Finding the Comfort Zone in the Zone of “Impossibles”

One October, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit Bali, Indonesia.  It was an amazing experience with many different aspects: travel, sports, adventure, and culture.  The trip focus was on surfing since Indonesia is known as a premier place to ride waves.  Shortly after arriving in Dempasar (the capital) Greg and I headed to the crazy town of Kuta to purchase surfboards, and then we traveled to the Bukit peninsula in southern Bali. We stayed at a warung on the cliff above Bingin in the town of Uluwatu.  70 steep steps straight down the cliff took us to a left reef break, that was fast and thumping.  Oh my God…. What had I gotten myself into?


My surfing career started when I was 35 in Baja, Mexico. Since then I’ve spent many a day on the waters of Baja perfecting my wave riding. Although far from perfect –-I thought I was a good surfer.  But this was a whole different animal. We paddled out to a break called, “Impossibles” (appropriate name!)


I was so scared I could hardly breathe and I thought I was going to throw up. My new board was a foot shorter than anything I have ever ridden and the waves were moving so fast you didn’t need to paddle to catch them; not to mention they broke on a shallow reef.  Just to add insult to injury, there were rippen surfers charging down the line, slashing off the lips like Kelly Slater.  I was so far outside of my comfort zone I wanted to cry.

As I sat on the shoulder and watched, just trying to get comfortable with this completely uncomfortable feeling, I realized that this is how some of my clients feel, completely intimidated and unable to function because of apprehension.

I realized I had to live by the same rules I teach in skiing.

Take it one step at a time, get myself into a situation where I was more comfortable and slowly build my confidence through repetition and practice. So I paddled down to where the wave was much smaller, like the blue run, and tried to catch some waves. It wasn’t pretty… I paddled for a wave, tried to stand up and crashed. Paddled again for a wave, stood up and crashed, paddled for another wave, tried to stand… crash, paddled yet again for the next wave…. get crushed… paddled for a wave, and miss it….. to only then get crushed by the next four waves.  I ended my first surf session in Bali without catching one wave.

The next day I paddled out and felt much better. Already I was more confident than the day before. I knew what to expect. I knew the waves weren’t really as scary as they looked. I wasn’t going to hit the reef and sets were only 5 waves. I could handle this. As I continued to practice, my confidence built and I actually got a few rides. My dreams of charging down the line and getting tubed would have to wait, but at least I wasn’t throwing up!


In November we returned to Baja; to my safe, un-crowded, home surf - break. Paddling out to the line-up I felt more confident than ever and my surfing was better. My balance, quickness, and willingness to go for it had reached a whole new level. Even though I didn’t fulfill my Indo surf dreams, the challenge and the hardship made me stronger.

In skiing, it’s the same way- if we don’t push ourselves outside our comfort zone we won’t progress. 

I’m in my 50’s; I’m not the fearless maniac I use to be. But this does not mean I can’t learn and improve.  We all need to take on challenges in small pieces and embrace the uncomfortable. Whether in sports or in life we never know where the reward may lie.




MJ Carroll