“Don’ get crazy about it,” Alvaro says, his Peruvian accent dropping the “t.”

Alvaro is my surf instructor. He tells me “don’ get crazy about it” a lot: when I’m practicing my pop-ups on the beach, when he sees me paddling toward him in the water, when I breathe in his general direction.

The thing is, when I’m surfing, I really *don’* get crazy. When I’m in or on the ocean, my usual devotion to getting every detail right about absolutely everything washes away.

I’m not popping up yet, or even standing for very long, and I shrug with good cheer every time I fall off my board. I laugh when a wave rushes full throttle up my nose, then throws me underwater.

I slip on the rocks underfoot while I’m trying to get back up on my board, and I feel happy that this is my struggle.

In the water, there’s no Supreme Court. Out at sea, there are no deadlines. (Well, you’d better start paddling before the wave comes, but that feels more like running to catch a bus than freaking out because you have more pages due next Tuesday than you can ever possibly write.) On the ocean, everything’s OK.

Look, no one ever said I was an easygoing gal. I guess Katie on mellow setting registers as “bonkers” for a Peruvian, Gen Z surfer. Or maybe Alvaro says “don’ get crazy about it” to everyone.

Whatever the case, I always laugh when he says it to me, as I imagine what I must look like to him with all my flailing, thrashing, and energetic flops onto my board.

Tonight, I fell in love with evening surfing. For one thing, we were the only surfers in the whole ocean. Plus, the waves were still good—probably softer than I’ve seen in the morning, but since I’m practicing staying up, slower waves are just right for me. And the gentle sky lighting is divine.

Also, tonight’s lesson gave me something to look forward to when I was stuck at my desk all day, frantically pushing through the More Than I Can Get Done pile. Rushing out of the office and driving out to the ocean was surreal and joyful. I felt so fortunate that I would soon be catching waves, rather than flipping through Netflix.

Tonight, we paddled way out there, with me trying to catch the waves that greeted us on our journey. Alvaro told me that sometimes when you have a challenge, you can just go around it and do something else.

“Tonight,” he added, “You are getting better at paddling. By the time you pop up, you will already be strong. Don’ get crazy about staying up on the board. You have two feet, so that will happen.

Right now, focus on paddling and getting stronger.”

I know this lesson so well, and I love it a lot. As is always the case when I surf, analogies from my life came rushing forth.

I’ve been working for years on a specific life goal, and I think I will finally, soon, announce its achievement. By strengthening myself in areas not obviously related to the thing I want, I have brought myself closer to this target than I’d be if I had charged straight at it all this time.

What we want will come, in ways we don’t expect and could not even imagine. Three months ago, I had no idea I’d be surfing at 48.5 years old. And with surfing, I already feel I’ve caught on to something I don’t want to live without.

Don’ get crazy about it. The pop-up will come. Whatever that means in your life, take it.

Meanwhile, I’m gonna just keep paddling.

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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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