Surf Salvation

I practice yoga. I balance on my left leg every day. This training involves trying to stand with both hands on my hips while straightening my right knee, pointing my toes and lifting my leg up off of the ground. Seven years ago I couldn’t really balance on my left leg at all. Now, on a good day, I can keep both hands on my hips, but it has taken a long time and almost daily practice to manage even this feat.

I’ve tried all sorts of tricks and toys to work on it. Wobble boards, wobble cushions, and Boscu balls fall out of my closet. Or else trip me up as they lie around the house, more effective in neglect than they ever were fresh from their packaging. At the gym, I make sure there are exercises like lunges that challenge my left side. And I’m still attempting to walk a slack line, though I haven’t had much opportunity for dedicated effort of late (Takes a month long road trip and a campsite full of willing spotters, most of whom are auditioning for a place in your tent). Good balance is critical to things like climbing and surfing, and yet it is something I’ve always struggled with.

A little while ago I had one of those light bulb moments that gave me a better understanding of why I struggle, I mean, apart from my lack of a knee and appropriately placed ankle for proprioceptive adjustments and feedback. Other people I’ve talked to who have lost* parts of limbs over their lifetime have a sense of self where the missing limb was, or is supposed to be. They say they can still “feel” where their missing limb is in space, even though it’s been replaced by a polymer version. For me, any strong sense of self ends at the toes of my “little foot”. I’ve visually taught my brain some awareness of where my prosthetic is, but it seems rudimentary in comparison.

This absence of this sense gets tricky when it comes to things like learning to surf. I have worked out a two-step method of standing up that requires – among other things – that I put my left foot along the midline of the board. The easiest way to get my foot in the right place is to look down, but I’ve found that looking down while on a moving surfboard… lowers the probability of successfully standing up. So I’m trying to train the motor pattern in such a way that I don’t need to look. Which of course means I miss. A lot. And therefore drink a lot of salt water.

It IS coming though – standing up on the surfboard. Slow but incremental progress. I try to remind myself of this improvement when I’m struggling onto the beach with a belly full of seawater. One day, like Annette, I’ll be ready to pitch orange juice and put my remaining foot in my mouth on television, just you wait.

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*I always have a little chuckle at “lost” in this context. One says, “I lost my leg” just as someone else might say, “I lost my wallet”. Yet the processes underlying the two events can be quite dissimilar. Okay, I suppose a shark could bite off your wallet.

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