What I Learned From Learning To Surf

This post comes from our Australia contributor, Miann Scanlan. Follow along with her on Instagram @freepeopleaustralia!

It all started with an intention.

Ever since I can remember, I have envisioned myself sliding across the face of a wave, making tracks up and down a vintage mal with not a care in the world. To this day, even holding that vision in my mind envelopes my soul in pure bliss. When I was little, I wanted to be the girls in the photos lining the walls of my local surf shop. I wanted to be surfing with my mum, walking out as deep as my little toddler legs would take me until I had to let go of her hand as she jumped on her board, paddled out into the vast ocean and ushered me to go back to the shore. But for some reason, I never really tried and my parents never really pushed me.

I surfed a bit when I was about twelve at the famed Pass in Byron Bay or at my then home at Noosa National Park. It was totally amazing. I tried again when I was in my awkward teens, though this time I was much more self-conscious and the fear of looking like an idiot consumed me to the point it was crippling. Full of teenage apathy, I gave up, concluding that I would never be able to fulfill my dream.

In my twenties, I’ve ended up only dating surfers and was content sitting on the beach for hours watching on as they got wave after wave. I was satisfied simply being stoked on their stoke, until recently. I decided I was sick of sitting, waiting, wishing, and watching. A fire within me ignited and that original intention once again burned so hot in my belly that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I grabbed my mum’s old board and headed out on an otherwise totally flat day.

Six months and a fair few sessions in the water later, I can proudly say that I still can’t go out on my own, I’m still relatively unskilled and still have a deep fear of the ocean (from nearly drowning a few years ago), but the success lays in the fact that I plucked up the courage to try something new and every time I go out I’m still learning, and having the best fun. As an adult trying my hand at a completely new skill, I’ve learned so many things about the ocean, but also so many lessons about myself.

Here’s a couple of insights from the girl in the lineup with the biggest smile on her face no mater how embarrassing the wipeout:

learning to surf

Most fear isn’t real

There are two types of fear. Firstly, there’s the instinctual, rational fear that grips you when you are doing something that risks physical injury. As adults (and females) typically we aren’t out chasing an adrenaline rush and getting gnarly as much as our male counterparts. This is a healthy fear, one which I have become addicted to. Going out in bigger waves, paddling out with my heart in my throat, even though I might not have the guts to try and catch any, is a feat of its own. Feeling this fear is healthy, it awakens the life force within you and makes you want more.

Then there’s the irrational fear. The type of fear that is fake, that is created by nothing more than our Ego, our thoughts. Psyching yourself out of a situation, because of what could be is so ridiculous, especially if it’s a potential scenario you have fabricated entirely in your thoughts. Not going to a bar because your ex might be there. Avoiding quitting your job because your boss might react in a certain way.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of fear. We stop short of our dreams because we are afraid to fail, but failure is merely the option to begin again, only the next time ‘round, more wisely.

learning to surf

Being child-like is important

When the mundane routine of adult life takes over, you kind of forget what it’s like to be doing something ridiculous. We don’t climb trees with the goal of simply jumping out of them, just because. Since surfing, I realized the last time I had this kind of fun was when I was in my early teens. It had literally been about a damn decade before I discovered that again.

The thing I love about surfing is that whether you’re Kelly Slater or a total kook, you’re out there having the same amount of fun with a floating piece of fiberglass and foam. My first few times out in the water, there were countless failed takeoffs, ample nose diving, and not much actual wave riding. At times the frustration was too much to bear. I even recall crying once after hours of exhausting all my energy and not catching a single wave. But the moment I got that first short ride, feeling the energy of the wave carry me across the ocean, I was hooked. I instantly knew what it was all about. I know why people devote their whole lives to surf culture, to the stoke, to the purest form of child-like fun.

learning to surf

Everybody has to start somewhere

When I’m out surfing my local break at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast, I’m usually surrounded by tiny groms who rip harder than I ever will, tearing sloppy waves to shreds and surfing circles around me in the lineup as I sit on my big mal and watch in awe. But I don’t wish I had started surfing at a younger age. Learning an entirely new discipline as an adult is rare, and age makes the process that little bit harder to adapt skills. My thoughts? Challenge accepted!

It’s not easy to go back to basics and be completely terrible at something as an adult. We often get too caught up in our pride to branch out. These days I still have countless “bad” surfs. My balance might be off, or I might be on someone else’s board and I can’t quite find my groove. I can be out for hours doing what most would call “failing”, but in all that time I might catch one half-decent wave, feeling the glide, and I’ll be instantly happy as a pig in mud. Each time I go out, I pick one thing that I want to work on, and focus on it, giving myself lots of little victories along the way and always relishing in the motions of the process.

Whether it’s the Coffey sisters making mincemeat out of the waves at Superbank, or the bohemian babes of Byron Bay dancing gracefully up and down their 9 ft logs, just remember that everyone has had to start somewhere and just like the spiritual teachings of yoga, it’s all about enjoying the journey.

learning to surf

We are all connected

The energy of the moving liquid connects you to the people all around you in the lineup, all here for our own reasons, our own needs, our own truths. I’ve met great people from all over the world out in water, humans from all walks of life, people whose pasts are intimately connected to each other sharing in an experience of what they love. It’s a beautiful thing.

The ocean seems to transcend differences. Race, age, religion, sexuality, creed, all these traits that separate us on land almost instantly fall away when in the water. Mainstream media outlets are constantly telling us we’re different. We are segregated and lumped into societal categories based on our disparities, but when a common interest brings a divided humanity together, you start to realize that we all aren’t so different after all.

learning to surf

Shop FP Movement Surf.

Photos by Cait Miers; Instagram @caitmiersphotograph

Find Miann at miannscanlan.com & instagram @miannscanlan and @freepeopleaustralia

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6 years ago

I’m so glad you’ve posted this, has to be one of my favourite Bldg25 posts. I’m 18 and live quite inland in England so I haven’t been lucky enough to grow up as Surfing as a very mainstream sport. However as I’ve gotten into my teens I’ve become so drawn towards it. I’m going surfing for the first time this week and I’m so excited, I will probably suck but thats quite inevitable. After all life is for exploring and trying new things!


6 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing this. I surf for 3 years now, however my desire to surf have been vanishing, because I’m not confortable with the waves due to a situation when the waves were bigger. I have times when I’m ok with the bigger waves and it actually even feel good, and then I have moments when I’m afraid of the waves and I lose the desire to surf. I thought I was “the only one” with fear of the waves.
It was so fun to read this post because I feel the same about surfing. Ocean is my sanctuary.
Your post made me want to surf again. Thank you so much!
Have a wonderful day :)

6 years ago

I love all of these lessons! Especially about fear not being real – everything I am afraid of I’ve created or is a delusion. I dated a surfer last summer, and loved it. I wrote a blog post about it and it’s great to re-visit.

Warm Regards,

6 years ago

such a beautifully written piece… i love how all the “lessons” apply to learning anything new which is a way to grow and explore who you are… thank you for sharing your wonderful insights!

The Weaver Of Words…..give me 15 words and I’ll tell you a tale

6 years ago

Definately one of my favorite Bldg25 posts too! I keep re-reading it, so real, well written AND Thankyou!

6 years ago

Wow, so well written and so true. I am always so peaceful and friendly to perfect strangers when I in the ocean, and when i leave i always wonder how i can capture that feeling when back on land!

6 years ago

Inspirational read. I’ve written my own story of learning to surf as an adult on my blog too. Been learning for nearly 8 years now and the gear still gets me all the time!

6 years ago
6 years ago

Thank-you so much for this post! I have been trying to learn to surf since I moved up to the Gold Coast for uni (almost 3yrs ago now) and have all but given up because I am gripped by panic every time I paddle out (even though I was previously an ocean swimmer and have no problems with big surf). This has inspired me to just enjoy myself and keep trying :)

6 years ago
6 years ago


I saw you on Tara’s blog a few months ago and clicked over to your website from there. It was the middle of winter in Australia and I was a mum of four in Newcastle reading about this amazing surfy woman from Noosa. I was in awe of you and I decided that day that I would re-learn (I gave up as a teenager – did the same angsty thing) this summer. I have been psyching myself up since then, and next week we go away to the mid-North coast and I am on it!

Then I read this and realised you haven’t been surfing since you were a grom. That you also rediscovered your love for the surf as an adult, wow, mind blown. AND even more hope given. Yes to it starting as an intention, yes to it being a feeling that settles my soul!

Thank you so much for this post. I know I can do this, and you doing it too gives me a little harder push that it really is going to be okay!


6 years ago

This is so inspirational!


3 years ago

I’m so glad you’ve posted this, it really has inspired me! :) I think surfing is not only the training of your body but your mind as well. You need to realise that all your failures are in your head! :)

1 year ago

It makes sense that learning how to surf would be a great way of learning how to face your fears. I have always been interested in surfing, I think that learning how to do something daring would be a meaningful experience for me at this point in my life. I am going to look into finding good surfing lessons so that I can build up my confidence by learning from someone else.