Reaching Your Breaking Point: Discipline in Windsurfing
In all activities that require discipline and dedication, practitioners will inevitably reach what I call 'the breaking point'. In fact, the breaking point is often reached over and over again.
What is the breaking point?
The breaking point is reached when after working hard to achieve something the actual results do not live up to expectations,
robbing the practitioner of all enthusiasm to continue with the activity.
The breaking point is reached in all endeavors that require discipline and hard work. Such endeavors may be a job or career, a relationship, school and academics, a personal project, or a competitive sport. It happens in windsurfing all too often. This simply means that the endeavor becomes all the more worth it when people get over themselves and push beyond the breaking point.
I can think of many times when I myself have reached this melancholy and depressing state. The first distinctive time in recent memory was when I was heavily involved in Chinese martial arts learning a southern style of Kung Fu. I seemed to be progressing slowly compared to other students who started at the same time. I was also not so financially disciplined, and the instructor had to have a conversation with me about paying my tuition on time. I went away for a couple of weeks with a bruised ego, but came back with renewed zeal, ready to begin paying tuition responsible...only that wasn't the end of it.
I was approached and told by Sifu (the instructor) to show him a form I had been practicing forever, and that it was the last chance I was going to get to show him what I could do. This shocked me beyond words. So I nervously clamped my mouth shut, and just did it. Halfway through the form I heard Sifu exclaim 'Wow!' in a tight whisper. Later he told me that I did very well, and that he did not know that I was that good...I should have been, I had been practicing it for months. At that exact moment I was asked to perform I had reached the breaking point, but shut-up and pushed beyond it. You see, the problem was that I had not been practicing in front of Sifu, he always made me too nervous. After that I made sure that I was extremely visible, and not modest at all about showing what I could do.
There have also been many breaking points in windsurfing for me. Oddly enough, the following events were NOT breaking points: my first lesson shivering in a cold front with no wet suit, taking six months to learn how to water start, having my only sail ripped in Corpus Christi bay,
tearing a quadricep muscle, breaking my mast for the first time, and having my only short board stolen. In all situations I had resolved to continue windsurfing without batting an eye. The first breaking point in windsurfing came to me after being passed over and over again in high wind by people on slalom boards, while I was still on a long board. They had big sails, formula boards, new gear, helmets, dry suits, nice rigging, and more, while I had only an old long board with a single newish 5.5 Windwing thrashing around in winds anywhere from 15-30mph. Little did I know that getting in the straps on an old long board is not the easiest thing to do. I had very little money at the time. I thought that because I was 'young' that I would eventually out-sail all the old fogeys doing this stuff. I was wrong.
All I can say about this is 'Thank god for windsurfing swap meets.' Finding a used but good small board saved my bacon. This breaking point was overcome when I was told by the two most extreme sailors on the water that there was nothing wrong with my sailing, and that eventually I would be at least as fast as they were.
The next breaking point was much more severe, if not the greatest I have ever had to contend with - chronic lower back pain.
The cause for it to this day is still not clear. But when it became so bad that I locked up every couple months, with soreness and aching between crippling episodes, I dared not sail. This problem affected not only sailing but many other physical activities. My sailing dropped to perhaps two to four times a year. Short boarding for me became something I 'used to do', and probably still could do, but did not do. Today I am still shocked to realize that this windsurfing dry spell went on for about four years. One can only speculate where my current skill level would be had I continued regularly in that time period.
Somehow this breaking point was overcome. Part of it has to do with a consistent work-out and stretching program. I had lost something, an edge that was intangible yet very powerful. Windsurfing was a fair bit of unfinished business. I eventually decided that I liked myself far better as an adventurous windsurfer, like I once had been. I had two old boards, no sails, and some old rigging. It began with some second hand old sails, nothing special, just something to get me out on the water in any way possible. I eventually did regain time on the water somewhat regularly, and also felt that I could learn a lot by simply throwing away all current projects, and going to work for a modest windsurfing shop. Unfortunately this lead to yet another breaking point.
In my mind, since I worked for and represented a windsurfing shop, I had to be good, right? At least better than average for sure, so I thought. Only I began to realize that jibing (and consistent high-wind jibing takes years to learn for most anyway) seemed to have left me. There was a time, when I was younger and more aggressive, that jibing and jumping could be accomplished without so much as a split-second thought. Other sailors who were less experienced than I would sometimes surpass my abilities.
Trying to unofficially compete brought on the latest breaking point - an irrational need to prove my worth for fear of being seen as mediocre.
This was overcome with time. My colleagues and friends on the water, the ones I sometimes would try to compete with, ended up being such a pleasure to be around that it did not matter. I once told one of them that I had no idea that a certain sailor was so good when they passed me on the water, and that I felt a little better knowing he had been at this longer than I had. Then I was told that I should sail primarily to have fun, and that obsessing about how good I was relative to everyone else detracts from the essence of windsurfing.
Today I sail for fun, continue to improve slowly, and look forward to continuing this adventure for as long as I can. I am certain that other breaking points will come and it will be interesting to see what form they take.
Where does the breaking point come from?
It almost always comes from ego or fear, and often a combination of the two. Usually it means that we do not want to appear as unskilled or foolish in front of our peers for some reason or another. The reality is that our peers (especially windsurfers) can recognize a mental block or fear much more easily than a genuine limitation. We respect people who are persistent and positive, no matter whether they make the 'walk of shame' that day or not. A real physical limitation can be a bona-fide reason not to sail, but usually even these limitations can be overcome by facing down the fear, and gradually working into sailing again.
Eventually through encountering these breaking points over and over we come to realize that many mental blocks, fear, and hopelessness are just red herrings, in other words false, delusional - just plain wrong. The only way to really find out the nature of these limiting perceptions is to just push a little further and see what happens. Breaking points are overcome by knowing that you have little to loose by getting up and giving it another try, if it's not so bad, try a little more, and then a little more, you will have conquered something that ended up being no big deal at all. You can then continue on with a much tougher mental state that allows for much greater enjoyment.
Breaking points, although utterly depressing at the time, are a reality and a sign that these endeavors have real heart and meaning to us. Breaking points will come; they are important, essential even to making real progress or learning lessons that are often life-changing.