This is a story of one of the most embarrassing times of my life. It’s a writing exercise that called for me to be more honest than I would like. So here I am, being honest.
Being a teenager comes with its naturally awkward moments. Bodies change – sometimes overnight. Sometimes the person wishes they changed more in certain places than in others. Up until I was 15, I had prayed that I would grow breasts. Every birthday wish and wish upon a star was to have the Boob Fairy visit and bless me with Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s body. This ridiculous wish was fueled by the fact that a boy I liked at school had told all of our friends that I was “too flat chested” to date. Naturally, instead of telling him to sod off, I did what any teenage girl with low self-esteem and on the verge of an eating disorder would do: pray for my body to change. And change it did. Suddenly, I went from nothing to, “What do I do with these things?!”
What to do with those things really depends on the situation. Running? Strap them down. Flirting? Maybe push them together. Attacked by baby jellyfish? There’s not really an S.O.P. for that one. Which brings us to one of the most embarrassing moments of my teenage years.
It was the fall of 2000. My family was on a trip to Houston, TX for my cousin’s wedding, and after a very convincing PR campaign (see: creative nagging), my parents had decided to take a day trip to Galveston and rent a surfboard so I could go surfing. I was a weird kid. I was a landlocked Kansas girl who was obsessed with surfing. I could give you all of the stats of the competitions, and tell you who the best was and why. My locker was filled with photos of Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. This was my chance to FINALLY surf. In my mind, I would be amazing.
We got to the beach, with the nine foot long antique wooden Hansen surfboard my parents had rented (why my parents didn’t opt for fiberglass was beyond me, they were probably afraid I would be too good at surfing on it, and they’d have no choice but to give into my dreams) and I breathed in the salt air. I lugged the beast to the shoreline, waxed up, attached my leash, and paddled out, the salt water stinging my eyes. Slowly, I turned the cruise ship of a surfboard around. I was ready. This was my chance to prove to my parents that we should pack up our home, move to California, where I would inevitably become a surfing prodigy and join the ranks of Layne Beachley and Rochelle Ballard.
As I dug my hands into the murky gulf, I felt a slight stinging up my arms. I ignored it and kept paddling, I popped up, and very quickly wiped out. As soon as I was submerged in the water, my entire body felt the tiny stings that had been on my arms. But I didn’t care. I wiped the water from my eyes, slicked back my hair, and climbed back onto the board. I paddled back out. Surfing was my destiny, regardless of what was in the water, I would master it.
With each stroke, the stinging increased. Before I knew it, my body was on fire. I looked down at the board and saw itty bitty sea creatures. The board and my arms were covered in them. I paddled to catch what would be my final wave of the day. I rode it into the beach, but I was too distracted by the fire that was consuming my limbs and my swimming suit top to enjoy it. This wasn’t the joy of surfing, this was the scourge of the Gulf!
I called – no, I screamed for my mother. She rushed over and I cried out in panic and showed her what was consuming me. The tiny creatures were all over. She helped me to wipe them off of my arms and legs, then I screamed, “THEY’RE IN MY TOP! IT HURTS!!!!” And it did. If felt like 1,000 Tetanus shots were being injected into me. And there, on a beach in Galveston, Texas, I ripped off my bikini top for the world to see. There was no logic. There was only pain. Pain that as soon as the baby jellyfish were gone, quickly morphed into embarrassment. Suddenly, I realized what I had done to escape the torture. Mouths were agape, passersby saw it all. Luckily, my father and brother were further down the beach and missed the spectacle. My mother quickly threw a towel over me to hide my cash and prizes. But the damage had been done.
Needless to say, my parents didn’t pack up our house to move to California, and I never did win an ASP title (now WSL).