If you had told me three months ago that these would be scenes from my life, I would have said you were cuckoo.

Now, it is I who am the kook, a term which means “beginner” in surfer vernacular.

Actually, a kook is more like a poser who brags about being a great surfer but who is terrible, which doesn’t fit since I’m content with my station at the bottom, and I don’t pretend otherwise.

I had a hard week. Exciting life changes are afoot, and even though they’re happy ones, they will disrupt my world. I believe all the best changes should shake you up, since change without risk is hardly worth mentioning. (You can go ahead and buy socks in a color or pattern you’ve never worn, but you can’t force me to notice or expect your life to improve.) But my pro-change outlook doesn’t make it easier when the newness is coming for me.

I’m in for more than a sock change. It is exhilarating and wonderful, but every day, I must make five million decisions with almost no information. I’m trying to rely on my intuition, and it’s difficult when every available choice is unfamiliar.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve lived in a near constant state of fear. I have wondered whether I’m strong enough to face the effects of the decisions I’m making now. I have tried to control this change by going all in on disruption, and have repeatedly had to remind myself that I can only take one step at a time.

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in my office, thinking about my plans. Just when I thought I might spiral into a freakout, I texted Alvaro.

“Hi, Alvaro! Can you meet for a lesson at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow?”

“hi katie, sure”

Just like that, I knew I would end this week with that particular type of deep breathing that can only come from tussling with ocean waves. And that anticipation had me breathing better already.

This morning, I learned a lot about one of my choices, which made all the rest of the day’s decisions easier.

While Alvaro and I were paddling out this evening, he was behind me.

“Your problem isn’t strength, Katie. You are strong,” he said. “You just need to work on balance.”

Right there in the ocean, amidst the crashing waves, Alvaro gave me a piece of wisdom I’d sought for weeks. He thought he was talking about my arm muscles and core stability, but that’s not what I heard.

Tonight, I brought Margo Linda Beast home with me, rather than keeping her in my board locker at Traveler Surf Club. A friend and I are surfing in Marin on Sunday morning, and I want my own board with me.

Also, I wanted to try my collapsible car rack, to see whether it makes more sense for me to schlep my board between home and Linda Mar so I could just walk it out from the beach parking lot into the water on surfing days, rather than having to walk it the longer distance from Traveler.

After our lesson, Alvaro helped me secure Margo Linda Beast to the top of my car. Ever the teacher, he demonstrated buckling the rack’s straps, then made me do it myself. Just like when we’re on the water, as I took the lead on assembling the car rack, Alvaro gave me an “a-ha!” or a “no, Katie” as appropriate.

The whole twenty-minute drive home, the rack made a terrible noise that sounded like fifty metal folding chairs crashing down a steel staircase. Through the sunroof of Gloria, my car (named for both Steinem and Allred), I could see the board was securely fastened onto Gloria’s roof.

And I trust Alvaro, who had triple-checked that the board was tightly tied on. Also, I remembered reading in the rack usage instructions that the straps can make a humming sound. I’ve never heard anyone hum so horribly in my life, but my awareness that this was a known issue was reassuring.

Still, I drove forty-seven miles per hour on the freeway. This drew the ire of several drivers behind me, as evidenced by the honks they contributed to the musical cacophony taking place over my head. But try as they might, my fellow freeway travelers couldn’t take away my post-ocean bliss.

As my visibly secure surfboard audibly threatened to slide off my car roof onto my windshield, landing fin-side-up and puncturing my tires as they drove over her, I reflected on how little control I have over any of it: my next life chapter, my five million decisions, or whether Margo Linda Beast kills me in the ocean or on the open road.

There’s a kind of serenity in that too, knowing it’s not up to me. (That is one aptly named prayer.) Before my fateful Maui trip this Memorial Day Weekend and my “why not?” surfing lesson there, I would never have imagined myself seeking my calm in the ocean every week. I couldn’t have planned this wonderful addition to my life, so why I think I should strangle life’s serendipity out of the other parts of my existence, I don’t know.

Here’s to the changes that rattle, stretching us just enough to leave us feeling slightly uncomfortable … even as we’re breathing a little easier.

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About the Author: Katie Burke

Katie Burke
Katie Burke is an award-winning author, San Francisco attorney, journalist, and surfer. Her first book, Urban Playground: What Kids Say About Living in San Francisco, was critically acclaimed. Her next book, the forthcoming Sea Change: Women and Nonbinary People Reshaping Surfing Wave by Wave, is scheduled for publication in July 2023.

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