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How I took my terror of the ocean and turned it into a great workout

Sasha Brown-Worsham has written for dozens of publications over the course of her years as a journalist and blogger. She lives outside NYC with her three children, husband, and multiple pets. She is working on her first novel.

From terrified of the ocean to surfer girl in just two days

When I was a little girl, I loved the ocean. Loved it. I was fanatic about it. I couldn't get enough tumbling into the waves, jumping them, running from the surf. But as I grew, the ocean became my enemy.

Maybe it is because I have seen Jaws one too many times. Or maybe it's because after children I started having more fears in general. I once went skydiving. I barely even like to fly now. But somehow along the way, the ocean and I lost our friendship.

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We live within a half hour of the closest beach and spend a lot of time there. I watch my children play in the surf and dip my toes in occasionally, but getting in? No way. Never. So when I was offered the opportunity to go surfing with Swatch as part of a surfing competition in San Clemente, California, I decided I had to do it. Even though it meant flying across the country and leaving my three kids for a weekend.

Soon after I booked the trip with Swatch, I spent a weekend in the Hamptons at my aunt's house. The surf was particularly strong and as my children built sandcastles and my aunt and I chatted, a man drowned in front of us. The lifeguard pulled him out, but by the time they did, he was already gone. Terrifying. Sobering. But also: That's the power of the ocean. That is what it can do.

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But the truth is, being scared of the ocean wasn't helping anyone. My children asked me all the time: "Mommy can you get in, too?" I watch as my husband holds their hands, wading deeper and deeper until my heart pounds. But they laugh and squeal and love every second. And I miss it all. Because I am on the shore. I run. I do yoga. I am extremely fit. And yet, I rarely swim. What is that telling my kids?

This trip would help me face all that.

By the time I had made it through LAX and was standing in front of surf instructors, I was shaking. There was no way I was going to make it in that water. It wasn't just the ocean, either. I was older than most of the other women in our group. What was I doing there? Thirty-something suburban mom of three in a bikini trying to learn how to surf among 20-something women? It seemed crazy. And yet, there I was.

I wasn't the only one afraid, either.

I was paired with a woman who was equally petrified of the ocean and together, we grabbed our boards and swam out so far we couldn't see the ground. I bobbed on the board, holding it so tight, my knuckles turned white. "Is this right?" I asked my instructor, a man who had been surfing since he was 6 who was now 19. The waves were second nature to him.

"Relax," he told me. But all I could do was imagine sharks circling beneath us. I thought of the man who drowned in front of us. I thought of my kids.

"I can't," I told him.

But he didn't hear me because a wave came. "Paddle, paddle!" he shouted. And so I paddled. Just the way he'd taught me on the shore. I caught the wave. I tried to pop up. I landed with a thud on my hip in the sand. Then we did again.

"Paddle," he shouted, but before I could, the wave crashed over my head and dragged me down. I surprised myself. I wasn't afraid. I got back up, laughing.

Let's do it again.

In the hours we surfed, I forgot all about sharks. And octopi. And all of the myriad of sea creatures and rogue waves that I worried were conspiring against me. I thought about balance and core strength and keeping the leash on the right foot. The waves crashed over me again and again, but I remembered myself at 8 and dove into them. I allowed myself to be brave and to focus all my energy on what I was trying to learn and less on my fears.

By the time we were done, I was water and salt logged. I was exhausted. And I was sore. So sore. I hadn't even noticed.

The next day, it was more of the same. After two days of surfing, I never did get up on the board. In fact, I was really pretty bad at the whole thing. But I still accomplished my goal. This winter, I am going with my family to Mexico. And I will be there. Wearing my bathing suit. Holding my child's hand. Diving into the waves with her. Because I can.

I faced my fears and got a whole lot more than just a workout.

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