Straight Talk – Staring Down The Barrel

Straight Talk – Staring Down The Barrel

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear’ – Nelson Mandela

‘Let’s go bodyboarding in Autumn.  It will be fun’, he said. But as I lay awake into the early hours, listening to the rain pelt against the yurt roof at our camping site, I have to be honest; I was afraid.

That was the week that Hurricane Humberto furiously lashed its tail across the coast of Cornwall, with 45 mph winds predicted by the MET Office. I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather not be, than the ocean.

In truth, even if the weather had been a calm summery day, with hardly a puff of wind, I would have been scared; I’m afraid of being out of my depth. A childhood fear brought on by capsizing in the deep end of a swimming pool.  We had been playing on a rubber dinghy and as I plummeted into the water I was held under by another child, who had panicked and grabbed hold of me. Luckily, someone noticed in time and rescued me, but not before fear had wrapped her tentacles around my heart.

beach hut sea bridge tables water

The bodyboarding training ‘holiday’ was, in my mind, less about a relaxing getaway and more about trying to escape from the task that lay ahead.

Bathophobia, or the fear of depth, is just one of many phobias that human beings may experience and whilst the causes of phobias are often unknown, experts believe that they stem from a traumatic or negative event in an individual’s early life. 

But how do we overcome our fears or phobias, particularly when they may seem unreasonable and even intangible to some? Xenophobia, for example – a fear of the unknown, is the irrational fear experienced about a person or situation that is perceived as foreign.  Basically, the fear of anything unknown that is beyond one’s comfort zone. How do you overcome fearing something that you don’t even know about yet?

When it comes to bathophobia, experts recommend hypnosis, systematic desensitization, CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) and even medication to calm the nerves (not ideal if it makes you drowsy and impairs concentration). Mental exercises, such as imagining oneself swimming beyond the breaking waves may help and then there’s the suggestion that starting in waist deep water and slowly progressing, may work. Suffice to say that anyone with such phobia, would need to see for themselves what works or could be tolerable.

For me, it seems, the fear was to be overcome by actually taking the bull by the horns and doing it. Oh my!

On the morning of our excursion, our bodyboarding experts briefed us as to what to expect throughout the day.  We introduced ourselves to the rest of the group; I felt breathless and close to tears, apparently the only person afraid of doing what everyone else seemed so eager for. 

I had a knot in the pit of my stomach; rising anxiety which made me feel like running away and I honestly didn’t think I would make it through the experience unharmed. 

The fantastic team at Bodyboard holidays (led by Rob Barber) were quick to reassure us (me) that we wouldn’t be sucked out to sea into the great unknown, once we made it through the breaking waves to get outback (where all the surfers wait). They chose a wave size that was manageable for beginners, and once we got to the beach, gave us training on various techniques that would be handy to know, especially for a novice.

To say that I was terrified is an understatement, and I fought to keep myself from galloping off down the beach. I probably would have too but the fins I was wearing barely made it possible to walk, let alone run.

With the assistance and encouragement of Rob’s team and my hubby (who I had secretly been annoyed with for pushing me out of my comfort zone), I stepped into the waves.

One step in front of the other, or rather, walking backwards with fins on, at first, until the water was deep enough for us to paddle out. I couldn’t have done it on my own.

But I didn’t need to. I had my ‘cheerleading squad’ egging me on, consisting of instructors, hubby, and fellow bodyboarders who were learning too, and we made a real community out there in the ocean.  Floating outback, on my pink and blue bodyboard (yes, my hubby chose that, possibly trying to encourage me with some of my favourite colours?) I felt a sense of peace. I was living in the moment, not worried about anything, focussing on what was happening directly around me. A ‘mindfulness’ moment of focussed ‘meditation’:  legs kicking, hands gripping the front of the board, head up, and breathe. Any panic gently soothed away by the rhythmic undulation of the ocean. 

The first wave that I caught, wasn’t the biggest, my technique was definitely not the best and I didn’t do it without assistance but the feeling of joy was priceless. The photo, which I have included, and which was taken unbeknown to me, is proof that for one tiny moment in time, I conquered a lifelong fear.  

For the rest of the weekend, the team looked out for ‘Stella-size waves’, and I must say, I caught one or two on my own.

Now, I’m not going to claim that I’m completely cured and able to paddle out, gung-ho into the swell.  In fact, after the training weekend, my hubby and I spent a week in Perranporth, and I didn’t go into the ocean again.  The weather was awful, and as I mentioned previously, Hurricane Humberto had lashed the coast of Cornwall, bringing in 10-15 ft waves in some places. I’d like to think that I’m on a journey to recovery and that I’ve taken the first step in the right direction.

The next time the conditions suit, when the waves are ‘Stella-sized’ and we’re down along the coast somewhere, I will venture outback again, you may even catch me ‘getting barrelled’!  Admittedly, it will probably never be on my own, I will be with my husband, my family or on another bodyboarding weekend. But that’s life, isn’t it? Done best in community with family and friends, riding along on the waves together.

Written by Stella Nicholls
Photos supplied by Bodyboard Holidays (Credit to @goleftimages and @gareth.davies.photography)

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