When we think of failing hard, it’s never pretty. This story may not be what you expected in terms of rawness, but there are so many analogies that can be drawn, I believe that it works if you are open to it.
I had wanted to try stand up paddle boarding (SUP) for some time before I left KY. In fact, I even had a scheduled paddle with my sweet friend, Anne, on the Kentucky River. If memory serves, it was Memorial Day weekend of 2016. She and I had talked extensively about our plans during our lunch time power walks around said river. I told her my hopes and dreams. She told me how we could make them happen together.
And so it came to pass that when the river tours opened on that holiday weekend, we were literally on board for it (meaning: scheduled). Alas, Kentucky springs can be as volatile as Texas springs and the whole gig ended up being canceled. The waters were raging with probably all manner of debris that were likely not conducive to the best first time experience. And so it just didn’t happen. I was sad. I’m quite sure that she was too.
Days later, our family found ourselves in our 4Runner packed full of necessities, driving across the country to our new home in Dallas.
Truly feeling like a fish out of water, I joined as many Facebook groups as I could upon our arrival. Was it fate that I saw Jane’s post in the private group about her amazing SUP experiences on Lewisville Lake? I thought, “I really need to do this.”
Yet I didn’t want to do it alone. I thought of Anne. I thought of our dreams and schemes and grand plans that we weren’t able to achieve. I mustered the courage to ask my new neighbor, Jenn, if she would be interested and thankfully, she was all in.
Jenn and I met up at Lewisville Lake for a Womens’ Wednesday session. I didn’t realize it then, but WWSUP is all about fitness and yes, camaraderie. After a brief tutorial on land, everyone grabbed a board and paddle – off we went. Konae was the group leader then and she said the water was glass, so we should all paddle a mile out to that tree line on the horizon. There were at least 25 of us. The knot in my stomach was so tight. I had no clue what the fuck I was doing and I was so freaked out and overwhelmed by it all.
It happened so quickly that I fell to the back of the pack. I was concentrating so hard to keep my balance that I honestly didn’t care about coming in last. I found tiny muscles in my feet that screamed at me for never having been used before.
Jenn had breezed right by me from the onset, smiling wide, “This is soooo much fun!”. She looked like she was born on the board and smoked me in a blink. She meshed with it. Me? I was thinking I might have looked like a jackass. I sure felt like it.
Tina was also a SUP coach and she stayed back with me, providing encouragement. I realized quickly that she was only staying with me for safety. I struggled. I kept falling further and further behind. I was making forward progress at the pace of a tortoise.
Everything in me just wanted to turn around and go back to shore. I knew that was closer and that T really had to work harder to meet my slow pace, but she did it. She stayed and kept talking to me as if we were long time friends. Mostly, she worked to keep me out of my head, which I was fully aware of and so grateful for. I saw all of the other women had already made it to the island and were just chilling. Waiting for the group photo op. Waiting for me.
So I kept digging and pushing and I swear than when I finally arrived, I almost bawled. I felt like such a loser. Such a fucking failure. Last one there. And yet I hadn’t fallen. I was still dry. Finally with the group, I sat down on the board and dangled my legs in the cool lake water. I looked up to the sky and I thought, “Yes!” And I smiled big for the group photo. Jenn was somewhere in the mix, but I wasn’t even sure where she was and I wasn’t even sure that I cared.
I had made it.
The second mile return paddle I did on my knees because those tiny muscles in my feet were screaming so hard. I made amazing progress on that leg and Konae was waiting at the shore to snap another photo. She said, “Your smile is contagious,” and all that I felt at that moment was pure love. I don’t even know where Tina had gone, I just knew she wasn’t babysitting my ass anymore and that felt freeing.
A few weeks later, that same summer, I felt far too confident. I still had not had to paddle as far as I had the first time and I was in the bay by the boat slips and probably 20 yards or less from the shore when my most epic failure happened. I fell. Hard.
It was a full on, backward fall. The board was wet, of course. I slipped. Just like that. It took my breath away because I was completely unprepared. I’m sure it was a glorious fall if I had been an observer. My feet slipped forward and the lake just consumed me. I fell on my back and went under like an anchor. I took that lake water in through my mouth and nose so violently that I choked on it. My ass hit the lake floor.
The water wasn’t even that deep; perhaps slightly above my waist at standing. I felt the soft mud squeeze around my toes as I shook the water from my hair and emptied my ears.
Still a bit stunned, I scrambled back on the board, looking around – did anyone see that? Of course, Tina did. You okay? Yep. All good.
I was a half mile out in the bay before I realized I was squinting against the sun and that meant I had lost my prized blue Maui Jim aviator shades. Just a few months earlier, I had really sucked it up and laid down more money than I had ever laid down for prescription sunglasses. More money than I will ever divulge having spent.
I will say this. Those WWSUP women really stepped up and once they realized I had lost quality prescription shades, we had a human chain going, dragging the muddy bottom of the lake with our feet.
I didn’t find my shades. Tina laughed and watched from the shore, saying things like “the lake taketh and it doesn’t give back.” She recalled and relayed that she had also lost Maui Jims because she was trying to prove they float (they don’t). She was shrugging through the entire process. Zero sympathy from T on that matter. She’s cool like that.
And so when I think about failure, I think about these specific incidents on the lake. I think about how I failed to keep up that very first time. And I think about falling so hard that the shades were ripped from my face (and forever kept from my possession). I think about all of the support I’ve had from almost strangers since. All that many of us have in common is that we show up at the lake. Same time, same place. Same place, different time. Always special, yet always borne of my failures.
I keep returning. Not always as consistently as I believe that I should, but I do keep going back for more falls and epic fails. Because I want to be better. I want to grow. I want to be as confident and capable as Jenn was her first time when it’s my 70th time.
If you were to ask me if I would do that first, rather terrifying and humiliating experience again, I would. A thousand times over.
Every time thereafter, I show up willing to lose my pride and my shades again and again to learn and to grow. Every time that I fall I am willing to climb right back up immediately.
Those shades I go out on the water with now, though? They are the cheap $8 drugstore version. I can’t see shit. My vision is blurred, but my investment doesn’t sink straight to the bottom of the lake, never to be seen again.
So fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.