Suffice it to say, I am not gifted with athletic prowess and natural sporting ability. Nor am I gifted with patience.
I learn new sports slowly, with great difficulty, carrying within me an enduring frustration that I am not as good as everyone else. I am perpetually angry at my shortcomings, cursed with an unfortunate compulsion to crack the shits and throw all my toys out the pram because… I. JUST. CAN’T. DO. IT.
Which is unfortunate, because one of my challenges this year has been learning to kite surf, many thanks to Zephyr Kite Tours over on magical Cocos Islands, where I was lucky enough to do live for almost three months and do some of my second year visa work.
And kiting on Cocos has broken me.
Mentally and physically- face-plant after face-plant, tangled lines after tangled lines, walk of shame after walk of shame- broken me.
So I’m going to have a rant; because if there is one thing I’m actually good at, in all my British glory, it’s having a good old fashioned moan.
But it’s a rant with a positive spin (which is something, given my epic struggles, manifesting themselves in an insatiable desire to go ‘full retard’ and hack up my kite with a kitchen knife), because face-plants and tantrums aside, I am learning some valuable lessons.
And I wanted to share them here, to inspire anyone else that is one tantrum away from giving up on something.
These lessons are borne of my kite surfing woes, but in reality, they are universally applicable…
1) Quit worrying what you look like
Who are these women that rock at everything and look like they stepped out of a Nike advert? They depress me.
Yes Claire I’m looking at you.
I have the sex appeal of a dinner plate when I try to do sport. The allure of a mentally retarded pet- kept around for amusement and loveable pats on the head, but not really taken seriously.
When I attempt to kite, one of my tiny fluorescent boobs typically pops out to grace the world with its snowy presence.
Or my neon white ass might blind everyone.
Such are the joys of stacking it spectacularly, and I’m sure the whole world has a good old chuckle at seeing my Asian tits squashed into white nothingness between my harness and my bikini top, like two little melting snowmen wearing pink hats.
And why does my face always go so red? I constantly look two breaths away from a heart attack, no matter how fit I am.
By all accounts, I am nothing but a tubby little nugget of uncoordinated angry persistence; red faced, sausage-armed, perpetually wedgied, swearing, with my drowned-rat hair catching in my tight-set mouth as I grimace into the sun and swallow back tears of frustration.
So form an orderly line, boys. And hey, can someone get some flattering photos of me kiting in paradise?
But that’s not why I’m here, and it pays to remember it. It pays to remember that I am so much more than my Facebook page, and I am so much more than a blonde girl in a bikini. Forget it all, it’s all nonsense.
I will expose myself countless times with countless bikini mishaps, and my gut will flop out, my face will go red, my rat-like hair will stick to my snotty nose, and I will be a drowned little mess of frustration.
But you know what? It just means I’m trying hard. It means I’m working. It means I’m putting in the effort. And it means I’m real.
So I will embrace it.
I want to be the girl that dares to get messy chasing what she wants.
I want to be the girl that puts her goals before her appearance.
Just like life; I am not here to be pretty, and I am not here to get nice Facebook pictures. I am here to give 110%.
So I will wear my snot and my tangled hair with pride, and I would encourage you to do the same. Such things are badges of honour, the hallmark of those who work hard.
2) Quit comparing yourself to others (except to learn from them)
Who are these infuriating men that master sports instantly? (and lets be real here, its usually men). That try something once and just ‘get it’? My ex was like that and it drove me insane with jealousy. I hope they are all cursed with tiny penises. You can’t have it all. But I bet they do.
I, on the other hand, am clumsy and uncoordinated; about as graceful as a hippo in a g-string, and about as synchronized as a fat, drunk, ageing white man dancing to reggae.
I try. Oh, how I try; but it just doesn’t seem to make a difference- I lack the ‘sport’ gene.
So I’m bitter. Are you one of those annoying people that is just naturally good at everything?
Or, like me, are you enduringly rubbish? Consistently useless? Infinitely incapable? Do you have to put in ten times the hours, and ten times the effort, to even come close to average? Well, I feel your pain.
But here’s the thing… everyone is different. Everyone is fighting their own battles, and dealing with their own strengths and weaknesses. Everyone excels at different things and at different rates. So we should be very selective who we benchmark ourselves against. It is so easy to get demoralised when we see those around us excel a lot more quickly, but this actually does us no favours whatsoever.
Comparison is the thief of joy
What IS useful, however, is to constructively compare ourselves to others in a very specific way. And it does need to be specific, otherwise it quickly descends into the realms of ‘everyone else can do it and I’m sh*t and giving up’- which obviously gets you no where.
What I sometimes do when I’m at my wits end is just sit on the beach and watch everyone. See how they stand, their position, how they move the kite, where they put their weight, the way they lean back. I compare it to where I am going wrong, and it can be very helpful.
In essence, I try to learn from their success in focused ways, instead of being selfishly demoralised by it. Even if it is just one small thing, it can prove invaluable- watching their kite movements is probably the reason I ended up FINALLY staying on the board.
3) Quit expecting things to be so damn easy, you cocky mother
I have the tendency to rush into things believing I can do anything. All hail wonder woman, she who can compete with anyone… am I right?
Don’t get me wrong, self belief is very important. Really and truly, if you don’t believe in yourself and make things happen for yourself, no one else will.
But it does pay to remember that things are not going to be a walk in the park all the time. Things can be hard. And it pays not to be cocky and expect that you can just breeze in and be a superhero. It pays to leave your arrogance and self importance at the door.
I remember when I arrived on Cocos, and made friends with the kiters, and watched them nip across the ocean and do all manner of awesome tricks… and I remember thinking, cool, lets go! If they can do it and make it look so easy, why can’t I?
This (often warped) logic is one of the reasons I continue to propel myself around the world and take on random challenges. It’s the reason I first did a ski season, and boy I’ll never forget THAT learning curve. Standing up a mountain, in a blizzard, balling my bloody eyes out because I couldn’t ski, I’d just been run over by a chair lift, had a very public and very hysterical shit-fit of astronomical proportions, and THEN nearly had my arms broken and dropped my poles into nothingness when I eventually did manage to get on the thing. I had to call my manager and, in between turrets-like outbursts coloured with hysteria, explain that I ‘couldn’t do it’, I was ‘just an effing retard’ and I was ‘going home’.
He had to come rescue me. Cringe. (But not nearly as cringe as the time I had to call my OTHER manager and explain that I had just woken up somewhere unknown in resort, I had no idea where I was, and so would most likely be late for work. Late, and still drunk, and in last nights clothes. Yes, these were classy days.)
ANYWAY. Obviously my mad-woman hysteria gave way to gritty determination, and I ended up not just smashing it, but going back for another ski season the following year. Now, I freaking adore it. But it really was six long weeks of daily tears and tantrums and awkwardness before I learnt to ski. And kiting has absolutely been the same.
Its very humbling, and ultimately an important life lesson, to realise you are not the dogs bollocks.
That you are not automatically awesome.
Greatness (or, in my case, just mediocrity) must be earnt with hours, and sweat and yes, often tears; and the sooner you realise this, the more receptive you become to the learning process.
Because the truth is that kiting is HARD. It is an immensely technical sport, comprising three elements that need delicate understanding and attention: kite, wind, board.
I am not delicate. And I am not technical. And I learnt this the slow hard way, because typical me I charged in like a bull in a china shop expecting to be awesome and then cracked the shits when I wasn’t.
The moral? Less rainbow unicorns, more tehcnicnal details.
4) Never go full retard
When I lose my shit because I can’t do something, I literally go full retard. I’m sure it is utterly hilarious.
And we all know- indeed, it is one of life’s great learnings- that you should never go full retard.
Especially not publicly. Especially not in a paradise lagoon with unfavourably accomplished acoustics, and an excellent view from the beach.
And certainly, especially, not on a tiny island where you know everyone, and very little of any real excitement takes place. It just might happen (and yes, I talk from experience), that you throwing every single toy out the pram (I’m talking hitting the water, screaming, shouting, crying… like, an astronomically embarrassing shit fit) and sulking for two hours on the beach as you try to untangle 25 meters of frustration, is the most amusing thing to happen that day.
I’m sorry, kiting just made me see red. In an unparalleled way. Nothing has ever frustrated me so much, and eventually I would reach the point where there was absolutely zero progression, simply because I was too angry and too upset and too exhausted by failure to be learning or improving in any way.
The trick is to never let it get to that point. But I’m utterly useless at discerning when that point is.
I would keep on, and keep on, and keep on. Sobbing like the loser I am, I would re-launch, and re-try. The anger bubbling away beneath my skin, I would angrily jerk the kite around, and obviously face-plant once again. Physically battered and exhausted, I would try to get on the board time after time. I refused to give in… but I was so angry and wound up that my endeavours actually did more harm than good.
At this point, the point when you are a slave to your emotions and all calm, rational behaviour has LONG GONE, it is time to stop. If you can’t reign your emotions in and calm the hell down, then for goodness sake go home. It is time to take a shower, grab a beer, and laugh at yourself. Not cry into the ocean at how much of a failure you are (who me? never…).
Obviously it is important in life to never give up when you want something, but we also need to realise when it is time to rest. When we are flogging a dead horse and achieving nothing accept detriment. At this point, there is absolutely no shame in calling it a day, for now. It does not make you weak, or a quitter, or a failure… it makes you smart.
So taking a freaking break already. Stop punishing yourself. Tomorrow you will re-attack again, but it will be with a clear head and following a good nights sleep. And who knows, maybe tomorrow will be the day?
And if you can’t take a break, then at least learn to laugh…
5) Grow a pair… and never give up!
For six weeks I busted my proverbials and saw no gain, just spectacular face-plant, after face-plant, after face-plant.
I felt like an idiot; nothing more than a soggy punch line, a watery joke playing out in repetitive salty splendour in the crystal clear waters of utopian Cocos.
If you haven’t tried kiting before, I will tell you now it is psychically very intense. At least, when you first begin it is, because you constantly have to lug your board, kite, bar and harness back up the beach. And this stuff is heavy / awkward. I’m not very big or (contrary to what I like to believe and brag endlessly about) very strong.
Pulling a kite against the wind, as you wade through water, is back breaking. I consider myself relatively fit and active, but honestly doing this for a few hours killed me.
I did this walk of shame for six long weeks as everyone else around me progressed. Lugging my kite and my (usually tangled) lines behind me, back to the upwind starting point, so I could begin the whole pointless crusade of trying to stand on the bloody board once again.
You spend half an hour pulling this kite up the beach, then ten minutes you’re back downwind; demoralised, frustrated, and exhausted, and the tug of war begins afresh. Thats if you dont spend an hour untangling your lines because you had a temper tantrum in them, first.
I know… WAH WAH WAH.
Despite cheesy pep-talks running on a loop in my head (does anyone else do this?), I was ready to give up, oh so ready.
And that pissed me off. I despise failure. Perhaps, I would go so far as to say, it is my greatest fear.
So because the thought of quitting made my insides recoil in self-disgust (no matter how many times I whinged about giving up to those around me), I had one last sunrise attempt the day I was due to fly out.
And guess what? Something just… clicked. Hours before my flight, when I had basically accepted my status as chubby little nugget of uncoordinated MESS… I got it. FREAKING YAY!
I’m not saying I can kite now. Ha. Far bloody from it. But I can stand up, and I can stay up (sort of). And for me, this is a huge step.
I suppose my point here is that it doesn’t actually matter what motivates you, so long as you never give up. Indeed, one of my favourite quotes is ‘we are motivated by our fears more than our desires‘.
It is so true, don’t you think? It’s not so much that I want to be an epic kiter (but oh, wouldn’t that be hot?), its more that I don’t want to admit failure. Bitch got pride, yo.
So take that which inspires or motivates or pushes you, and run with it. Dig in your heals, refuse to quit, and never ever give up. As Robin Hood once (apparently) said… Rise and rise again, till lambs become lions.