Posted by: realifemermaid | April 9, 2012

Hope, Surfing, and Easter

Happy Easter!

Easter was never a huge deal in my family growing up, but for a beach/water/summer loving family, we could always count on Easter as a hope for the beginning of the summer.  It was never a guarantee that summer would be right around the corner…in Maryland that would still be weeks away and usually not ascertained until Memorial Day at the end of May….but hope that, along with the lengthening days and a few less days with a chill in the air, we would soon be transitioning to carefree days spent at outdoor summer swim meets and practices, open water races, and long days at the beach surfing and hanging out with friends.

I think this is why Easter is one of my favorite holidays…just because of the mere thought of hope.  Sometimes I like hope more than certainty.  When you are hopeful, you can still think optimistically, and in your imagination the best circumstances are always going to be true.  That is the general feeling around Easter.

One of my students received her first communion and confirmation this weekend, and invited me to the mass.  A catholic mass at Easter is very long, but it was also beautiful and symbolic.  The first hour was in dark, and then the light came.  Again, the theme of hope.  The parent I was sitting next to, hoping for a bright future for her child, everyone in the church hoping for a brighter year than the one they just had, or perhaps the continuation of the year if it was a good one.

My dad has always said that for him, surfing is religion.  For me, I’d say anything that I get to be in, on, or around the water.  Surfing, however, carries more than other water sports this same element of hope.  A few weeks ago, I got my new, great board.  In this board I instilled so much hope.  I had surfed on one similar to it, and for the first time felt how surfing should really be, and never wanted to go back to my old board. I also had a lot of hope that there would be awesome surf this weekend, and there was…I had three great sessions, and my surf photographer friend even managed to get a picture of my on a head-high wave.

A documentary about the making of Endless Summer really summed it up.  When you surf, no matter what experience level you are, no matter what decade you are surfing in, you are existing in this level of hope.  You live each day hoping for great waves that will lead to an awesome session.  Travel great distances (in the classic documentary, Mike and Robert travel all around the world) to find surf in unexpected places.  Just hoping it will be there.

Sociologists have analyzed religion, and the foundation of it in the historic and modern world lays somewhere between a government organization and a way of giving people hope when times are bad.  That is why the Soviet Union and communist governments worked to abolish religion.  Let the people believe only in them.  Have hope only in them.

Religion, hope, our will to try and do anything…these things are so closely intertwined that they are virtually the same thing.  We live each day on hope.  Easter and other spring holidays are just a revival on hope.

For a pure optimist, that is why Easter is a pretty neat holiday.  An entire day to celebrate the human feeling of hope.

Posted by: realifemermaid | March 9, 2012

18 Years of Competitive Swimming

Swimming is an amazing sport. I am obsessed and in love with it, even if I do have to leave the containment of the square, measured out, chlorinated box of water for the genuine, fluid type. But, still. Swimming is in my veins and arteries. In my skin. Literally…even when I haven’t been swimming for awhile and I get warm, my skin seeps out a unique odor resembling a freshly chlorinated pool.
Last year, I decided that I needed a break from swimming. I tried some Wing Chun Kung Fu for awhile, and within a month, promptly broke my leg. My ACL pulled out in one piece out of the tibia, pulling some bone out like a cork. WIth the ligament strong than bone, my body reall was formed by the water. After two surgeries and months and months of physical therapy, I made several attempts to go back to the water. This last month seems to be for real.
I have been amazed with how little my life has changed, in some respects, as in adult of nearly 27 years old to how it was when I was 10 years old. When I was 10 years old, I went to swim practice a few days a week, swam a little over an hour, focused on a few meets, but mostly was excited for the social aspects and how swimming gave me something different to do–something that made me stand out from the other fifth graders at my elementary school, and a special comraderieship amongst my swimming peers.
Now, at 26 years old, I go and swim a couple days a week, have fun, compete sometimes but am more focused on enjoying swimming and how it gives me something to do…something that sets me apart from the 20-somethings that spend most of their time at the bar for their social scene.
Well. At least most of the other10 year olds didn’t spend most of their spare time at the bar.
Swimming post college, whether on an established masters team or just by yourself, is an insanely enjoyable experience. Before I took my break from swimming, I was still stuck in the “college swimming” mindset. Focused on getting to the pool enough times a week, racing the person in the lane next to me, getting in enough meets, even tapering for a big meet at the end of the year.
I realized, then, that I really had it all right when I was a 10 year old swimmer.
Swimming is more about getting to the pool after a day of school and enjoying being outside, swimming under the palm trees and the sunset, with the smell of orange blossoms in the air. Talking to your friends at the end of the lane. Getting ready for an open water race because of the t shirt you will get that day.
On Tuesday this week, I dove into the pool, surrounded by five of my master swimming buddies, most of them also former college swimmers. It was just the most comforting feeling to be surrounded the familiarity of starting yet another warmup, surrounded by friends, stretching out, washing away the day, getting your blood flowing.
It made the days in the year or so that I wasn’t seem a little unnatural.
Almost like not brushing your teeth for awhile.

Posted by: realifemermaid | February 6, 2012

Rough Seas

I was hoping that this next post would be about swimming.  Straight up, hard core swimming and my revelations in my return to the confines of a 50 meter, 8 lane chlorinated pool.  Something about how it was like returning home, the necessities of swimming, the nostalgia of the smell…I don’t know.  I thought I would write a post about this because the Rowdy Gaines pool, which had been closed for the last three weeks to fix and reinstall a liner, was finally reopened last Wednesday.  I had the date saved on my iPhone and everything…POOL REOPENS today! 

Unfortunatley, my body seemed to have other plans. 

Central Florida got flooded with allergens.  For me, high pollen counts mean allergies, and allergies can frequently turn into an asthma flare.  Usually, I am good at predicting a bad flare and doing everything to prevent the ER or hospital…but not this time.  I ended up in the hospital two times and missing four days of teaching my funny, delightful, charming ninth graders English.  And swimming in the newly refurbished pool!

One of my favorite pieces of literature I got to teach my students this year was “Bethany Hamilton: Always Looking Ahead.”  Bethany Hamilton is a pro surfer who was attacked by a shark when she was 13 while surfing off the North Shore of Kauai. 

This hospitalization was really no big deal, but it brougt back  memries of the past when my asthma was much more difficult to handle.  Times when I really did feel stuck in the Impact Zone.      

“When you get in the Impact Zone, get back up because you never know what’s over the next wave.” – Surfing has a period of time called “The Impact Zone” when things can get very difficult. Like life, often the difference between a champion surfer and everyone else is when the Impact Zone knocks them down, they simply choose to get back up.

Everyone has their own Impact Zone, whether it is something as devestating as Bethany Hamilton, physical, or emotional, everyone has their own times in life where they just want to go out surfing and they see those perfect waves, and maybe have caught those perfect waves, but then you just get stuck.  And not only do you get stuck, but it seems like you get stuck over and over again and no matter what you do there is just a ton of water pounding on you, twisting you all around, pulling you in every direction so you do not know what way is up or down.  You question yourself, yell at the waves, beg for it to stop. 

The best news?  Eventually it does stop.  You do get out of the Impact Zone. 

Here is what Bethany didn’t say though.  You get out of the Impact Zone to paddle out into the lineup again, wait for another sick ride, get cocky again.  Then what happens?

You wipe out.

You are in the Impact Zone again.  Struggling some.  But it is okay, because you have been here before.  You know the tools to get out the the Impact Zone now.  You know now, that if you just swim your board in instead of paddling, you’ll get out quicker.  You’ve evolved.  Your smarter. 

You can do anything.

Posted by: realifemermaid | January 31, 2012

That Perfect Moment

I have always thought that the best moments and experiences were the ones that we simply allow to happen. When you try to twist and arrange time to much, something is going to inevitably become screwed up.

I had my brand new board to take out last weekend. I had ridden a family friend’s board last summer and fell in love with the rocker and maneuverability. 8-6 and a little slower than my 9-0, I sold my old longboard to my dad and had a new board made just for me.

Saturday morning, I got ready to take it out in….teeny tiny super clean, not even knee high surf! Yup. The exact kind a streamlined longboard would be perfect for. Still, I was eager to get my new board wet, and paddled it out to kook out on a couple of waves. I managed to ride two straight in to the beach, and it didnt even matter that i rode them straight in because paddling out here was like paddling on a lake. The morning on my new board was not the magical feeling I remembered from when I last rode my board’s twin, but I wasn’t too worried.

We spent the afternoon diving, trying to find a wreck. Instead we found a coral reef, full of fish and different coral.

The wind changed direction in the late afternoon, ruining any good surf. I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t get a good session in all weekend!

The wind blew strong all night, and in the morning I convinced Craig to at least come and look at the the surf.

As we were walking, the wind began to die down. A few little menehunes were grabbing their boards to make the best of it.

For one perfect moment of the morning, the wind stayed down when I least expected to be able to surf. It was just me and the three boys.

I quickly and easily caught two waves in the first 10 minutes. My new board was just right for me: it didn’t purl in the bigger messy surf and was quick and responsive.

Coming back from the second wave, I noticed the boys were riding in. First rule of any water sport: never be on the water alone!

I was drifting fast anyway and not looking forward to walking back so far. Luckily a wave was forming behind me. I paddled, dug deep, ripped back, chest up, eyes forward, and popped right up onto the most perfect wave of the weekend.

The most perfect moment.

I planned on riding this wave straight in, but when you exist in the perfect moment, time controls you. I rode it straight for awhile, then noticed the wave peeling to my left, turned, and followed it along the coastline for a good 10-20 yards.

For me, just perfect.



Posted by: realifemermaid | January 27, 2012

Real Florida

The best thing about living in central Florida is that we are only a few hours from every sort of water you can imagine: the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, miles of rivers and their accompanying springs and sinks and holes.

The worst? The only access to water that is not two hours away is some gator and aeomeba infested lakes. And the 50 meter Rowdy Gaines pool, which is currently being fixed up and has been closed for the last two weeks.

Traveling to get to the various wet spots in Florida, we get to see a lot of real Florida. Florida before i4 and Disney World. Wild, orange trees, cattle ranch type of Florida.

Driving all across the state may not be my favorite part of the weekend adventures, but seeing all of the virgin, tropical acres definitely makes it enjoyable.

And blogging about it certainly makes the drive faster too.

Posted by: realifemermaid | January 23, 2012

Manatee Certification

West Florida is well known for the big, gentle manatees that huddle into the warm waters during the winter time.  January and February is peak season for manatee tourists to come and swim and snorkle with manatees.  Crystal River, where I got certified at the American Pro Dive Center ( hosts the only place where they have a PADI accedited specialty dive course for safe manatee interaction and snorkel tours for tourists to get up close and personal to manatees. 

Florida law states that it is illegal to harass, surround chase, or ride a manatee, punishable with up to $100,000 fine or up to a year in jail.  It is illegal to go up to a manatee to touch it. 

So.  I think that there is a bit of a grey area with the manatee snorkel and dive course.  No one came up to the manatees.  We “passively observed” and allowed to manatees to come up to us.  Tons of manatees stayed in the sanctuary, where humans were not allowed to enter.  Humans did a good job not entering, as was enforced by a National Parks ranger.  It was pretty cool and unique that manatees and humans could coexist here. 

 I like to think of it as akin to zoos; the more people learn about manatees and got this special experience, the less likely people are goign to tear through a manatee zone on their pontoon or speedboats, and they more likely they are to advocate for their survival.  Services like the ones at Crystal River are working, too:  more and more manatees are surviving every year.  The cost is that their behavior is changing due to human interaction. 

Places like The Floirda Museum in Sarasota is home to Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity.  People can also learn about manatees by visiting Snooty.  Snooty loves to be pet, and petting Snooty does not alter his behavior or the behavior of those around him. 

The education I received at Crystal River was excellent, but the irony I learned in it all was that YOU SHOULD NOT SNORKEL OR DIVE WITH MANATEES.  I think it is very ironic that I have a certification now that says manatee diver, and I learned that snorkleing with manatees is precarious in only the right conditions, and diving with them?  Absolutely hands off.  Learning about their anatomy, migration patterns, and diet after the snorkel and dive was great also; as a teacher, I love the chance to relax and be the student and learn new information!

Side note….I did get to dive on this trip in the same location as the manatees.  This was my first dive when I went all alone with a group, as my boyfriend/dive partner was getting over being sick.  It was a confidence booster to know I could handle all my equipment without his help or an instructors help, and fun to meet new people.  We went down in a cavern to 50 feet. 

I have pictures from this trip, but they are on an underwater disposable camera that will be developed probably after next weekend…a dive/camp/surf trip in Vero.  Stay tuned!



Posted by: realifemermaid | January 20, 2012

Hello world!

I have been addicted to the water ever since I was a toddler and pulled myself over to the edge of the community pool. Convinced I could already swim, I waddled in to the warm water and plopped right to the bottom like a rock. I guess I couldn’t exactly swim yet.

The only way my mom could get me to stop crying as an infant was to toss me into the bath. Water is where I am most comfortable, my natural environment.

I grew up on the Atlantic coast of Maryland. We went to the beach or the pool everyday, staying in the water the whole time. By the time I was 4, I had no trouble swimming, and caught waves on my little pink boogie board that my dad got me. He called me a little surfer girl and sang the beach boys song to me.

I swam competitively as an age grouper, high schooler, and college. I guess now I’m a swammer. I still like to do open water races, but I’m finding my way into rivers and springs and oceans and bays, leaving the predictable chlorinated 6 lanes and 25 yards behind me.

I’m spending more time surfing, and I got certified to scuba dive in the fall. These are both pretty new to me, and having new frontiers in a world that is so comforting to me already is exciting.

I started this blog to document my surfing and scuba and swimming experiences, because they have been pretty exciting. This weekend I’m going scuba diving with manatees, and next weekend I’m picking up a new board that is made just for me; perfect for the Florida waves.

I always have random reflections about what surfing or scuba teaches you about life that I like to write about. And cool pictures.

In short, aquatic life for animals or people in Florida is pretty awesome.


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