A long time a go I was out in the surf on a heavy day, much bigger than the photo above, there was only a few of us in the water, which happens in Sydney when it gets big, size tends to weed out those with weak heart muscles.
Back then I would wake up in the morning, knowing what the forecast was, with sheer anxiety coursing through my veins. Rolling out of bed, hungover from the night before, half-asleep, I would wait for my mate Nic to pick me up in his beast of a BMW X5, scoop up our other mate Geoff and head North. The ritual always included stopping at a petrol station to fuel up on RedBulls, matching intensity with anxiety. The great thing about surfing with friends, other than them having your back when something goes wrong, is you can't back out, even when you're scared, no one wants that kind of ridicule.
On this particular day we pulled up to an empty lot, nobody out, it was big, every set looked like a block of apartments rolling through leaving 100 plus metres of white water behind, a moderate rip to help the paddle out, and so we did just that. I remember getting out the back with Geoff, purely because we lucked out with our timing, made it through before a massive set came in which set my heart on fire, we turned to one another, laughed, and said "how the $%%! are we going to get back in?!"
We spent a good 15 or so minutes out there not catching anything, listening to the constant liquid thunder, watching the giants roll through, building up the courage to go for it. An older man paddled out and exclaimed, "just us nutters, hey?" the next thing he said has stuck with me for a long time, right as he went to catch his first wave he shouted, "you don't know if you don't go" and then he was off, on a beast of a wave, we watched the back of that wave for what seemed like minutes, and then a few hundred metres down he flew off the back.
Internalising what this guy just said, followed by watching him surf, gave me the last ounce of courage needed to take the next wave that came. Again, a block apartments rolled through, and I took the first one, got straight to my feet, and rode down the face of it looking straight up at a massive lip about to curl over, like the old man I flew off the back catching what felt like ten feet of air, plunged into the water, flailed around for my board, and paddled out the back like my life depended upon it. I have never in my life felt adrenaline like I did on that wave, I was shaking by the time I got back to where it wasn't breaking. I sat there on my board for a few minutes too long, because by then the adrenaline had drained from my body, and the nausea that set in, was almost flu like. Believe it or not, that feeling is addictive, which should make sense given how many people surf. Funny enough I've only ever felt that level of adrenaline surfing in the southern hemisphere, part of why I love Australia.
Another quote similar to "you don't know if you don't go" is Wayne Gretzky's, "you miss 100% of the shots you never take." So obvious, so true, and incredibly powerful. Sports are always providing amazing metaphors for life, surfing included. Looking back on that day I could've let fear own me before I even got in the water, fear of ridicule got me out there. Because of fear I could have sat there wondering how I was going to get back to shore, never catching any waves. On that day I fought through that fear and grew as a person, as a surfer. Sometimes we have to do things that scare the life out of us, only to make it through, and have more life breathed into us than ever before. You gain so much more in those moments when you beat the fear, and so, you will never know, if you don't go, so let go, be free!