What snowboarding taught me about falling, and getting back up again

Snowboarding like a badass in Italy

The name Suzanne means ‘graceful white lily’. Well, let me tell you, there was nothing graceful about my last week’s escapades. Last week was the week my arse met the mountains. Over and over again.

Despite my penchant for sporting activities, my parents never thought to shove me down a big white hill on skis when I was younger. Probably sensible. But after spending so long saying ‘I’ve never done that’, I decided 26 should be the age I spend an eye-watering amount of money on a holiday where I don’t even get a tan.

So chaps, that is what I did.

My sister and I were both snow sport virgins, but our other halves were not. They did their own thing in the mornings while little sibling and I spent some quality time with an Italian named Lucio whose favourite phrases were ‘pay attention’, ‘don’t worry’, and ‘how long time ago’. At least he learnt our names though – there was a kid in the class he referred to as ‘boy’.

Anyhow, Lucio was a good snowboarding teacher and, most importantly, PATIENT with us. He must have looked at us falling about like the most efficient dominos and thought ‘what is wrong with these English people’. At one point I toppled backwards and hit my head so hard I cried like a baby. But he just said ‘don’t cry, don’t worry’, and helped me get back up. We held hands. It was borderline romantic (sorry Olly).

In the afternoons after lessons we would meet up with the other halves and they would witness all the progress we had made in the morning turn to s***. I’ve never cried so much on a holiday. I mean, seriously, holidays are supposed to be where happy gets made. At one point I fell so hard on my face my goggles branded me and I may have chipped a tooth. Another time I fell over so badly an actual tantrum happened. I took off my board and stormed down the mountain on foot.

It felt like I kept taking one step forward, and two back. It was immensely frustrating.

And every time I fell, I was more tentative of going again. Because I was scared of falling again.

But this meant I restricted myself – trying to snowboard with tension in your body is literally setting yourself up for a fall. You have to relax for it to work.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see achievements in perspective. At the start of the holiday I could only just stand up on the board, let alone ride down a mountain on it. After four days I was riding down a mountain on it, and occasionally falling over. But instead of focusing on how far I’d come, I was consumed by how far I still had to go to be ‘good’. Good by my standard. Which pretty much means the new Jenny Jones.

This is a flaw of mine. Looking at the negatives over the positives.

But, I started to see, falling over wasn’t a bad thing. Falling over meant I was trying, pushing, myself, and not just staying where I was comfortable. Even though I didn’t want to fall over (it hurt, a lot, and after a few days my body was really suffering), I knew that if I didn’t then I wasn’t getting any better.

If I didn’t fall, I wasn’t learning.

The important thing was my actions after a fall. I could roll around in the snow whimpering like a small mountain goat and thinking ‘I’m rubbish, I can’t do it, if I was good then I wouldn’t be falling’, or I could get straight back up and try again, being aware of what made me fall in the first place, and trying to avoid repeating it.

Apply this to life. Every day, every week, every year, we fall. In one way or another. We bruise, we feel pain, we wonder what the hell we’re doing for life to suck so much.

But the real value we get from those falls is the way we recover. Brush ourselves off, stand back up, tall, and deal with them. Make life better than it was before those falls.

We can learn so much if we let ourselves. If we recognise that falling is all part of growing, and that if we aren’t falling we aren’t trying hard enough.

Remember, if we don’t experience any pain, we can never know how sweet the pleasure of success is.

We can never find our limits unless we push ourselves beyond them.

And despite the five bruises I have on my backside right now, despite the aches threaded through my entire body, despite the mark on my face that is only just starting to fade, I already want to get back up on a mountain and snowboard the best bejeezus I can out of it.

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My reversed lent

Typewriter

I’m not religious. That’s not to say I haven’t given things up for lent before, I have (tried). Just not for religious reasons. Yes, I understand lent is about penance and self-denial, but deprivation isn’t what I’m looking for right now. I’m looking for enrichment. That’s why I’m using lent as a reason to add something to my days, rather than take something away.

This year, there will be no commitment to giving up chocolate. There will instead be a commitment to write. Outside of work. Every. Single. Day. It will be tough. Especially as I’ll be on holiday for a week of it.

Lent is about challenging yourself to do without, but I’m challenging myself to do with. To do with a pen and paper or a keyboard and screen. To do with thoughts and words and ideas. To do with taking a blank page and embellishing it in whatever way I feel like. I’m not giving myself minimum word counts to achieve – I’m someone who believes firmly in quality over quantity – but I am pledging to create something, every 24 hours.

Doing this will hopefully bring me closer to the elusive sense of purpose I seek. Seeing things come to life, literally through my fingers, in a few short weeks. Seeing how far I can go. How much I can grow. No more ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I’m too tired’, or ‘Shall we stick Netflix on?’.

Having ambition is one thing, but achieving ambition is another.

I’m in NoFit State for aerial skills

Bianco Nofit State circus Cardiff

As I write this, the morning after the night before, my hands have not entirely recovered from the rope burn. Bruises are starting to form on my feet and the bottom of my legs. Don’t worry, not the cause of anything sinister. As part of my campaign for change this year I, perhaps foolishly and definitely impulsively, signed up for an 8 week aerial skills class at the NoFit State circus in Cardiff.

I first stumbled across this circus a few months ago when they were performing their show Bianco in a big silver top right in the heart of my adopted city. I can’t remember actually going to a circus before, maybe I did as a child, but I read a book called The Night Circus last year and adored it. So when Bianco was on, I was desperate to experience it. And what an experience it was. It was like stepping into another world. Mesmerizing and beautiful, I watched the performers put their souls into the show, making their bodies do incredible abnormal things, and enchanting the crowd as they did so. I went home blown away and giddy by what I had seen.

When I was on a Googleing frenzy a few weeks ago I discovered that NoFit State were running classes in a variety of skills for total beginners. Me, in fervent fantasy of flying, whipped the credit card out there and then for the aerial skills class. I imagined myself flipping from one flying trapeze to another, twirling my way round a hoop, wrapping myself up in silks mid-air, and thought yes, this one’s for me.

When watching a show, you obviously appreciate that the circus performers have trained really hard to be able to perform to such an amazing standard, and you understand that a serious amount of core strength and agility is required to be able to do the things they do, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I realised quite how much. And that’s by literally just pricking my finger on the top of the iceberg.

Turning up on my own with the typical worries that every other person in the class would have gone with a friend, I was surprised at how many people were there. After a decent warm up we were split into groups and told that the word ‘can’t’ wasn’t in our trainer’s vocabulary. Uh oh.

My first task was the rope. A simple ‘Classic’ climb. Hmm, simple for koalas yes. But after a few attempts I just about grasped the basics, even if my poor little size fives were suffering for it. We learnt a second ‘Russian’ climb, an upside down straddle, and eventually a foot-lock, which I didn’t quite manage. For me the most difficult part was merely holding myself up. When I’m on that rope I feel like I am the weight of a blue whale, and my arms are just too weak to keep me there for long enough. Perhaps a sign that I shouldn’t have given up crossfit…

Towards the end of the session I moved on to the trapeze, which was slightly less painful on the tootsies. The main challenge was preventing the trapeze from wobbling about too much. We made a couple of shapes from sitting and standing positions and at one point my arms just decided to fail me and I performed what one trainer described as an ‘epic dismount’. By which she meant definitely not epic.

It’s fair to say that I have an entirely new, and utmost, respect for circus performers.

After the class my hands ached so much I almost had to use both of them to put the car into reverse. When I got home Olly asked if I enjoyed myself. I did, but I hate that feeling of not being very good at something. I’ve always been competitive, especially against myself, and when I was younger I was able to do pretty much whatever I put my mind to. But this journey I’m on at the moment is all about putting myself out there, stepping outside the comfort zone, doing something new. If I don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. If I’m rubbish at it, at least I had fun trying. Just because you’re scared of the idea of something, or you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for, do it anyway. If you don’t, are you really living?

Fingers crossed (I actually just tried and it hurts) I can see an improvement in my skills next week, and the week after that. I’ll sure as hell turn up with a positive attitude every time.

The start of change, a terrible sense of direction, and my first pottery class

Pottery throwing

This year I have decided to focus on CHANGE.  Mix things up a bit.  Try something different.  When I moved back to Cardiff a few years ago and knew almost no-one I decided to stay in my comfort zone, which meant joining a local netball club to play the sport I had played since I was almost a dot.  I still love the sport but, as with anything competitive, it comes with its stresses.  Stress is now off my agenda.  I’ve already parted ways with a stressful job (ok, make that two stressful jobs, but more about that another day) and now I’m all about doing new things which bring me enjoyment, fun, and zero anxiety.  Well, that’s the plan.

Item #1 on the agenda: pottery.  I wouldn’t describe myself as enormously crafty, but an interest has certainly been sparked in that department recently and I’m keen to explore it.  If I put my mind to something, I can be surprisingly creative.  Earlier in the year I watched Monty Don’s Real Craft and found it fascinating, the pottery episode in particular.  So a few weeks back I got my big balls out and somewhat compulsively booked on an open course at the Cardiff School of Art and Design (check them out, they run some amazing ones).  Yesterday was the first class.  I gave myself half an hour to get there.  Plenty of time even in rush hour traffic.

My Dad has always been bitterly disappointed that his eldest daughter failed to inherit his sense of direction (he was probably a homing pigeon in a former life, whereas I must have been a magpie because I like shiny things and I annoy people).  But I looked the venue up on a map before I left and I was completely confident I did not need a satnav because it was seriously easy to find.  Note to self: NEVER BELIEVE THAT AGAIN.  I ended up going on and on up this busy road before concluding that the enormous university building definitely was not situated along it, and proceeded to take a right into a no-through road suitable only for miniature items (items excluding Vauxhall Corsas).  Attempting to manoeuvre myself back round probably took about 10 minutes and a 100 point turn (so by this time I was already late for the class), but what makes it that much worse is that I had a slight significant altercation with a miniature WALL in doing so.  Cue crunching noise, removed paintwork and a small dent.  Oh, and lots of stress.

When I finally rocked up at the flipping campus I just wanted to cry.  But tears were not going to create masterful pots of beauty, oh no.  So I located a hairy person from the student union to guide me through the building maze and I eventually reached my destination.

Attempting, and almost succeeding, to forget about my vehicle woes I threw myself into pottery throwing (ha), a thoroughly therapeutic activity.  My first pot went slightly wonky and thus became a strange jug, my second broke in half so became a large egg cup, and my third became an actual, if slightly uneven, pot.  It’s something that looks so easy, but requires real skill to do well.  I guess that’s why it’s a craft.  Our teacher was wonderful, if a little potty (oh stop) and I’m pretty excited to see how I progress over the course.  There’s a surprising amount of different elements involved with pottery, beyond throwing on the wheel, and I wonder which I’ll take to best.  I just hope my creations don’t blow up in the kiln.

Oh and friends, you all know what you’ll be getting for Christmas.

Give me a wake, give me a board

Wakeboarding2

A few weeks back I blogged about how much fun I had wakeboarding in Turkey a couple of years ago, and that I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t done it again since.  So, I got in touch with Penarth Waterski and Wakeboard Club to see what they could offer.  Cue a beautiful sunny Sunday in Cardiff Bay, two speedboats, and eight eager beavers wet-suited up for a taster session of either wakeboarding or water-skiing.  For £25 you get two 15 minute long sessions.  You definitely don’t get the feeling that you are being ripped off by a commercial enterprise, because you’re not – the coaches and drivers don’t profit.

For tactical reasons, I chose to go last (less time being wet and cold – two things which make for an intolerably grumpy Suz).  Olly and I had wondered whether we were going to be hopeless at it to start with, given the time which had elapsed since Turkey, but he got up on the rope straight away.  A positive sign.  Less positive when he attempted to jump the wake and caught his toe side, resulting in an almighty faceplant which was so forceful I actually thought it had knocked him out.  No such luck (joke).  He was fine.  But our coach Kevin told us that he had been hospitalised recently for four broken ribs and an almost-punctured lung following a fall which wasn’t nearly as bad as Olly’s.  My conclusion?  I’m dating Iron Man.

Then it was my turn.  Looking like a peculiar seal in a helmet, I popped myself in the water with alacrity.  Oh my, that was refreshing.  I would have been better off in my winter wetsuit but the damn thing is so difficult to get on and off.  Anyhow, to my delight, I also got up on the rope first time, and it was a good few minutes before I first came crashing back down to water.  If I wasn’t properly awake before, I certainly was after.

It felt pleasantly comfortable just messing about inside the wake, scooting over it to go out wide, and surfing the sides.  It really is a lot of fun, and you aren’t going so fast that you can’t enjoy your surroundings.  Later, Kevin was happy enough with my ability to try a ‘switch’.  This basically means switching your leading leg by turning your board 180 degrees in the water.  I had done this in Turkey, but it’s such a bizarre, unnatural feeling.  By the end of the session I had managed it a couple of times, so I left with a smile (albeit blue-lipped).

The best thing about the day was that it made me forget, just for a little while, about the horrible stuff which has been going on in my life recently.  So, if you want a bit of active outdoors therapy, give wakeboarding a try!

Launch point        Wakeboard wide

Wakeboarding3        Wakeboarding2

Wakeboarding Olly2        Wakeboarding Olly

Bird

Get your craft on – and visit my new Etsy shop Suzi’s Crafty Buttons!

Crafty collage

I’ve been getting my craft on recently, having developed a little obsession with the humble button.  Long gone are the days of art teachers looking at my drawings with pity.  I can do button art now, suckers!  Useless with a pencil but a whiz with a button, and that’s fine by me.  Ok, so my little creations won’t win any design prizes, but I think they could make rather unique and personal gifts.

The subject of my longing for a more creative life will certainly feature in future posts, particularly the reasons why I quit being a lawyer.  Recently I felt that I needed to find ways to ignite the creative juices lying dormant somewhere inside me.  Buttons were my salvation (they weren’t really, that’s rather extreme).  They were, however, good fun to work with, especially after I was introduced to my new friend mod podge.  That’s why I’ve made button art a new hobby and opened up a little Etsy shop called Suzi’s Crafty Buttons!  I would love to know what you think.

Even if you feel like the most useless artist ever, which I honestly am (my sister was blessed with that gene), just try something new and see what happens.  Enjoying the creative process is much more important than having a perfect finished product.  To chuck in an oxymoron, go create your own beautiful mess!

No faceplants please

Wakeboarding

I’ve always been one for anything sport, outdoors and water.  So wakeboarding is pretty much made for me.  I first gave it a go in Turkey on a Neilson holiday, which is where I met the love of my life (vom).  As it was new to me, and I had never snowboarded either, the instructors there told me to have a go at water-skiing first.  I told them where to stick that suggestion.

Once I was all strapped into the giant boots and dropped into the tepid waters, they had me try out standing up whilst holding a big metal pole which was fixed to the side of the boat (so you didn’t wobble about too much).  That seemed fairly straight forward, so it was then onto the rope.  It’s a bizarre feeling being stuck in the sea with your feet strapped to a massive board which floats, so you are sort of bobbing on your back.  I must have looked a bit like a dead ant.  Anyhow, as the boat begins to move the rope loses its slack and you have to hold on to the handle for dear life.  You bring your knees right up to your chest and use the force of the board against the water to ease yourself up.

Well that, my friends, is easier said than done.  Enter the faceplant.  Exactly as it sounds.  You plant your face right into that water.  BANG.  Do it more than once if you feel like it.  Some people get a rush from that stinging slap to the cheek (not me).  Luckily I got to grips with the ‘stand-up’ fairly quickly, and that’s where the fun really started!  There’s no feeling quite like being dragged behind a boat by a rope and surfing the wake.  Bliss.  Until either:

1) You have been going for so long that your legs start to ache to the point where you want to get off, but you can’t

2) You lose concentration for a split second and come hurtling back to reality with a faceplant that is strong enough to give you a headache

3) You attempt a jump over the wake and stupidly look down before landing (you guessed it – back to earth with a faceplant)

Despite the inevitable falls, I loved every ride and had such good intentions to do more of it when I got back to the UK.  That holiday was over two years ago, and how many times have I been wakeboarding since?  The grand total of ZERO.

THIS MAKES NO SENSE.  Why, when I find something I love, do I not do more of it?  This is a serious life problem which I intend to address.  To my delight, I heard a few months back that a wakeboarding park was to open in Cardiff Bay, but this is yet to emerge.  The latest news is that it will be open March 2015.

In the meantime, Penarth Waterski and Wakeboard Club may be the solution.  I can’t see much from the website but watch this space.  I’ll be getting my little size fives into those gigantic boots again soon!  And fingers crossed I elude the dreaded faceplant.