My first day at surf camp, we walked out into the shallows dragging our nine-feet-long boards behind us. Waves crashed at our knees in a transparent attempt to keep us out. The further in we got, the larger they loomed, until what I knew were at most three-foot waves seemed to reach over our heads.
At the first lull in the waves, we hop on our boards. "Paddle, paddle, paddle," my instructor yells, and I splash about in my best imitation. Too late—a wall of cold water slaps me in the face and I go tumbling head over heels. When I finally find my feet, I'm back where we started, in knee-high water. This happens a few more times, until I want to scream, or cry.
A couple hours in, I'm feeling like a battered spouse and starting to dread the rest of the week. Why did I think a whole week of surfing was a good idea?
Two days later, I catch a green wave and ride it for what seems like forever. The day after that, I catch a few more, paddling out on my own to face the beast.
Sitting out the back alone is terrifying—watching the waves build, not knowing where they're going to break, and praying it won't be on top of my head. But little by little, I get better at reading the ocean. I stop paddling out too far just to be safe, and start to see waves coming from 20 feet away instead of 10.
My last morning out on the water is bright and clear. Sitting on my board trying to find a wave, I turn my head and catch a glimpse of a rainbow in the crest of a wave just about to break. It's gone in the blink of an eye, but the memory of it lingers, somehow conjuring the magic of surfing even as I struggle out of the water, battered and exhausted.