I am by no means an expert when it comes to water sports, or any sport at all, for that matter. It took me three summers to learn to wakeboard, and I drank about half the lake in that time before I even learned how to stand up. After about 30,000 tries, I finally stopped plowing through the water with my face, and after that it was like riding a bike. Sure, all I did was stand there and slowly cross over from one side of the wake to the other, but that worked just fine for me. I preferred to leave the jumps and theatrics and general showing off to others while I hung onto the rope and took it easy. Now, most of my experience on the board comes from years ago, when I was in college and in peak physical condition. Even when my thighs were rock hard and I had actual bicep muscles, I still wanted to have a chill time behind the boat. Part of that is due to the fact that I hate falling. It hurts. As I get older, I only get more intent on avoiding situations involving my face slamming into water that feels like concrete.
That all changed this summer when I was at the lake with family at our annual bi-family Olympic games. It’s exactly what it sounds like — a bunch of rednecks running around drinking beer on a boat and challenging each other to feats of endurance and strength. You can see how this could end in an unsafe situation. The first few rounds were just fine. We were sorted into teams, given our matching shirts, and the games were laid out. I was on a team with a Golden Retriever, which should help illustrate the dignified nature of this trip. Most events had to be completed with a beer in hand. I have about as much competitive spirit as a paper bag, but I like to put on a matching shirt and get drunk on a boat as much as the next person, so I was having a pretty great time. Then the speedboat came out and half the party piled in to go wakeboarding.
Everyone is better than me at wakeboarding, and that’s fine. But for whatever reason, this time, I was feeling a bit weaker behind the boat than normal. It could have been the state of my leg muscles, weakened from disuse from sitting at a desk job, or it could’ve been the eight beers I’d already had that day. My hands are soft as tissue paper now because typing emails to irate bosses doesn’t give you a thick skin anywhere but over your soul. I was not prepared to get on the wakeboard in rough water and try my hand at heading out of the safety of the wake, but that’s what I did anyway. With my so-called friends yelling encouragement from the boat, I tentatively aimed to the left and started down the slope of the wake. In the end, my own hesitation was what slaughtered my chances of surviving this occasion unscathed. In trying to go as slowly as possible over the wake, catering to my shaking arms and cramping back muscles, I allowed the board to turn so it was nearly perpendicular to the boat. This is a big no-no. First of all, you can’t steer your own feet when your toes are pointed forward, and it’s the perfect position to catch an edge and face plant — which is exactly what happened to me.
I’ve already said I dislike falling. This was not a fall. This was a smackdown of my face into water with such force that my board came up behind me to almost hit me in the back of the head. My face took the brunt of the fall, and my jaw muscles still won’t open completely. I choked on water, face down in the waves, and spit blood out of my mouth where my teeth had torn the inside of my lips open. This was a crash of such epic proportions that my sister, who is also a lifeguard, dove into the water because she literally thought I was dead. I flopped there like a fish, certain that my nose had become a part of my brain cavity. She got me free of the board and back into the boat, where I was immediately patted on the back and offered swigs of jungle juice to take the edge off the pain that was already radiating throughout my back and neck. It was traumatizing, painful, and honestly pretty embarrassing. I was the old grandma that couldn’t make it out of the wake anymore without having a near-death crash. It was demoralizing.
By the time we got back to the home base of the houseboat, I just wanted a beer and a chair to sit in while I nursed my wounds for the rest of the night. At this point, though, my crash was the legend of the trip. My dad was laughing so hard he was nearly in tears when everyone recanted how my sister had had to swim out to save me, and how I hit the water so hard they were certain I’d broken my neck.
My dad might be an ass, but his laughing at my pain made me think about it in a different way. Sometimes, in the real world, you’re going to go outside the wake. Whether that means you take a chance on a new job opportunity, or ask someone to marry you, or just do something equally ballsy, you can fall flat on your face. It can, and will, hurt. Probably a lot. But if I’d never taken the chance I did that day, I would’ve lost out on a great summer story. I would’ve skated through the weekend without pushing myself out of my comfort zone at all, and while I wouldn’t have gotten my face rearranged in that case, there’s no fun in playing it safe all the time. If anything, my trying to be careful just screwed me over more. If I had gone for it balls-out, I probably would’ve made it just fine.
So, go outside the wake every once in a while. Don’t use caution in those situations, and don’t hold anything back. You might face plant, but as someone who’s literally been there, the story is worth the pain. Just make sure you’ve got a couple beers handy to take the edge off, and you’ll be good to go. Be safe out there, kids — or, better yet, don’t be. .