To be fair, braving waves in the middle of someplace exotic like the Mediterranean Sea is exactly the kind of thing I pictured when I made a resolution to spend 2018 getting out of my comfort zone. I must have also pictured myself being a heck of a lot braver, though. Because flash forward a few months and the reality of speeding into the glittering horizon off Sicily's coast to go electric surfing suddenly didn't seem like my smartest idea.
Electric surfing, as I'd discovered about 10 minutes prior, is nothing like actual surfing. Picture a paddleboard strapped to a jet ski motor. Now picture balancing on it as waves churn in the open water. Now picture hitting the throttle. Even with training wheels, the idea of hopping on one of these things felt like an entirely new comfort hemisphere. (Related: How to Scare Yourself Into Being Stronger, Healthier, and Happier)
A month earlier, when an invitation to check out the re-opening of Club Med Cefalù on the northern coast of Sicily landed in my inbox, it was an easy sell. The property is a 30-minute hike from Byzantine ruins, boasts a fleet of sailboats, Michelin-star pizza, and is studded with gorgeous azure coves ripe for exploring by paddleboard. Also, gelato.
But I paused when my eyes hit electric surfing on the activities list. A quick Google search and I felt my chest steadily constrict with anxiety—belly-flopping a mile off the coast into open water was not exactly the travel story I had in mind.
With a white-knuckle grip on the boat as the first woman from our group splashed into the water, I could feel my pulse starting to race. She was fit and determined, hoisting herself into a kneeling position on the board with ease. I squinted after her as she sped off into the sun tentatively shifting her weight to place one foot on the board before losing her balance mid-stand and disappearing under the waves. Oh okay this is actually really hard, I thought, now fully justified in my anxiety. It went like this three more times until my braver predecessor finally stood for a few shaky seconds before one last flail into the water. The anticipation only got worse as I watched the next guy—a deeply bronzed Frenchman in a Speedo who took five or six tries (and a major ego hit) to even get on the board.
Had I not been writing this story, this is the point when I probably would have bailed. I'm all for trying new things—it's an empowering way to face your fears—but I was starting to really panic. A couple of years ago while kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico, I got cocky—when the wind suddenly shifted pushing me farther out to sea, I spent what felt like hours fighting through panicked tears (and getting a killer upper-body workout) to get back to shore. Open water has quietly terrified me ever since.
"You're next!" the instructor, bellowed strapping the board's safety tether around my right ankle as the waterlogged Frenchman flopped down in the boat beside me. The faster you try to stand, the faster you can fall off and get dragged back in here, I told myself. Without a second thought, I plunged off the bow, hoisted myself onto the board and hit the throttle. Rather than overthink it, I let the muscle memory from dozens of pop-ups on a paddleboard take over. It took me a full 10 seconds to realize I was standing—I was electric surfing.
Wait a second, I'm actually good at this. Like, really good. I flew through the waves in a victory lap before eventually losing my balance on a turn and splashing into the water. I spit out saltwater as I surfaced and swam toward the board floating a dozen yards away. This was fun.
Sitting on the boat, I thought I'd write a story titled "What Electric Surfing Taught Me About Failing"—how you don't always have to try everything, sometimes it's okay to bail. But surfing around in the afternoon sun off the coast of Cefalù, just a layer of fiberglass between me and the sea, was a shot of confidence. The experience was wildly empowering. It made me think about other things I've been too anxious to try, convinced I'll be bad or look stupid. Why had I been so convinced I couldn't do this? Just because I'd never been electric surfing before didn't mean I couldn't learn—it certainly didn't mean I'm not capable. (Related: The Many Health Benefits of Trying New Things)
Back on dry land, still riding the high of my unexpected surf skills, I made a mental note to remember the feeling; testing your limits isn't just a way to make you stronger in the face of fear—it's a chance to learn your limits are further than you might think. Before my confidence evaporated, I decided to sign up for another bucket list item I've always been too timid to try: sailing lessons.
But first, it was time to celebrate with a well-earned Aperol spritz by the water.