Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.
–From “Batman Begins” (2005)
Ever try one of these? This picture isn’t of me, but it may as well have been. I spent about an hour on a warm August afternoon last summer trying to master the paddleboard.
And I failed miserably.
I didn’t even do “okay” by most standards. Frankly, I purely sucked at it. I’m pretty sure I drank a gallon of lake water thanks to the countless fluvial cascades that entered through my nose upon each crash and burn. If you’ve never experienced that feeling, trust me…it’s not pleasant.
What’s worse is that I had a small audience sitting up on shore, all lined up in a half-moon configuration watching with more than a passing interest. That made for perfectly unfettered viewing and unending group amusement as I repeatedly fell ass-over-tea-kettle into the lake which abuts the Books family cabin.
My technique involved largely watching others do it first in order to get a sense of what was required. Observing and demonstration is one of the principal ways to train a person to complete a task. Then it’s time to get on board and give it a shot.
The popular methodology? Approach the board, steady it, kneel, grasp the paddle, and stand slowly. Once in a vertical and balanced position, propel yourself slowly on either the right or left side to control your direction. After that, just enjoy the scenery and the ride.
One by one, family members took to the water to give it a whirl. My nephew had no trouble and made it look easy. By all accounts, it’s pure mastery in motion.
Up next is my son, who’s equally as good, but he flaunts his prowess by ending his ride showing off and doing momentary handstands in the center of the board. He’s only got one way off directly into the drink when he can’t maintain his inverted posture, but his balance and core strength are still impressive by most standards.
My older brother? One dunk due to our wild catcalling, noise-making and heckling, all intended to distract him. In defiance and with an extension of his middle finger directed at the crowd, he demonstrates that focus is everything by ignoring us and performs a perfect lap around the lake.
Even my daughter gets into the act and tames the board in short order. Clearly, being petite plays well in controlling the center of gravity.
After an hour of watching and deciding that it can’t be all that hard, I take my turn. “I’ve got this,” I vainly thought to myself. “If they can all do it, then I absolutely can.” What I didn’t take into consideration was my size compared to others in the group. I’m not exactly a small guy, and weight distribution was about to play a key factor in the end result.
My first attempt doesn’t even come close to a stand-up. Just kneeling on the board gets me my first lake baptismal. Undaunted, I get back on.
The second try goes a smidge better but ends with duplicate results. The act of finding balance proves to be a challenge.
Maybe this isn’t as easy as it appears to be.
As I climb back onto the board, my stubborn side begins to rear its ugly head. “No way I’m letting this flat hunk of fiberglass get the best of me,” I proclaim out loud to no one in particular. “Get back on, fat boy.” To no avail, I get the same result. Three, four, six, nine times on the board. Each one concludes with me flying off the damn thing and landing in the water in various extended positions…the face plant, the treadmill front-fly, the backward slip, and the left or right side uncontrolled horizontal dismount.
By this time, the crowd onshore has graciously stopped laughing out of pure pity. What was once a comedy routine in their eyes has turned to spectator empathy with some gratuitous cheering on the side. At least they recognize the effort.
I admit I had a little success after all was said and done, that is if standing and paddling for a maximum of one minute before crashing and burning can be classified that way. What surprised me was how hard balancing was, especially since I consider myself to be a moderately skilled downhill skier.
As expected, I took some good-natured ribbing from family members as I climbed back up on shore. Someone said “great job showing us all how to fall,” and another relative informed me that I would be wise to keep my day job. Clearly that’s the product of public sport, in that you live and die with the results.
It was an unrelated family friend who had the wisest words for me, spoken with a moderate grain of seriousness:
Hell of an effort, Andy. That speaks more to character than achievement of the result. Learning to fail is as important as making the grade.
I admit those words did little to soothe my bruised ego. Although exhausted from falling off and climbing back on the board repeatedly, I was disappointed at how I failed to accomplish my goal. Frankly, I was a bit peeved at my personal lack of follow-through. Then again, what he said to me was inherently true. Learning how to fail is as equally important as how we manage to reach success in whatever goal we set for ourselves. History is replete with countless examples of many who have come up short but created something much greater in its place. You’ve heard the stories…Edison, Lincoln, Ford Disney, Gates, Jobs, Rowling. The list is endless.
Before you think that I’m comparing falling off of a 12′ by 3′ piece of overpriced polished fiberglass board to some of the greatest minds of the last 200 years, I’m not. Their accomplishments had incredible impacts on modern society, whereas I’m just a dude who can’t figure out how to maintain his balance in water sport.
But the drive to conquer adversity in its simplest form is enduring. Tell me I can’t do something, and I’ll fight like hell to figure out a way that I can. I’m that stubborn, and I hate being told no. Sure, that means I’ll get some bumps and bruises along the way, but the best way to learn is through trial and error.
That means I’ll be up at the lake again this summer trying my hand at paddle boarding again, learning how to fall with grace and style.
And again…and again…and again.
Yeah…..an investment in nose plugs this year might be in order.