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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

To Kenny baby; your unwavering support, patience, love, and trust in my process is everything. Together we make awesome awesomer, and I’m super stok-ed we’re surfing through life together. Thanks for being my Melby! To Roy Ruiz, from the moment I began writing this book I imagined your art on its cover. Thank you for drawing people in with your soulful talent and giving them the opportunity to feel the story’s vibe at first glance. To Niki Choo, who magically appeared in my life at the perfect time to help me navigate through the overwhelm. To Kris Emery, my fabulous editor who welcomed my first book into her hands and cared for it as if it were her own. To Zozo Reames, for feeling the fear but saying yes and going for it anyway. Kelsey (and Joey) Coleman, muchas gracias for jumping into this project with open arms and bringing the magic to life ~ let’s all keep winning together! To my Maderas amigos (you know who you are): thank you for receiving sessions and for joining me for ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ ~ your encouragement keeps me motivated to continue with my work so thanks for playing! And of course, to my family: Mom/Claudia, Dad/Paul, and Bro/Mike/Reid for doing your best to support my unconventional lifestyle - I know I haven’t made it easy for you ;) Oh, and to the angels: yes please thank you more please!

INTRODUCTION

When I began the writing of this book, all I knew was that it was about a pro-surfer. I honestly had no idea how it was going to unfold. But as the words landed on my screen, and as Zoe (the protagonist) embarked on her incredible journey, I realized that the story wasn’t being solely created by me. While my personal experience of heartbreak, of my adventures as a professional athlete, and of my awakening and healing in Hawaii are all weaved into the details - the angels, the fairies, mother ayahuasca, the ocean, and other beautiful energies were all there to infuse their love, support, and guidance into the process.

Use this book to empower your mind, body, and soul… and become a better surfer!

To get the vibes going, here is an excerpt from a poem I wrote with the angels:

Believe in your truth
And watch your life thrive
Forget about the how
Keep your eye on the why

You were born to feel good
Know every day drama free
Live your life so on point
Others can’t help but see

All you’ve got is the present

So let the past go
Take care in each moment
True love is the goal!

xoTiff


FACE THE FUNK

CHAPTER

1

‘Epic fail’ was all I could say to Derek as I emerged from the steep ocean trail onto the main road of Honolua Bay. He was standing at the top waiting for me.

I stared at the ground, my head hung low, trying to avoid being spotted by the small crowd of onlookers who were mingling next to their parked cars on the edge of the hillside. I couldn’t see the disappointment in Derek’s eyes, but I could feel his sense of despair as he searched for something to say. He had no wisdom for me and, unfortunately, settled on, ‘Yeah, what happened to you out there?’

The best I could manage was to ignore what felt like an idiotic comment. In fact, in that moment, I decided I should ignore him altogether. So that’s what I did.

This competition was over for me. I’d been eliminated in Round Four to someone I’d thought would be a very beatable opponent. Sure, she had plenty of talent and lots of potential, but I didn’t think she’d be able to pull off an 8.53 in the last minute of our heat. I had this… I had this! I grumbled to myself.

But I didn’t. Bailey, the fresh and enthusiastic rookie had just beaten my ass. So now I had yet another piss-poor result to add to my string of piss-poor results from this year’s World Tour – a blow to the ego for a top-ranked athlete like me. And to top it all off, it was the last event of the season. Ending on a low majorly sucked.

In past years when I’d been eliminated early on, I was much better at dealing with it. Quick mental recovery from a loss is part of the game you have to learn to play as a professional athlete and as an ambassador of the sport. At least, it is if you want to survive. And you have to know how to survive before you can thrive. Sure, I’d still get pissed off, but I was better at masking my frustration with a smile while I brought the loss back into perspective. In the end, I knew I had to manage myself and keep it together.

Yet this was my fourth ‘bad’ finish and I was on the verge of imploding. I’d lost confidence in so many ways this season. And right now, I just couldn’t fake it anymore. I felt like a failure and wanted to bury my head in the sand.

But no, this was the professional surfing tour, where hiding was not an option. Being in the limelight comes with the territory, which means signing autographs, cameras following me everywhere and doing post-heat interviews. I pulled down my hat and hid my eyes with a gargantuan pair of sunnies, not willing to risk anyone seeing the truth about how I felt.

‘Zoe, what happened out there today? The conditions seemed a little bit challenging for you.’

Damo was an ex-pro surfer turned commentator. He held the mic to my mouth and awaited my response. I had to dig deep to find words that I wouldn’t later regret.

‘Um, yeah, well… I don’t think it was so much the conditions as a series of my own mistakes. There were actually some nice waves that came through, but I couldn’t seem to find my rhythm out there today. It just wasn’t my day.’

‘It’s the last event of the tour. Do you have any plans for the off-season?’

‘Um, I don’t yet, actually. I mean, I’ll head home to Aussie and then see what happens.’

I was trying to be chipper – but I wasn’t fooling anyone. I made barely any effort in engaging in the interview and just wanted it done.

‘Well, you’ve already qualified for the Tour next year, so big congrats, Zoe. Enjoy the break!’

I was grateful that Damo let me off easy, though I probably didn’t give him much choice. I smiled, gave a thumbs-up to the camera and quietly mumbled ‘thanks’ as I walked off the interview area and made my way to where I’d left my gear, hoping desperately not to run into anyone who’d want to talk. That was a pretty unreasonable expectation when you’re in the middle of a world-class competition at one of the best beaches and most popular surfing destinations in the world… Maui, Hawaii.

Luckily, the other competitors were busy doing their own thing. Aside from a few nods and quick hellos, people appeared to feel my vibe and get the message to leave me alone as I crossed through the VIP area and entered the locker room. I put on my headphones and cranked up the tunes as I gathered my stuff, making an effort to shake off my bad attitude.

It worked. Well, it worked for a few minutes anyway – which was just enough time to put on a happy face, hug a few of the ladies who were moving into the Quarterfinals, and wish them good luck. The competition was to continue through to Finals and crown a champion today. Normally I’d stick around to watch, but on this occasion I just couldn’t bear it.

I found Derek and together we headed to the car. He strapped my board bag onto the roof while I threw my other bags into the back seat. I plopped into the front and rolled down the windows to let out all the hot air. Or was it all just my hot air? Derek started the car, then glanced over at me as he pulled onto the street. Maybe glared at me would be more accurate. It was hard to know for sure.

‘But for real, Zoe, what happened out there?’

In my foul mood, I’d decided that it had to be a glare. I mean, it was obvious that what he was really asking was: how idiotic can you be? I snapped at him in response – no, in defence – to his imaginary attack.

‘Dude, can you just drive?’

I stared out the window and fixated on the sparkles of the ocean as the bright sun reflected off of the water. I watched it pulse unapologetically inward, towards land. We drove along the coast, passing palm tree after palm tree, the waves rumbling in from the distance and exploding onto the rocks.

That’s pretty much how my head feels right now, I thought to myself. Like it’s about to explode...

‘Zoe, don’t ignore me. Please!’ Derek begged. ‘I know there’s nothing I can say, but still, what are you thinking?’

I looked over at him and noticed his shoulders hunched. I could tell that he was desperate to get something out of me, so I gave in:

‘I’m thinking I’ve digressed as a surfer, which doesn’t make sense because I’m doing everything you’ve been telling me to do, so I’m freakin’ pissed, Derek!’

I baited him. He took the bait. And here we go again…

‘Oh, I get it. You want to blame everyone else? You want to blame me, right?’

Derek’s voice was calm as he spoke. He may even have been right. But can you blame me for not wanting to hear it?

‘Do you really want to piss me off right now?’ I threw back at him.

‘Well, c’mon Zoe, of course not, but you were the one out there, not me. You’ve already proven that you can win, so what happened?’

‘Ugh!’ was all I could say before crossing my arms and staring back out the window in frustration. We spent the rest of the drive in silence.

We were staying in a guest house on some oceanfront property owned by a friend of Derek. It was a small, quaint, cabin-like structure about 100 yards from the main house. The land was beautifully manicured with flowerbeds, plants, and fruit trees galore. That’s one of the many amazing things about Hawaii – if you have some land, you can grow a lot of your own food without much effort. Seriously, throw some papaya seeds into the yard and voilà!

When we arrived back at the guest house, I placed my board bag along the side of the house, kicked off my slippas (Hawaiian for flip-flops) and left them at the door. Derek followed suit, then carried the cooler of food and drinks to the kitchen counter. Without saying a word, I dropped my other bag and headed straight to the bathroom to take a shower. I was anxious to rinse off the day, but to be honest also keen to avoid more unwelcome conversation.

As you can tell, things hadn’t been going that well for me, and placing 13th today was one of my worst competition results to date. I’d been a professional surfer since I was 15, ranked in the top 6 for the majority of those years, and a proud winner of one incredible Championship title two years ago at just 21. At 23, and with the position I took from this season’s final competition, my overall ranking would now be 9th in the world – an absolute piss-poor result for a recent champion. And certainly for me. With only the top 10 out of 17 qualifying for the next Tour, I was freaking lucky to have made the cut.

I probably sound like a total brat, but these past two seasons since winning that world title, well, I just haven’t been able to get my shit together and I don’t know why. I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster, and now that rollercoaster is flying off the tracks. I dunno, maybe all the pressure to do well, as in winning every single heat, has gotten to me.

Argh! This is no bueno! I thought to myself, shaking my head in disappointment and stepping into the shower. I plunged under the showerhead and let the water gush over my back for a couple of minutes before turning up the heat. I don’t know why, but I like the water to be so hot that it’s almost at the point where it stings, like when you first step into a steaming hot tub. It’s a mixture of pain and relief at the same time. Know what I mean?

I stood there with the water soothing and scorching my back simultaneously, wondering what I was going to do. Oddly enough, I wasn’t wondering what to do about surfing. I was wondering what to do about Derek…

Yes, my surfing career was an issue that needed to be dealt with, but the season was over so for now thinking about that could wait. In the meantime, my relationship was weighing on me heavily, and I had to admit I’d reached my tipping point.

I sighed, feeling bummed that it had become such a drama.

CHAPTER

2

By 18, I’d already completed two years surfing at the professional level and was moving up the ranks fast when I started dating Derek seriously. To be honest, I think my success came as a bit of a surprise to the industry. It’s pretty safe to say that all of the other girls on tour had been taught to surf as early as age four. For many of them raised in a surfing family, like Clara or Marissa, the ocean was their backyard, which meant they had already logged thousands of hours on a surfboard, with mum or dad or uncle teaching them the ways of the water and encouraging them to engage in contests.

But that’s not how I began. I didn’t even learn to surf until I was 11. This, not surprisingly, had made me the underdog. And considering where I came from, underdog was an understatement.

Born in the mountains of Colorado, snowboarding was my thing in the winter; skateboarding the rest of the year. I loved the mountains – especially when it came to making fresh tracks with my dad, early in the morning after a big dump of snow. Equally I loved going to the skate park with my mom, who would hang out watching me for hours while I goofed around and worked on my moves. I loved my life in Colorado. I had friends, freedom, and fresh air...

But right after my 10th birthday, my parents suddenly split. And just like that, my world was turned upside down. As it happened, my mom had been having an affair with some dirtbag from her office, and when the dirtbag moved to Florida, she decided she couldn’t live without him. So she left us. She abandoned us. Abandoned her family.

My dad was devastated, obviously. Yet, despite his pain dealing with the situation, he always made sure he was there for me… a confused little girl who missed her mom terribly. I had nightmares for months afterwards. I was scared to be left alone, and found it hard to believe that it was all really true. I kept willing her to return, and prayed every night that she’d be home when I woke up in the morning. There was a hole in my heart that left me feeling empty, depressed, and alone in this big scary world.

I tried to sleep in my dad’s room as much as possible, but he was worried that I’d never be able to manage on my own if it became habit, so he held strong in tucking me into my own bed. Inevitably, I’d wake up in the middle of the night freaked out, and when he heard me yelling, my dad would rush into my room to soothe my wounded soul. I don’t think either of us got much sleep during that time, which, as you can imagine, made me a total pain in the butt 10-year-old and him a fairly cranky father.

I don’t mean to depress you! There was a bright side to all of this. The excruciating experience we went through brought us much closer together. He got a job offer back in Australia, where he came from. He hadn’t been able to get excited about anything in the year since my mom had left, but with this offer, there was a change in his demeanour. I sensed a lift in his spirits, which, in turn, lifted mine. And since I’d never been anywhere outside the United States, suddenly I became an enthused kid hopeful of a new (and happy) adventure with my dad. Plus, I was excited see where he grew up.

While I was scared to leave behind everything familiar, including my friends, I guess somewhere in my heart I was wise enough to know that this move to Australia was what we both needed.

And it was.

Arriving in Sydney, I was in awe of everything. We stayed in a hotel downtown near Darling Harbour while my dad got his job sorted at his corporate headquarters. He took me to the aquarium, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo and loads of other places, too many for me to remember now. I felt like I was at an amusement park every day, taking in the new rides, smells, foods, and people! After a couple of weeks at the hotel, we loaded up his new company car, and drove over the renowned bridge towards northern Sydney and into the beachside suburb of Manly.

It was the end of January, and even though I knew I was missing prime snow season, I was too shocked by the fact it was summer in Australia to give the snow much attention. Who knew? The air was warm, the sun was bright, and the beaches… OMG, I loved the sand! It wasn’t my first time seeing the ocean – I’d been to Miami a few times to visit relatives – but I had forgotten how much I loved the beach, swimming and playing around in the shore break.

Our new home in Manly was a small, two-bedroom bungalow in a neighbourhood a few blocks back from the beach. The foliage around the house was overgrown and weeds were taking over the flowerbed by the front door. Inside, it was already furnished, which was helpful because we’d sold or junked pretty much everything back in Colorado. I loved my room instantly and it overlooked the cutest backyard area, which was always full of chirping birds.

We unpacked our small stash of stuff over the weekend and did our best to settle in and get our bearings so that my dad and I would be ready for work and school on Monday. That week was overwhelming; even though the kids and teachers at school were friendly, I felt shy and awkward because I had a hard time understanding their strong accents! I did enjoy being able to walk to and from school instead of having to take the bus all the time. I’d put on some Britney Spears and zone out.

On Friday of that first week, I met Sophie, who scared the crap out of me on our first encounter. Apparently, she’d been calling my name repeatedly from behind as I was walking home, but with the music blasting through my earbuds I was completely deaf to my surroundings. But that hadn’t deterred her; she insisted on getting my attention by running up to me and tapping me on the shoulder. Caught off guard and shocked into awareness, I tripped over my own feet before turning around to see who it was.

‘Oh geez, sorry Zoe. Didn’t mean to scare ya.’

I pulled out an earbud. ‘Ugh, oh, hi.’ I blurted out embarrassed.

‘I’m Sophie? We’re in the same class?’

She had long, braided blond hair and glasses. And freckles… lots of freckles. She was friendly and outspoken, which I’d noticed in class, so even though she didn’t know me, I felt like I already knew her.

‘Oh hi. I’m Zoe.’ I smiled at her and then looked back at the ground, not knowing what else to say. Everything was just so new in my life that I didn’t really know how to respond to any of it… even something as simple as making a friend.

‘Yeah mate, I know. Cool. Well, I think we live pretty near each other. I’m just down that street.’ She pointed towards the next corner.

‘Cool. I’m just down that way...’ I said, pointing ahead.

‘Well, I’m going for a surf tomorrow morning, if you wanna come? It’s just a short walk down to the beach.’

I perked up immediately.

‘Yeah! That would be awesome! Um, I have to ask my dad. Do you mind if maybe he comes with us?’

‘Yeah, no worries. My mum comes with me too sometimes.’

From that day on, Sophie and I did pretty much everything together. And if it wasn’t for her, I’m seriously not sure I’d be the surfer I am today.

CHAPTER

3

The essence of surfing has the potential to be an incredibly uplifting experience. Even more so when you approach the sport with the understanding that it isn’t all about catching waves. As a young and super active grom, I had no qualms about paddling out even when the ocean was flat or the waves were sparse. Something in me just had a need to be out there.

Sometimes I’d sit on my board and stare out at the horizon, lost in thought, dreaming up dreams and breathing in the salty air. I guess I’d needed something in my new life to replace snowboarding. And surfing was that something. I could pour all of my energy into it. I adapted quickly to the sport. Maybe it was because of my skills and experience on a snowboard, maybe it was from the similarity of skateboarding, maybe it’s because I was young, agile and fearless. I dunno, maybe it was a little bit of all of those.

Finding my rhythm with the board was the easy part, but when it came to dealing with people in the water… my learning curve with surf etiquette was far more profound. When you add a crowd into the mix (which is inevitable at popular surf spots), you add an entirely different element to the experience. And that element is human aggression. You never know what mood someone is going to be in, nor how they’re going to react when someone drops in on them (highly likely at some point during a session). It’s the same as when someone pulls out in front of you on the road and cuts you off – it’s stupid and dangerous and it royally pisses you off!

Anyhow, I happened to be one of those super annoying people one afternoon while we were out for our post-school surf session. This was about three years after I’d met Sophie and had been surfing heaps that entire time. By accident, I cut someone off. It happens! What can I say?

Now truth be told, as a 14-year-old girl in the water, I probably got away with a lot. It’s a male-dominated sport, and a lot of the older men were protective of us girls, so they went easy on us, while also making sure that other people didn’t give us a hard time. Even so, Sophie taught me early on the appropriate way to act, so I paddled up to the guy straight after and apologized repeatedly for cutting him off.

‘My bad, my bad!’

(I’ve found it best to apologize with exaggerated sincerity and a big smile… It usually softens the other person up a bit.)

To my relief, he didn’t seem fussed at all.

‘No worries, eh, it happens.’

‘Yeah cool, thanks!’ I was feeling awkward now, because I noticed how cute he was.

‘Right, I’m Derek by the way.’

And I mean really cute. His short brown hair was a welcome change to the often longer blonder locks of the Aussie surfer, and his brown eyes were expressive when he spoke.

‘Oh. Um, I’m Zoe.’ Awkwardly, I raised my hand to gesture ‘hi’, and then turned around and paddled away out of embarrassment. (What the hell was wrong with me?)

A few waves later, Sophie and I headed in. It was time for food.

‘Who was that guy, Z? He’s totally cute.’

‘Derek? I think? I know, S, he was really cute. But I freaked out and paddled off! Oh my God, I’m so pathetic. Ugh!’

Walking away from the beach, both of us laughing, we were stopped in our tracks when we heard someone calling my name. We turned in unison to see who it was, accidentally smacking our boards together as we did so.

‘Hey Zozo, watch out!’ S belted out unapologetically.

‘Ugh, sorry!’ My head was down as I examined her board, worried that I had dinged it.

‘Holy crap, Z, it’s the guy from the water!’ S exclaimed, no longer seeming to care about her board.

‘Huh?’ I looked up and saw him running towards us.

He was wearing a pair of blue shorts and a grey long-sleeved t-shirt, and I could tell from his darker hair that it was him.

‘Hey Zoe!’ he said, slightly out of breath.

Sophie nudged me with her arm, trying to get me to speak.

‘Oh hey, um, this is my friend Sophie.’

‘Hey, nice to meet you!’ S said in her always-friendly tone, to which he responded with a nod and a smile.

He looked back at me and continued, ‘So I was wondering if anyone is teaching you to surf?’

‘Uh, I guess I’m just learning as I go, but S here is the one who got me on a board in the first place, so she’s pretty much taught me what I know. Oh and I watch a lot of surf videos.’

‘Cool, well, my uncle runs a surf camp over the summer and I was thinking you should join… Both of you, if you like. It’s really fun!’

‘Um, maybe? I dunno, I’ll have to check.’

‘Sure, of course,’ he said as he held out a piece of paper with his number already written on it. ‘Maybe we can meet up and I can give you more info?’

But I just stood there, staring at his number. S had to nudge me again to get me to move. I came to and took the paper from his outstretched hand.

‘Sweet, well, call me later, okay? I’m free tomorrow. Bye!’

He turned and sprinted back towards the beach.

‘OMG, Z!’ Sophie squealed with excitement. ‘You totally have to call him!’

‘I know, I know, S! I will… maybe!’

I walked home with the paper held tightly between my fingers, careful not to let it get it wet, secretly ecstatic that a guy had chased me down to give me his number.

So that’s how Derek and I met.

And yes, I ended up joining the surf camp… Duh! Sophie couldn’t join because she was going on a family trip, but the camp was a ton of fun and I improved a lot over that summer. Derek’s uncle Greg was our awesome coach. He was athletic, average-sized, but robust. He had silver hair and his skin was weathered from years of sun exposure. He was kind, a great teacher, with helpful insight on my surf skills. I was flattered to have his attention. And he got on brilliantly with my dad.

During the days, Greg would film us groms surfing. Then after the session, we’d go back to his place for a video review while he assessed our rides. That’s when we learned a lot of the technical info. Things like swell direction, how winds affect the tides in one section of the wave versus another, body positioning, stuff like that.

Derek was a gem. He was so easy to be around. Plus, he was from California so it was nice to talk to someone about America again, especially the cultural differences with Australia. I guess he liked me too, because miraculously, by the middle of the summer, I’d become his girlfriend. I’m pretty sure Greg and my dad thought it was cute, but for me, it was terrifying. I’d never had a boyfriend before. Sure, I had lots of guy friends because I was a tomboy, but I was never the one with the guy. Nonetheless, I felt super comfortable with him and I liked that he wasn’t distracted by anything else when he spoke to me.

So just like that I had a coach, a boyfriend, and a summer of catching waves every day. It was a dreamy couple of months to say the least.

But as the summer came to a close, Derek had to go back to California. He had only been visiting his uncle for a few months. The trip was a gift from his parents. But now he had to go back and finish the school year at home.

I was bummed, obviously, but S returned to Manly after her summer holiday at about the same time, which made the initial pain of ‘missing my boyfriend’ a little easier. I was distracted for a while by all the catching up we had to do.

As it turned out, Derek and I didn’t do too well with the long distance thing. I mean c’mon, we were so young! We kept in touch from time to time, but our connection just sort of fizzled out after about a month.

On the plus side, my dad and Greg had made an agreement that Greg would continue to coach me throughout the school year, and I tell ya, he took coaching very seriously! He entered me into as many contests as possible and ‘worked the system’ on my behalf, introducing me to some of his connections, which landed me sponsorship with one of the local surf shops in Manly.

Fast-forward a few years of consistent training, lots of competitions, a bunch of wins on the junior surf tour, the Qualifying Series, and one insane fourth place finish as a wildcard on the World Championship Tour, I had become a notable competitor. When I reached my goal to qualify for the Women’s World Championship Tour, this rambunctious 18-year-old was more than ecstatic.

Starting in mid-March and ending early December, the Tour consists of 10 competitions that take place around the world: three in Australia, one each in Brazil and Fiji, two in California, and one each in Portugal, France, and Hawaii. A world tour in the truest sense. Hello dream life!

CHAPTER

4

Halfway through that first season on tour, I was in California for one of the contests at a place called Huntington Beach. To my surprise, Derek showed up, having recently moved there from Santa Barbara. Huntington Beach was his new local surf spot.

I can’t tell you how amazing it was to reconnect with him! We’d grown and changed, had new experiences, yet he still felt comfortable, familiar. It was fucking awesome! By the end of the second competition in California at Trestles, we’d decided to give our relationship another go.

But with my hectic schedule and his full-time job, we didn’t get to see each other much. So it was incredible when he joined me at the last event in Hawaii that season. I loved his optimism and enthusiasm for what I was doing! Plus, he was an amazing surfer, so I always valued his feedback.

Needless to say, life on tour was insanely different from the life of a regular 18-year-old who would be heading away to college for the first time. Man, by this point I had already explored new continents, partnered with some cool sponsors, gained media attention, and had over 50k followers on my Instagram account @surfergirlskickass (which I chose because Sophie and I used that term on the regular and both thought it was rad).

S and I were still super tight and I valued every video chat we had, but I’m sure you can agree it’s not the same as hanging out in person! She’d joined me at lots of events in the first few seasons, but once she moved to Byron Bay just south of the Gold Coast and became a full-time lifeguard, her schedule kept her busy at home.

By the start of the next Tour year, Derek made a leap of faith and quit his job to travel with me full time. You might say it was a risky move considering our lack of experience as a conventional couple, but hey, he’d been wanting to make the transition to being a freelance writer so it seemed like the perfect time to go for it. I’d been able to stash away some of my earnings as an athlete from sponsorship deals and prize money over the first few years, which enabled me to foot his travel expenses. It was an easy ‘yes’.

Traveling on the World Surf Tour is a mind-blowing experience. Imagine insanely long plane flights, constant movement, shuffling gear, competitive stress, and a myriad of other considerations that come with the role of professional surfer. As glorious as it all looks from the outside, it can definitely take its toll if you don’t learn to adapt to the chaotic lifestyle.

Personally, I love being on tour. The continual change of location appeals to my adventurous side, and even though I don’t always have a chance to be a tourist in the culturally diverse places we visit, I do always relish the excitement of new smells, new swells, new people, and new food.

Now, bring someone else along for the ride and you never know how things will play out. Will they be able to handle the craziness of it all? Can they cope with spending all day at events, watching, waiting, socializing? Can they adapt to last-minute changes, lugging loads of luggage, limited personal space, and an alarming amount of crowds and fans?

This is not something you can predict, because as my dad once told me clarity comes from action, not thought. In other words, sometimes the idea of something ends up being a lot more appealing than the reality of it, and on the flip side, sometimes it’s even better than you imagined it would be! Either way, you’ll never know unless you actually try it out for yourself.

As for Derek and me, well, let’s just say that our partnership was full of bubbles and feathers. It was light-hearted and easy… at least at first. He seemed to enjoy the people he was meeting. He got to surf a ton of new waves. (Important!) He’d go off and do his own thing when he wanted to, venturing out to explore the local scene or surf a less crowded spot elsewhere, or stay back at our accommodation and focus on writing. We had a lot of fun.

I think a lot of it had to do with the fact we were still individuals within the relationship. We could live our own lives independently, yet still feel supported at the same time. I guess I’d say it was a healthy relationship based on mutual respect.

The excitement of having a partner by my side was ah-mazing. I loved knowing he was right there to wish me luck as I headed into the water, there to watch my every move while I was mid-competition, and there to greet me when I was done. He was my date at events, my buddy during travel, and my boyfriend morning and night. I was stoked!

And somewhere in the first year of our relationship Derek had also become my coach. It wasn’t like we sat down and discussed the parameters of this new role though. It just happened naturally. I mean, he’s an amazing surfer, and was already watching my every move, so it was easy for him to pinpoint my weaknesses and strengths. Plus, he’d spent so much time being coached by Greg that it was natural to jump into the role.

This added element to our relationship wasn’t a problem at the beginning, when we were all good. But it sucked when I didn’t feel like my coach was in my corner anymore. And that’s what it had been feeling like for a while now. For instance, he used to encourage me to work on an air reverse because it had been one of my big goals for ages. He was all for it! He’d spend tons of time coaching me through the many elements that make up this particular move, and he knew exactly what went into it, because it’s a manoeuvre that’s super common for all of the pro men. But he hadn’t seemed motivated to do this lately. In fact, he even went so far as to say that it’s too hard for the women to get any air and maybe it’s better to focus on more attainable goals… WTF?! Thinking back to it, that moment crushed my soul.

So that’s what was on my mind, as I stood under the steaming hot shower, contemplating my major fail in the Championship. Thinking back over our relationship, wondering where we’d gone wrong and how we’d ended up here. I felt all of these realizations flooding into my brain like a tsunami. The loud sirens that I’d been denying about our relationship were now blasting so loud that I couldn’t ignore them any longer.

I let out a sigh, wondering why I wasn’t willing to see these not-so-trivial matters until now. You know, like the fact that it really does matter that we were clearly not on the same page in terms of what we wanted our future together to look like. Or the fact that he loved socializing and spent most evenings out, doing who knows what, while I preferred to stay in.

And to be honest, I didn’t even know how or when this deterioration of our relationship had begun, but what I did know was that it had gotten worse – and that it couldn’t go on like this. A part of me was desperate to shove this truth back down to the pit of my stomach where it had come from, but there was another force that was stronger, and it refused to give up.

So I turned myself over to it.

I let go.

I let go of my need to hold on. I let go of my need to control the outcome. I let go of my fear of being alone. I let go of the guilt, the drama, the worry, the doubt...

And I surrendered to the tears that started pouring down my face. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed in the safe space of my scorching shower, where the streams of falling water were a message of encouragement to cry, to join the outpouring in an emotional as well as physical sense, giving me comfort in the process. It was the release I had unknowingly, yet desperately needed.

A few minutes or hours later (I had zero clue as I’d lost all concept of time), the tears dissipated. Along with the stress, the mental clutter, and the emotional drama. A weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, and I felt relief for the first time in ages.

It gave me clarity. And with this newfound clarity, I knew exactly what I needed to do.