Dealing with Imposter Syndrome on the Water

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

I have dealt with Imposter Syndrome for a while now. When I was in academia, while at work, and now when I'm out in the water.

It's not every time I paddle out that this feeling of "Do I belong here?" creeps in. It's only on the days when the waves are 7ft or higher. But when I first started, it was literally every single time I paddled out.

I wanted to write this today because I just got back from an amazing session, where the waves were between 8-14ft. I studied the water for a bit before I strapped my leash on. I paddled out in the best spot, but trust me I was still out of breath when I made it to the lineup. The waves were extremely powerful, and my paddling had to be fierce to not get sucked back into the whitewater.

When I first got out, there were 5 other people out there with me. All men. A few of them made what I'm sure they assumed were helpful comments, but came off distinctly condescending. And that feeling came creeping in.

"Should I be here?" "Am I pushing myself too far?" "Am I insane for thinking I can do this today?" The lack of people on the beach should tell you how difficult today was. I surf at Linda Mar beach in Pacifica, where on most days there are at least a hundred people out. Today there were FIVE.

I hate being the only woman on the water. I feel like a stranger in someone else's home, especially on days like today. The sideways looks get to me, and it's hard to admit that.

I found myself maybe not paddling for some waves that I probably could have caught because I was afraid of proving these guys right. That I didn't belong out there today. But then I saw this beautiful wave coming, and I was in the best spot for it. We all turn our boards, started paddling our hardest... And you know what? That wave was mine. I dropped in, leaned back and crouched down, and felt like I was fucking flying.

That feeling of not belonging went away. I have only been truly surfing for about 4 months, since I took about a year and a half off from when I learned in Bali. But I am not a beginner- by any means. And sometimes I find it challenging to remind myself of that. I did yoga, ballet, gymnastics, and was a skateboarder in my day. These foundations gave me a great jumping off point for when I started surfing. So when I'm out there, like today, and they ask "So how long have you been surfing?" I need to remind myself to not feel ashamed for giving the honest answer of "Four months." Because although the looks on the faces that follow crush me to my core, it's not an accurate reflection of how much work I've put into this.

I am the type of woman who pushes myself to my absolute limit. I strive for excellence. So sometimes when I'm out on the water I compare myself to these guys and people who have been doing this for years and I just haven't. But that in no way, shape or form, means that I do not belong out there. I am out on that beach almost every day, pushing myself, getting stronger, getting better. Days like today help remind me that I am not defined by how long I have been doing this, but by how much hard work I've put into it.

Whether you are on the water, in school, or at work - only you know your skill. Only you know your accomplishments and the work you've put into what you're doing. So fuck everyone else. Fuck the sideways looks. Fuck the condescending advice. And fuck being afraid of achieving greatness. You are the master of your universe, and you miss 100% of the waves you don't paddle for.

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