“If you catch this next wave I promise I will never again say, ‘Oh my god, this is just like Blue Crush,’” I yelled over the chop to the 13-year-old girl I was teaching to surf.

She caught the next wave and rode it all the way into the sand and paddled right back out again for more. She was hooked and relieved that I’d promised to stop embarrassing her with Blue Crush references (a promise I’ve broken many times since).

We surfed as much as possible over the next couple years in the New England cold, rain, wind, and occasional sun. Watching the confidence and focus she developed out on the water was inspiring and I could relate.

I’ve been called a kook once to my face (and I am sure more times behind my back). It was September in New England. The water was still “warm” but there was a bitter offshore wind howling across the water. Pressured into paddling into waves I was not ready for, I panicked. I started crying out on the water and gave up on paddling against the rip. It quickly pulled me out, way out. The Isle of Shoals, which is 3 miles out to sea, looked closer than the beach.

Finally I buried my panic and started paddling. As I got closer to shore some of the guys on the inside threw out the dreaded insult, “Kook!” It was completely true and well-deserved but it stung. I stayed in the water until I froze that day. I don’t think I caught a single wave but I stayed. I kept going back. Everyday whether the waves were blown out, tiny, or so walled up I couldn’t make it past the white water, I’d go.

moneyJust like the grom I started teaching, once my surfing became less like drowning, surfing created a confidence and focus I was not used to and that changed my life. The ocean is an arena that doesn’t favor a gender, a class, or a race. Your ability to navigate it safely depends on experience, fitness, and luck.

My male buddies joke that I have “gender money” which makes the crowd on the water more welcoming and that’s definitely true. I’ve heard their horror stories and these guys don’t just know how to surf, they rip. My stories from the throngs of surfer bros have been more about just weirdness than anyone trying to get in my head.

But out on the water none of that really matters. Keep your eyes on the horizon, look right and left, and take your wave or give a wave to someone just learning. Smile and relax, let the ocean take care of it. It will teach you things. Just know that sometimes that means getting thrown over the falls and smacked with your board but if you can still come up smiling, that’s it right there. That’s money.