Paddleboard adventures: overcoming fear

I’ve been wanting to learn to paddleboard since we moved here, so last Saturday we rented a couple of paddleboards and spent the day at the beach. It’s what I chose as my Mother’s Day weekend request. I love sunny days, the kids all enjoy beach days, and getting outside does us all good, so it sounded like the perfect time to kick off my paddleboard adventures.

Except for one little problem: I’m terrified of the ocean.

Before we moved to the coast, I laid awake at night having near panic attacks imagining rip-tide drownings and sharks eating my children. On beach days I may occasionally dip my toes in the water but I have a policy against anything more than ankle deep. I feel vertigo when I stand at the edge of the ocean because it feels as though I could fall off or spin out of control. Going on a cruise would NOT be my idea of a good time.

Things scare me. Lots of things.

The ocean isn’t the only thing that scares me. I can envision worst-case scenarios for pretty much anything. Sometimes it is almost comical, but sometimes not so much.

These scenarios in my brain sometimes come from tragedy that happened to someone I knew, or from a news story I heard, or that darn Reader’s Digest “I survived” feature (which I no longer allow myself to read), but many times it’s just my own vivid imagination.


Interesting side note: as an introvert, science has proven my brain doesn’t need (or want!) nearly as much excitement because it’s more sensitive to certain chemicals, like dopamine. I’ve told Ken that for me, driving in traffic probably feels like sky-diving would feel to him. Read more on this here and here.

The irony here is that I’m a nature lover who feels soul-soothed by being near the water. So I wondered if this weird agoraphobia combined with fear of undersea creatures had a name. I looked it up and there it was:

Thalassophobia (Greek: thalassa, “sea” and phobos, “fear”) is a fear of the sea or of sea travel; this can include fear of being in large bodies of water, fear of the vast emptiness of the sea, and fear of distance from land.

That sounds about right.

overcoming fear: stand up paddleboarding

I didn’t bother to hide my fear from my kids. They knew I’d been researching paddleboards online because I want one someday, but they also know I don’t like to be in the water and I get scared thinking about being out on the water.

Being brave is not the absence of fear.

I want my kids to understand that being brave doesn’t mean we never feel afraid. It means we don’t let the fear rule our lives.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~Nelson Mandela

I let them hold the board while I crawled on, then worked up my nerve to paddle out. I had so much fun! I paddled over to another little island and explored. I didn’t fall off at all, even when boats went by and made wake. I saw a ray of some kind (a big one) swim under my board and I didn’t panic!!! I paddled with a kid sitting on front of the board, and later stood in hip-deep water holding the board so they could try standing and balancing, too.

SUP fun

Y’all, this was huge. I’m proud of me.

This victory doesn’t mean I’m not afraid anymore. I even got a little panicky the next day thinking about it after the fact. But I’ll do it again. And that’s huge, too.