The Power of Facing Our Fears

I know I’ve written a lot about my time in Hawaii lately but I always learn so much while I’m there so there’s a lot to share. On my most recent trip I fulfilled a life-long dream of surfing on the North Shore of Oahu.

Because of the concentration of great surf spots, consistent big ocean swells during the winter and the warm tropical climate, the North Shore is really the ideal surf location. Most of the world’s elite surfers go there to prove themselves so it’s considered the mecca of surfing world and making a pilgrimage is a big deal for any surfer.

Don’t get me wrong, the day I surfed there the conditions were nothing like pictures you may have seen of the enormous waves that give the North Shore its reputation. If surfing in typical winter conditions is like running a marathon, this was much more like a jog in the park. But it was the North Shore and I was out there!

Sunset Beach
North Shore Oahu

It was a big accomplishment, not only because I did something I’ve always wanted to do and tested myself in the same waters as the best surfers, but perhaps more importantly, because even though I love the ocean, I’m actually quite afraid of it.

I grew up going to the Oregon Coast and from a young age my parents wisely instilled in me a healthy fear of the ocean. We had rules about how far out we could go, about staying together, etc. Then in high school I had an experience that amplified that fear exponentially.

It was during spring break and I had been out surfing with some friends for a while when I tried to catch a wave and it went right under me. I tried to catch another and it passed by as well. That’s when I noticed I was actually being pulled out to sea. Panic quickly set in as I paddled as hard as I could towards shore only to get pulled further out. One of my worst nightmares was coming true and I was convinced I was going to die. After a few minutes of fighting I gave up out of exhaustion and just floated on my board. Luckily the current eventually pushed me back towards the waves and washed me in.

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was actually caught in a rip-current, a naturally occurring phenomena where the water pushed in by the waves escapes back out to sea. I’ve since learned how to get out of rip-currents and even use them to my advantage when trying to paddle out, but at the time the experience was real and terrifying.

After an event like that many people might stop going into the ocean all together and it would be totally understandable. I considered it, but for me the draw was too strong and I had to get back in. It took a while but slowly I was able to do it again.

Even today though, if I’m in the water and the conditions remind me of that day, panic can start to set in. It happened briefly as I paddled out on the North Shore. Because of the reputation of the place I was already a pretty nervous before I got in the water. As I got farther out that familiar cold feeling of fear started to creep in and I actually decided to paddle back in. Initially I wasn’t sure if I’d go back out, but as I sat on the beach staring out at the waves I realized how much I would regret if I didn’t face my fear. So I gave myself a pep talk and paddled back out, this time determined to only come back in under the power of a wave. The fear quickly subsided and I stayed in the water for over an hour catching several good waves and had a huge grin on my face the entire time.

I’m so glad I didn’t let fear get the best of me that day and rob me of an incredible memory. There have been so many other times that I’ve stayed on shore, either literally or figuratively, and I regret those missed opportunities.

When we face our fears we gain so much. It empowers and strengthens us for the future. The next time we face a tough situation we’re able to look back and say, “I did that, so I know I can do this!” For those of us that are Christians, it forces us to rely on God and get to see him work. We also learn that what were afraid of wasn’t as nearly bad as we thought it would be and we get an huge sense of accomplishment!

Of course the opposite is true and we can push ourselves too far into what I think of as the danger zone. There are certain surfing conditions that would put me back there and potentially be traumatic. That’s not the goal. The goal is to push just far enough outside our comfort zone to where we’re challenged and to where growth can occur.

So here’s to getting out there, to pushing past our fears and trying something new; to challenging ourselves and giving ourselves to chance to experience something great!