Surfing and Stingrays

My surf instructor, Diana, asked me to meet her in Sunset Beach at 8 a.m. The morning was cool and overcast when I pulled into the public parking area. In following the unspoken rules of surfing, I left my house keys, phone, and towel in my car. All you need is a wetsuit and a board.

I had seen Diana’s photo in a picture, and recognized her right away when I saw her unloading a surfboard out of the back of her SUV.

“Are you my new friend?” she kindly asked as I walked up.

“If you’re Diana, then yes,” I replied as we hugged our hellos. I felt like we were old friends given the email conversations we have had over the past few months.

She offered to lock my car key in her car as she tied her car’s non-fob key to her wetsuit.

She told me to grab the blue foam surfboard that would be my ride for the next hour and she grabbed a boogie board. We walked to the sand as she informed me it was easier for her to teach on a boogie board than her surf board.

She gave me some instruction on the sand explaining that I would have to play Goldilocks in the water to find the spot on the board that is right for me to lay on it.

“If you’re up too far, you’ll pearl (nose dive). Too far back and you’ll drag or the board will jump out in front of you,” she explained. “Feel it out in the water and then mark the spot on the board with your nose or chin. We’ll paddled out past the break where you’ll just sit on the board and get a feel for it under you. Then when you feel ready, I’ll push you into a few waves. Don’t worry about getting up today. It’s more about getting a feel for the board and where and when the wave grabs you.”

The ocean was glassy and smooth. I love watching the ocean when its so peaceful and calm. Out in the distance, a lone male dolphin porpoised along. I pulled up the top half of my wetsuit and inserted my arms.

“You ready?” Diana asked.

“Ready!” I replied as I zipped up the back and attached the velcro flap. I fastened the leash to my right ankle.

The water felt nice and cool on my feet as I carried the board into the water. The wetsuit was perfect insulation against he cold.

“Make sure you shuffle your feet in the sand,” she recommended. “Last time I gave a lesson, my student was stung on her foot. They hang out in the shallows here sometimes.”

“I remember being given that advice as a kid,” I recalled.

The waves were small, about three feet or so. Even as they broke against my side, they weren’t that strong. I could stand my ground before making my way deeper again. Once the water hit my upper chest, I got on the board and paddled out past the break.

We sat on our boards looking out over the horizon and admiring what a beautifully calm morning it was. The water was still like glass reflecting the grey sky.

“I could just stay right here for hours and be perfectly content,” I commented.

“The best is when you’re hanging out and a pod of dolphins swim past you,” she added.

“That is a bucket list item for me,” I said. “I would be so happy if that happened right now.”

We both then shared stories of sea animals while out in the water. I told her about the time in Cancun on Stand-Up-Paddle boards when a pod of bat rays came by jumping out of the water to get the parasites off their underbellies. She brought up about paddling next to a pod of dolphins that stayed with her for a while until she got too tired and stopped.

“Alright, let’s do this,” she steered the conversation back to the task at hand. She then showed me how to turn the board in the most efficient manner by sliding far enough back that the nose comes up and then paddle it in a circle.

“You ready to catch a wave?” she asked.

“Ready,” I answered.

She paddled up next to me and held the back of my board. I got in position to take a wave and she told me to wait to paddle until she gives the word. A few waves went up and over the back of me while we waited for the perfect one.

“Paddle, paddle, paddle,” she instructed.

As I did, I felt the wave push me along and then really grab me securely. I knew “that” was the feeling to wait for before standing up. I stayed on my belly and rode it in. The second time she pushed me into a wave, I paddled until I felt it catch hold and then I pushed up onto my knees.

“You’re a natural,” she cheered. “That was awesome. You knew exactly when to do that! Most people do it too soon and fall or stop paddling and never catch it.”

We did this for a few more waves with me jumping to my knees, and on the fifth I made it to my feet but didn’t stand. At that point I was winded and offered to let her take a few waves in while I bobbed in the surf, something I absolutely love doing. I handed her the leash and dove under a forming wave.

As she was positioning herself to paddle into a wave, I was eggbeater kicking my legs to tread water when I felt something brush my right toes and then a swift, sharp sting — like an electric shock — punctured the bottom of my foot.

“OUCH!” I yelled. “I think I just got stung by a stingray.”

I bent my leg and looked back as I brought my foot up out of the water to see it bleeding.

“Yup,” I confirmed. “I’m stung.”

“We gotta get you to shore quickly,” she said calmly but firmly.

Diana brought me back the board, which I got on, and she quickly pushed me into my last wave that promptly took me to the sand. I hobbled off as I recognized the pain getting worse. My right leg was shaking. Diana was not far behind me as she had body surfed another wave in.

“Do you see any lifeguards,” she asked.

“I don’t think they’re working today,” I replied as we each scanned the beach towers.

“I have a water bottle in my car,” I said. “I can tie my tank top around my foot. See, I knew I forgot to leave it in the car for a reason.”

I wrapped my bleeding foot up while Diana grabbed the boards. Then we headed back to the parking lot.

“Get home as soon as possible,” she advised. “Soak your foot in the hottest water you can stand. It will suck the venom out. Make sure you change out the water every 30 minutes and do that for about an hour and a half. If there’s a piece of the stinger in there, get it out with tweezers. If it gets infected, go to the ER. Whatever you do, don’t seal it up. You need to let the venom get out.”

“That’s it,” I asked. “And then what?”

“The pain will last anywhere from an hour to five hours,” she said. “Just don’t let it get infected. I can drive you home if you want me to.”

“I’ll be ok,” I said. “I’m only a couple miles away.”

“Text me when you get home and then again in an hour to let me know how you’re doing.”

We hastily said goodbye at her car as she handed me my car keys. I hobbled to my car as I tried to “climb into the pain.” (A coaching technique we use instead of struggling against the pain or trying to disassociate from it.) I called my uncles from the car and asked if I could soak my foot at their house in case it got worse and I needed to be taken to urgent care.

By the time I got to their house, they’d run a very hot bath for me and had directions pulled up on an iPad for how to deal with a stingray injury.

Soaking Tub
Doctors recommend soaking the sting in 110 degree water for 60-90 minutes.

The hot water greatly alleviated the pain and I noticed what was once a purple area around the cut started to disappear.

Stingray Sting
This small sting could have been a lot worse.

Having a good hour to sit by myself and contemplate this morning, I realized that I wasn’t upset about the sting. Did it hurt physically? Oh yea! But was I frustrated, angry or sad about it or the stingray? Nope.

This was a big moment for me. I wasn’t telling myself a story about it. It was very matter-of-fact. It didn’t even take away from the pleasure of the surf lesson. If anything, it added to the experience. My thoughts were, “Wow, well this is cool. I haven’t been stung by a stingray before. That’s now something I know what it feels like.”

I was fascinated with the whole thing. And sending compassion to the stingray, who was only trying to protect itself from being stomped by some behemoth creature flailing it’s appendages at it.

When I told my husband I explained it as “getting the whole surfing experience…up close and personal with nature.”

His response (once he knew I was alright) was hysterical: “Should I pee on it?”

Once I got home, showered, and covered my foot in a sock, I was still felt throbbing pain, so I said a mantra:

“Even though I have throbbing pain in my foot, I deeply and completely love my body and myself.”

I didn’t expect anything to happen as a result from it. My intent was more so because it felt like the right thing to do, to honor my body and be compassionate and loving toward it. Oddly enough, within minutes the pain was gone. It could have been it just ran it’s course and was over after a couple hours…or positive thinking really does heal pain.

I wonder how long I should stay out of the water now before another surf lesson?

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