The Lessons of the Water

The Lessons of the Water
Siraad Dirshe reflects on what being close to the ocean and learning how to surf has taught her over the last three years.

This contributed piece is a part of our Featured Voices series, which invites writers, poets, artists, and creators to explore the various intersections of Blackness and Greenness. “The Lessons of the Water” is a personal narrative by Siraad Dirshe, where she reflects on her surfing journey and what she has learned from being close to the water.

As an always-evolving student of life, I’ve primed myself to be open to receiving the unbounding lessons this world has to teach and remind me. Over the course of thirty-four years, I’ve learned it’s best to stay quiet––literally and figuratively––and humble in order to fully absorb all of the things there are to learn. Having deepened my connection with the outdoors and fully unearthed the joy of being outside over the last three years, I’ve had some of my greatest revelations come to me while immersing myself in nature. Learning how to surf has taught me not only how to balance, forced me to become a better swimmer, and built up my arm muscles, but it’s also given me so much more––lessons that have, and continue to be relevant in my daily life.

Growing up in the inner city of Boston and then spending nearly all of my adult life in major cities rendered me ignorant to just how impactful daily doses of nature could be for my spirit and well-being. Being outside surrounded by trees, or my favorite, submerged in water was something only saved for vacations and one-off occasions. Not something to relish in each and every day. It wasn’t until a trip to Ghana in 2019 that my interest in surfing resurfaced. I had always been curious about the sport but had never tried it because I hadn’t seen anyone who looked like me participating. In that exact moment, standing on the shores of Accra, I made a commitment to not only weave nature into my daily and weekly rituals but also to learn how to surf. That single decision would go on to change so many things about the ways in which I approach and understand not just life, but my work. As a Black woman who hasn’t had the privilege of safe places to learn and grow without consequences, granting myself the opportunity to do so allowed me to learn three things that I hope can empower you to not only give surfing a try, but to also inspire you to keep learning, expanding, and taking up space.

go with the flow

As someone who loves a plan and whose heart skips a beat at the mere thought of giving up control, learning to surf has illuminated that even despite copious amounts of preparation, you really just have to let things happen. Countless times, I’ve headed to the ocean confident that I was going to catch waves, only to find that the slightest thing was off––with me or the water––completely changing the outcome of the session. There is so much power in surrendering, not to what we want to happen, but to what is happening. Once I started to grasp and comprehend just how limiting it can be to have such a narrow idea of what defines a positive outcome, both in and out of the water, my world swelled. There are times when you may catch ten waves and there are times when you catch zero. But if you’re out there having fun, learning a new technique or just getting stronger––from being tossed around in the waves––that’s reason enough to keep getting back out there.

remain a student

Developing the perseverance and bravery to keep returning to the shore––even after a tough session and months of barely knowing how to paddle correctly––was a lesson within itself. I have always prided myself in being a studious and curious individual eager to unearth the gems and jewels of life. But learning in the comfort of your own home by flipping through books is drastically different from committing to going back out into the water and publicly learning alongside others. I had to truly become humble enough to remain a student, whether on a surfboard or at my job––something that ended up having a deep and profound impact on my life. I was reminded daily that I don’t know everything, and that the only way to expand is by constantly being a student. In the water, to improve you must be patient and open to constantly trying and doing new things, and understanding that as soon as one thing is mastered, there’s something else to go after.

harness your power

Remaining humble and open was something that was a bit more difficult for me to internalize. 

However, over the last few years, as my relationship with the water has deepened and expanded, I’ve been constantly reminded that we truly do have everything we need to keep going. Giving myself the opportunity to regularly be close to the water is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given myself. Every time I return it becomes even more evident that I’m not alone out there––even when I feel like it. The power and knowledge of my ancestors helps to guide the way, and I can feel their presence every time I secure my leash to my ankle.

Being outside is magical. Riding and floating atop waves has given me freedom and confidence that I’ve been hard-pressed to replicate on land––it’s become a place where I can just be. Without the pressure of society to get things perfect. I can only hope that anyone who gives surfing a try might garner the importance of going with the flow, how they can remain a good student, and that they too have the power of generations with them. Most importantly, I hope anyone who finds themselves outside surrounded by nature opens themselves up to receive whatever it is the wind or waves may be trying to whisper to them.

Siraad Dirshe is a writer, video producer, and director whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Elle, Refinery29, and many others. She’s deeply passionate about sharing and amplifying the often overlooked and dismissed stories of Black folks, particularly our contributions to sports, like surfing, and movements such as sustainability. When she’s not writing or directing, you can find Siraad on the beach or reading a good book––ideally, both at the same time.