by Nicki Gilmour (New York City)
Every summer, the beaches of Long Island are filled with women and girls on surfboards. I am one of them. As far as I’m concerned, if the sun is shining, the ocean is clear and the waves are clean, the best board to be on is a surfboard.
I am sure that there are lots of successful professional women among my fellow surfers. It’s a tough sport—I have the injuries and scars to prove it. It’s thrilling. You need stamina and strength, as well as some talent to keep improving. You also need a desire to conquer yourself, not just the ocean; in other words, all the stuff that you need to make it in the other “boardroom” at the office.
The first time you catch a wave, it will rank as one of the best feelings in the world, like falling in love: the butterflies flit in your stomach, sending a signal to your brain that gives you a euphoric feeling of taking flight. You are flying on top of the wave even though it’s probably just the frothy white water breaking around you and lifting you along with it. Then you get bolder and better, paddling out further and taking many hits as the ocean drags you along the seabed like a spin cycle on a washing machine. A few hours later, you will emerge and you arms will feel like they each weigh 100 lbs. from all the paddling out and paddling in for the wave.
It’s all worth it.
You know you are hooked when you squeeze yourself into a rubber wetsuit in cold weather, sharing the beach only with fellow surfers and dog walkers. Any family member or spouse of a surfer knows that an inland holiday won’t really be their thing, and will probably be combined with at least a trip to the ocean for a day or two. There are also the hours in the surf shop feeding my habit of staring at boards and bikinis even if the ocean is as flat as a pancake.
I learned to surf on a spongy board a long time ago in the cold waters of Ireland and have been addicted ever since – taking vacations in places where there are waves to ride. Although I have been terrified of sharks ever since a childhood trip to Florida’s Sea World, I go into deep water and sit on my board so that my legs dangle into the deep sometimes-dark water, tempting fate and the less-than-perfect vision of sharks that may mistake me for a seal. Yet I have pursued the perfect waves of Hawaii, California, France, Australia, and the Canary islands without giving a second thought to the massive sharks that lurk.
Without sounding ridiculously New Age, being in the ocean gives me enormous peace. It’s just me. No emails. No talking. No relentless chatter or office noise. Just the water calling me, lapping softly on my board or pounding on the shore.