat down with my fear face to face. I understood then that I was dealing with my situation all wrong. 

I understood fear is an intrinsic part of life and therefore unavoidable. That we all have fears, and it is ok. I was programmed to subconsciously believe that fear and pain were something to be avoided at all costs. When what I should have done was acknowledge and deal with it. 

This time, by myself in the ocean, in the one situation that scares me the most, I decided to accept it. Become friends with it, but not let it control me. 

Ever since that day, something changed inside me.  Thank You, Mother Ocean, and thank you surfing! I didn’t become the most adventurous person on earth. However, I now try my best to keep moving regardless of fear and uncertainty. 

I also have to give credit to the yoga practice. It allows me to search into my thoughts and figure out what it’s going on. As such, I was able to take control of my fears instead of allowing it to rule my life and develop into a serious mental illness. 

Bodysurfing with SLYDE handplanes

Facing Your Fears in 2023: The 365-Day Fear Challenge

The number 2023 somehow sounds magical to me. Maybe it’s time for us to become friends with our fears and use them to our advantage. In my case, I think it’s time for me to go back to my “shock therapy”. It’s time to give surfing a second try, wouldn’t you agree? 

For those of you visiting this year, I have a disclaimer. I’ll probably take baby steps before I head out to catch big waves. Perhaps for those of us who need to build confidence in the water, Bodysurfing will be the way to go. If you are one of my crowd, I hope I get to see you in our Bodhi Awaken: Bodysurf, Ocean Awareness, Surf and Yoga retreat at some point this year. 

So this is one of the things I’ll be working on this year. How about you? Are you willing to take the 365 days Fear challenge this 2023? What would that look like for you? Please feel welcome to share. 

And this year if you are considering surfing as an option, and you feel very scared, please come to me. I won’t sugarcoat it for you. I’ll be honest and real and I’ll tell you that, “Yes…Surfing can be hard and terrifying, but it is worth it!”

Perhaps Mother Ocean is waiting to teach you some of the biggest lessons you are ever going to learn in this life.

Namaste amigos!


Yoga Instructor - Pilar Salazar


Pilar is Bodhi Surf +Yoga's head yogini and travel planner. When Pilar is not doing her own yoga practice, she can be found assisting guests in improving theirs, reading food and yoga blogs, or spending quality time with her beautiful daughters Maya and Clea!
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