Wakeboarding 101: The Gentle Art of Letting Go

This summer, we vacationed in beautiful British Columbia at my husband’s family cabin. Until recently, I refused to call our family getaways “vacations” and instead referred to them as a “change of scenery.” For there is no vacation fairy and parents still have to bathe, feed and somehow occupy children in all environments-not just their home, and it’s not like children under 10 years old are wired for endless lounging and reading. Nor can they drink adult beverages, so I ask: How is this a vacation?

It isn’t.

It was years of actively parenting young children in other locations and calling it vacation because that seemed to make people happy. Reminiscing over family vacation photos between the years 2002-2010 might sound something like:  “…And here we are giving a time out and monitoring soda intake at the Jersey Shore.” And “Oh, there we are arguing over who will share a bed and who will sleep on a cot in a budget Florida hotel room…”

To say we've been waiting for a summer such as this would be an understatement. Summer 2014 opened up a whole new world and I can now rightly call our trips vacations. With a teen and tween, two of our three kids consistently sleep late, and our youngest— age 9, is so active in the water that even he went to bed without complaint and did not feel the need to rival roosters each morning. Combine this with the breath taking views, mountain air, fun with extended family, (really, they're great) and you can see why I felt emboldened to try something new like wakeboarding.

                                         Legit vacation photo. 

                                         Legit vacation photo. 

If you’re unfamiliar, wakeboarding is like snow boarding on the water. Instead of two skis, your feet are locked into boots on one board. You lay back, with your hands on a rope and arms extended, knees tucked to your chest and when the boat goes, you rise and start tearing it up.

IN THEORY.

Depending on the person, it can take several times to actually get up and experience the thrill that is wakeboarding. Often the first attempt is just a maddening series of starts and stops. I watched my active, soccer playing husband struggle and I got nervous. The most active thing I’d done this year was hail a taxi. Plus my tendency to avoid things I won’t be awesome at the very first time was sending off alarms in my head. I call these alarms resistance. “Don’t try it—you will get injured. Or worse— look really stupid!” “Your kids will think you’re an idiot either way— so why not just sit down and enjoy the boat ride?”

My husband’s cousin Shawn and his wife Jada are experienced wakeboarders- though they might laugh at my description. (Consider the source) Their combined advice on how to get up was invaluable. Shawn emphasized keeping your arms straight, knees bent, and being aware of the boat’s speed and pull- it really should do the hard work for you. But it was Jada’s input that really resonated. “Keep your knees close to your chest. Squat- like you’re birthing.”  Like I’m birthing? Oh, I got this. Suddenly, I believed it was possible for me to wakeboard.

I was among the luckier ones, popping up on the second try and getting the hang of it fairly quickly. Had I been exposed to wake boarding and other extreme water sports earlier in life, I probably would have gone pro.  I was like the Soul Surfer girl out there minus the bikini bod and shark attack.

                                         Getting some air, ya'll!

                                         Getting some air, ya'll!

                           WHERE are my EYES?

                           WHERE are my EYES?

The most interesting thing about wakeboarding is what happens at the end. If things go well, you’re up, moving from side to side, catching the wake in just the right spot and basically feeling like you were born for this. But if you get too far inside the wake, or if you lose strength in your arms or legs, you realize you’re going down. You now have two choices: Try to regain your balance and fight against the inevitable fall, or simply let go of the rope. When you choose the former, you face plant. Or hit the water sideways which almost guarantees whiplash if you are in your 30’s. (Trust me. Ouch.) If you choose the latter, the rope drops and you gently sink down a few feet before naturally resuming “ready” position with your back in the water and feet up in front of you.  It should come as no surprise that we humans fight and flail and resist that fall just about every time.  Even though the first method of going down is messy, painful and more dangerous, it is simply our instinct to resist defeat.  Figuratively, we do it all the time. "I’m not going down! Not without a fight!”

Shawn told us time and again, “When you think you’re done, just bail. Drop the rope and you’ll land gently.” But when you’re out there, your adrenaline is going, you’re hyper focused and you really want to keep going. And you really, really want to look cool. My kids were on the edge of their seats as their MOM attempted an extreme water sport. If I could pull this off, I knew my cool stock would go through the roof, so when I felt my legs quiver and I hit a rough patch of water I was SURE I could hang on just a little longer!

Not sure if this was before or after my head ricocheted off the water.

Not sure if this was before or after my head ricocheted off the water.

Nope. My body contorted in a way it shouldn’t, my head smacked the water, and I suddenly remembered I am 35 and have no business trying extreme water sports. At least everyone on the boat had a good laugh.  Determined to try again, I signal to our trusty Captain, Uncle Wayne, and we were off. This time I try to pay attention to my surroundings when I get up. I abandon my desire to look awesome and simply try to look. I have a nice ride that lasts a solid 48 seconds—give or take, but I can feel that my moment is closing so I make a conscious choice. I let go of the rope and this time, I sink slowly and gently—still fully aware of my surroundings, a smile on my face the whole way down. It was like two entirely different experiences.

         It was more graceful in my mind.

         It was more graceful in my mind.

I sensed this lesson from the lake could apply to my non—vacation life, and maybe yours too. But I’ve resisted sharing my little awakening as it feels too cliché. Too common. Too easy. Too similar to the trite expressions we’ve all heard too many times: “Learn to let go." or "Let go and let God." YAWN. But there was something about the physicality of this lesson- the tactile sensation of making a different choice and experiencing a different outcome. Maybe this is what makes Chemistry teachers tick, I don’t know.  For me, it was like having the perfect vacation- and getting a souvenir, too. Something I could bring back and show my friends and family- “Look what I got in Canada, you guys! A whole new approach to my control and anxiety issues! I got one for you, too!”  Beats a keychain.

The summer rolled on and I maintained my new lake-zen with surprisingly good results. It wasn’t that hard considering I was working part time at the store, traveling quite a bit, and sleeping in most days. (Man, we really are in the sweet spot of parenting right now. Hang in there parents of toddlers!)  I had a sneaking suspicion my new tools would be put to the test in September and I couldn’t have been more right. (First time for everything.)

Though I had known for weeks, the reality that we would soon have three kids in three different schools hit me hard on Labor Day. Then I learned that one child wouldn’t be eligible for the bus which was a real necessity in this fragile web of logistics I was weaving. Could I have planned something in advance to avoid this disaster? Probably. But this summer’s lesson was 'Letting Go' not 'The Importance of Preparation.' Too bad, So sad. Maybe God will reveal the former to me next summer while I try a new extreme sport on vacation.  In the mean time, I began to flail, stress, worry, write lists, text, vent, and generally exacerbate the situation by fighting and resisting defeat, instead of simply raising my hands and saying. “I’m done. Nothing left for me to do here. I’m going down, so might as well do it gently and avoid injury.” Smile and wave, smile and wave. I think of all the times in my life when this simple act of surrender could have served me so well for all the obvious reasons, the least of which being time I could have saved! Sure, it’s always more fun to watch a stress case go bananas, (or face plant in the lake) but I am done entertaining people. I am so ready to adopt disciplines and practices that will preserve my energy and my family. 

Today, a friend picked up my daughter from school. (Stacia, you’re a gift.) My youngest came to work with me only to find rescue in the form of an unexpected play date. (Meet Jamie—my second miracle du jour.) My oldest will take the bus. There is no piano, soccer, dance or track tonight. Today is figured out as best it can be. My new "ready position" is practicing  the art of getting up and letting go multiple times every day. Hopefully I will catch my stride. Find my rhythm. And then I will try skateboarding as an urban attempt to keep my summer extreme sport memories alive. Righteous.

* I refer to wakeboarding as an extreme water sport multiple times. This is intentional and for dramatic effect. I am not sure if it actually is considered extreme, but I prefer to assume it is and will categorize this under 'artistic license.'

Shuswap Lake by night.

Shuswap Lake by night.