May 02, 2015
Sooz Teel’s surf sabbatical continues. She makes a strong connection about forcing versus flowing, and finding smiles out in the water come faster - as do the rides!
DAY SEVENTEEN Do Not Fear the Big Wave That Crashes in the Dark. Yesterday I had the most difficult session yet out in the water. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the hundreds of lessons that keep popping up in my mind after I safely made it ashore. One that keeps flashing before my eyes like a giant red blinking neon sign: “KNOW YOUR LIMITS!” Last week weighed heavy on my heart and mind. The state of affairs in my life left me uninspired. Surfing, writing, moving to a new house, renting cars, unemployment, mourning my Baba - it all felt more like a burden than the fun adventure it had set out to be.
Babanees and her Baba back in the day
Sunday the waves were firing. The report called for overhead conditions. I woke up early and drove down to Parking Lots to find gigantic, stormy waves. I headed to Rincon Surf School to get a report on Aguadilla Bay. ‘Big and crowded.’ They weren’t taking students out. Like a bratty child who wasn’t getting her way, I turned to Brett of RSS and said, “I can’t go another day without surfing.” I could tell he was sympathetic, but there were no answers to be had. There were no breaks I could actually surf that morning. I drove to every spot in Rincon to check conditions and the only one that showed signs of manageability was Maria’s. There were three separate peaks breaking, each one more crowded than the next. For every one surfer that exited, three more were entering the water. I watched as surfers paddled out, competing for the perfect position on gigantic waves. I could feel their stoke as I watched boards skim along glimmering faces. I wanted a piece of that to help set my mind straight. I wanted my rhythm back.
I hung around town all afternoon trying to keep my mind at ease for a possible sunset session. My new roommate Sam, a rad surfer from San Diego, said he would go out with me that evening. We packed up the boards around 5pm and checked Maria’s. The conditions and crowds hadn’t changed. We drove across town and took a look at Parking Lots…No bueno. We committed to Maria’s. As we prepared ourselves to enter the water, I questioned whether it was a good idea to bring my GoPro out in such heavy conditions. It had been a while since I snapped any new photos, and I figured it had survived some pretty gnarly wipe outs so far.
There was a small channel I could paddle into where the waves weren’t breaking, just little bit of leftover white water rolling in. Outside gigantic sets rolled through and I couldn’t fathom how I would paddle into them. Instead I was paddling for my life to stay out back, so that I could safely glide over the back of the waves before they peaked. I did this for a good hour, sometimes taking a looking down the peak at the surfers 10 feet below me, all hoping to be in the perfect position of the wave.
I was uncomfortable. This just wasn’t fun, in fact it was frightening. It was only a matter of time before a wave rolled through that I wouldn’t make it over, and on top of that I began to trip out on how I was going to paddle in. The last few times I had been out in conditions of this size, I had trouble exiting. And then it happened, an avalanche of water was breaking on the outside. I paddled as fast as I could toward it and then stopped – which was the biggest mistake I could have made. Never stop paddling! A few more strokes and I would have made it over the wave. This mountain of a wave broke on top of me, thrashing my body like a rag doll. Up. Down. Left. Right. Upside down! “Up! Up! Up! Please just let me come up from this,” I thought.
As the thick, foamy white water dragged me down the line and cleaned house at Marias’s, I found my way to the surface. I flipped my board over to reveal that my GoPro was pulled off of the mount. I frantically looked for the orange floatie attached to the case, but there was nothing in sight, and not time to waste. I wanted out of the water…NOW! I paddled over to Sam, holding back tears. “Just breathe,” he said. “You can’t panic. You need to wait for this next set to pass and paddle back in for your life. Go through the channel we came in at.” And I did just that.
My spine quivers when I think about how strong the force that dragged me under felt. Yes, it was a humbling experience in the water, and as surfers we need to know what that feels like. But I was disappointed for forcing the situation upon myself. All because I challenged myself to 30 days of surfing, and it had been eleven days since I had last surfed. I stood on the shore, watching as the final surfers paddle their way in for the night. My body trembling, holding back tears - and GoPro-less.
I was quiet during the car ride back up to our house in Puntas. When Sam began to speak, “I’m not sure if it’s too soon to say this, but at least you know you are tough enough to handle this. When I started surfing all I had was a short board and I went out everyday. I mean 365 days. It was my life. Surfing is a lifestyle and it’s going to take years of experiences like that for you to learn.” Sam offered to make me dinner and afterward we went into town to get some ice cream.
When I got back to the house I called my older sister Jackie, to tell her about my experience and ask if she could spot me a GoPro until I could pay her back. I lead into the conversation by telling her about the dog that is living in my house. “Will you spot me a GoPro?” I said finally. “Yes.” She said. “But don’t tip-toe around asking me what you want again with stories about an iguana eating dog. Just say what you need.” The most important lesson I have learned throughout this entire journey is the idea that ‘Once you become fearless, life becomes limitless.’ So whether it’s as intense as withstanding gigantic waves, or simply asking for someone’s help, don’t let fear over power your path. Going forward I will listen closely to my instincts, and I will never doubt them again.
DAY EIGHTEEN Breaching.
I jumped out of bed this morning, grabbed the 8’6 from RSS, and went down to Parking Lots for dawn patrol. A south wind was blowing, with long swell periods and waist high sets. I had never seen North Rincon as crowded as it was today. Stoked on the small conditions, I paddled out for a sunset session at Antonio’s with Brett of Rincon Surf School. I switched up my board and went with the longer 9’6, and I had some really nice rides with it! Since I started surfing, I have shared many session with strangers and friends. We’ve exchanged stories about our lives and surfing experiences, encouraging each other to catch waves! It’s forged many of the friendships I developed here.
Of all the people I enjoy surfing with, I have had some of my best sessions surfing with Brett. I trust his judgment when it comes everything about surfing. From water conditions to the best boards to ride, there have been quite a few times during this challenge that I have walked into his office and said, “I should have listened to you!” And to top it off, he doesn’t get too agro with me when I go right on a left wave that he has caught and is surfing (- KOOK!) There must be constant awareness of what’s happening in the ocean. You must learn to master the ability to keep your mind present and ready to react. So even when the ocean eases up, and you have time to reflect on anything else but surfing, it’s important that you remember where you are. Otherwise, you might miss out on the whales that are breaching on the horizon!
Every winter, humpback whales migrate to Western Puerto Rico to rest, mate, and care for their young before heading back up north. Similar to many of the people who travel here for the winter to recharge in the sun and surf. It was incredible watching these two whales leaping in and out of the water, flapping their tails down onto the water’s surface and causing explosive splashes. I turned to Brett and asked, “Why do they do that?” “It’s play time,” he replied. I then realized that the intensity that happens in life had took me away from the reason why I am here. I had challenged myself physically to “improve my skill level and find my surfing style,” and I got so caught up in seeing results, that I stopped having fun. So when I couldn’t surf or wasn’t surfing well, self-torment would creep in. That’s when I realized I forgot to mentally challenge myself to always “maintain my stoke.” I wanted to master the physical aspects of becoming good at surfing, but forgot that “the best surfer out in the water is the one who is having the most fun!” So I breached - I finally made the connection (and breathed in some fresh air!). The physical strength required to surf will happen, but only once you have created a strong mentality to endure what life is all about…finding happiness.
DAY NINETEEN Share the Stoke. There is swell that is rising in Rincon that has the whole town buzzing. By tomorrow, surf reports are predicting conditions to be double overhead, about 10 feet or more. Wave heights are measured from the back of the wave, so this means that surfers will most likely be paddling into clean, 20 foot faces. These are rare and beautiful conditions. Since I have arrived here, I have spoken to locals about how rad it is to witness surfers get towed into the sets on jet skis. I was hoping I’d get the chance to experience this. Cars will be parked along 413 “The Road To Happiness,” to get a glimpse of the fearless warriors who will attempt to glide down the rolling blue mountains of water. I could not paddle out today. After Sunday’s gnarly wipeout, I have had to make peace with where I am at with my surfing. A surfer I follow on Instagram, Lauren Ancona, reached out a few days ago with insightful advice. She said she spent a fair amount of time beating up on herself after she found her limit. That was until she realized it was her limit and nobody else’s. This is where the internal work begins! I have been moved by these Water Warriors across the globe who reached out to me with advice and words of encouragement. It’s a validation of how much love and connection is flowing within the surfing community. Surfers sometimes get a bad rap for being agro or for localism, but you get back what you are bringing out into the water. We must all learn to respect and share what the ocean grants us.
I have to learn to take full advantage on days when the conditions are great for me, and be willing to sit back, watch, and share in the stoke for others on days that I’m just not ready for.
I don’t care who catches the wave, as long as someone is riding it! I understand just how much hard work goes into getting a good ride. With the fast rising swell in the water, I knew it was best to not paddle out today. There actually may be some spots here I can surf tomorrow, like the Marina, which is typically flat, but can break waist high during gigantic swells. Today I sat at Dogmans and watched two warriors shred. Clad in red face paint, the dude on the left caught a giant wave I thought was going to close out. He got in front of it and was able to get a nice ride down the line. He threw his arms up in victory before he bailed, and put a perfect end to a beautiful afternoon session.
Wave Hunters - I was up at dawn today to check out the mammoth waves. Sam and I had made a plans the night before to surf the Marina, but we had no idea the adventure we were about to embark on! We just wanted a less exposed break that wasn’t peaking at 20 feet plus. We made our way down the hill of 413, and had to stop the car abruptly. We were astonished by what was happening before our eyes at Tres Palmas. Enormous, mountain like ripples were moving steadily toward the shore.
Sam immediately pulled the car off to the side of the road, there was already a line of vehicles parked, and a small crowd began to form. It wasn’t the typical sunny morning here in Rincon. A heavy storm the night before had left the air thick, muggy, and the ocean flawless. I watched the ocean from a far and felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I know - how could I describe such an epic anomaly as “peaceful?” I watched the waves roll in, and knew this was nothing short of divine. The robust crash of each wave sounded like the pulse of the planet - alive, awake, and aligned. There were only two surfers out being towed in on jet skis.
But Sam and I were Jonesing to surf. We made our way to the Marina, which was barely breaking. We checked out Parking Lots, which was smaller than South Rincon, but still not surfable. We then figured, “What the heck? Let’s go check out all the breaks along the Western Coast of PR..” We hit up Bridges next, which was breaking perfectly, but had one major exception. It had poured the night before and the Aguadilla Bay is not known for it’s clean water. The surrounding construction and river mouths that run off into this break often make it questionable after storms. So we kept going north. Crash Boats - crowded. Gas Chambers - crowded. Then we decided to find Wilderness. Neither one of us had ever been to this off road break. We dropped the car into 4-wheel drive and hit the terrain, stumbling upon the most lush and tranquil surf break I have been to in Puerto Rico. It was huge and fully exposed to the swell, which meant that I’d sit this session out with Sioux, his Blue Heeler.
Sam has been surfing for over 25 years, and he was fully capable of paddling out into the huge conditions. His session lasted 40 minutes. The paddle out was the hardest. After a few attempts to catch a wave, he finally caught a 18 foot wave! Sam rode that giant straight down the line until it broke, and then dropped to his board so he could ride the white water inside to exit at the keyhole. Our hunt for the wave of the day as complete!
DAY TWENTY Sobriety. In the Winter 2013, life was pretty gnarly. I was abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with what felt like a hopeless life. I was drowning from regrets of my past and feared the future, so naturally, my present was filled with anxiety. Early that spring I made the epic life decision of becoming sober. It wasn’t until I cleared my mind, that I began to embrace my presence. I learned it was enough. It took some time for me to become reacquainted with myself. It’s eye opening realizing how out of touch we can become from our truth when we abuse substances. As the dust settled, each day became a little brighter, and I decided it would be fun to pick up a surfboard. I signed up for a few Adult Surf Camps with Summertime Surf in Belmar, NJ, and set the course of my present life.
It wasn’t a cake-walk getting here, and I can assure you that there have been rough patches. I have spent plenty of nights crying myself to sleep because I was scared. Learning to take life one day at a time was hard. I knew that through sobriety I was going to learn how to trust and listen to myself, which was something I was never good at. It was easy to apply these new life skills to surfing. Surfing and Sobriety are complementary practices. They promote healing and build character. Both practices allow strength to be expressed through vulnerability. These past ten days, I have not been able to hold back my self doubt and stop focusing on fear. I didn’t feel strong. I’ve watched the winter swells in Rincon live up to their reputation. I was forced to look at my surfing for where it is truly at – the beginning.
This experience has reminded me so much my first months of sobriety, when I had to stay focus on the now. Today, I paddled out for the first time in five days. I was reluctant at first: sitting on my longboard, with my leash strapped to my ankle at Parking Lots. Short boarders duck dove under head high, short period sets, and I had to listen to my limits say, “Your not ready for this.” I drove over to South Rincon, and my heart was filled with excitement to see that Dogmans was breaking perfectly! I paddled out with ease and charged every wave I was in a good position for. I had a few good wipes out, which I have come to accept are inevitable! Getting worked only meant that I almost had that wave, and it kept me motivated to keep paddling back out. Today was the day I finally caught a sizeable right wave at Dogmans and rode it down the line! It was an epic first moment and I have worked extremely hard to feel that stoke!
At 27 years old, Sooz Teel made the epic life decision to become sober after battling substance abuse for ten years. She is now almost two years clean, fresh out of her 200 RYT. She believes she found “surfing through sobriety and yoga through surfing.” Sooz documented daily surf sessions through photography and writing during a surf sabbatical in Puerto Rico. Sooz lives by the affirmation, ‘I Am Mine,’ which reminds her to trust that everything is going to be alright (thanks Eddie Vedder!). She has found strength and inspiration through surfing, yoga, writing, photography, fashion, and music. For Sooz, surfing and yoga is about “taking yourself to an uncomfortable place that forces you to reveal your inner strength, flexibility, and beauty.”
You can find Sooz on Instagram and look for future posts here from this engaging Surfini.