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I could never understand where that freedom in people to run, jump and dive into the sea came from. They even looked like they were having fun; laughing as the waves took them under. Where was their fear? Why did I have this irrational fear of deep water?
I’d lived in Greece in ’08 and barely stepped foot in the Aegean. I even sailed to the islands where Mamma Mia was filmed, and while my colleagues dived into the clear waters of Skopolos I sat onboard, in fear of the sea, making lunch with the skipper.
I have been to Turkey, Tenerife, Spain, Portugal, Bali, Vietnam, Thailand, Morocco, France and every other beautiful destination where most normal mortals dream of diving into the turquoise waters. I have travelled Australia (twice), lived in New Zealand for 3.5 years, and have never allowed the sea to touch me above my ankles.
I’ve watched with envy as my best friend Eleanor, my sister Sophie, and husband Luis, canoed along the shore of Paihia in the Bay of Islands here in New Zealand. They were laughing their heads off as they purposefully capsized and Luis once again lost his $400 shades. I envisaged wading my way out of the sea with them, laying out on a towel under the sun, and waiting for my hair to dry into some salty surfer waves.
I’ve also missed out on canoe trips down local English rivers, canoe trips in New Zealand’s North Island rivers, swims in Taupo, rapid adventures in the Waikato caves, sitting in rings through the rapids in Turkey, and wading through creeks in Turkish gorges. Instead I watched shrivelling up at the very idea.
A wall of fear stops me every single time from getting in deep water. No matter how much I ridicule myself for imagining the deep water swallowing me up, dragging me under, and filling my lungs with water, reminding myself of my age, I can’t get in any deeper. I would appreciate a psychological analysis of this fear?
To give you an example of a water based fear that you can perhaps relate to, this enormous hole at Lower Huia Dam intrigues Luis, but I can’t go anywhere near it. It’s about 20 metres in diameter, and it’s directly under the walkway. It sucks the water out like a vacuum, and sicks it out at the bottom into a filthy sluice.
Surely many people would find this horrendous to stand over?!
I read a post on 28th January, however, about someone who had a traumatic experience in the ocean aged 7, but 60 years on last week she finally conquered that fear. I decided it was time to conquer my fear, too, and stop being ridiculous.
On Sunday 28th January 2018, the day after I had turned 28, I did it. I had avoided this moment for 14 years.
I waded through the waters at Orewa beach with Luis, having told him that today was the day. He held my hand and encouraged me to go in with him further. I got in up to my ankles, panicked, almost at the stage of hyperventilating, and took a couple of slow steps back towards the shoreline as if the sea could sense my fear and I got out.
The second time I went in, a couple of hours later, it was about 30 degrees and I had a word with myself. There were children as young as 5 laughing with their parents in the sea, solo swimmers, and friends bobbing about on the surface. I really wanted to laugh like these people were when they resurfaced after being swept under by a wave.
Somehow, on this second attempt, I walked further and further towards the metre high waves that were roaring towards me and eventually the water was up to my waste and I couldn’t see my feet.
I didn’t feel an ounce of fear, only a surge of excitement that I don’t think I have felt before in my life. Next minute, a huge wave crashed into my face and I was dragged under with such force that I swallowed the most revolting mouthful of sea water.
I resurfaced and I couldn’t stop smiling. I untied my hair from the bun it was in, and jumped into the next wave, and the next, and the next. I climbed onto more waves to feel the force of being weightless and dragged towards the shoreline. I moved my legs without fear under the water and didn’t mind that I couldn’t see them. I did feel some seaweed once, I think, and a rock, and swam a little faster to get out of their way (just in case), but I didn’t get out.
It was exhilarating. I dived under the water and swam like a frog to the top a hundred times. I felt so confident when I got out. It had taken me 14 years to get in the sea, and it was such a beautiful day to remember.
Luis said that he had never seen that much excitement on my face before and he was happy for me too because “we could finally, after 9 years, be one of those couples who goes into the sea together”.