I’m Bad at Surfing, and I’m totally Stoked

– Written by Callie Lindemann


I was pushed into my first wave last year. That wave taught me that stoke was a real feeling. And a dangerous one. What was once bearable in my life became intolerable. So in typical millennial fashion, I burned down my life to chase the stoke. 


I’ve learned a little bit about surfing since then. I know a little bit about swells- like what a swell is. I learned what a drop feels like because I made one once. I learned that surfboard rash hurts and that wax matters. I learned that you need to properly treat reef cuts with Neosporin and not hydrogen peroxide. I saw Kelly Slater surf and watched Pipeline fire. 


Bad at Surfing
Callie filled with stoke as she exits the water.


I’ve learned a little bit more about myself. I still can’t catch waves on my own. I get scared every time I go out. I suck at paddling and turning my surfboard feels like it takes an eternity. I forget to “use the channel”. I get too close to the rocks. I dropped a friend’s board and dinged it.  I was yelled at by an Uncle in the water. I almost ran a dude over. I’m bad at surfing. 


Admitting the truth terrorizes the ego and sets the soul free. In America, to be good is to have your existence tolerated. Our collective narrative is: Maybe you’d have health insurance if you just studied a bit more for those SATs, yeah? I spent the last decade of my life avoiding my badness. I tried to contain, pressurize, earn, study, perfect, sculpt, drink, fuck, and glamorize my way into goodness. I believed I could earn my way into existence if I worked hard enough for it.


Bad at Surfing


The ocean is the sphinx that forced my surrender. In the water, I paddle between the gap of my desires and the reality of who I am. I see the truth of my own mediocrity and the truth of my potential. I see the limitations and infiniteness of nature and the limitations and infiniteness of myself. 

It is a radical act to let yourself be bad. It is a radical act to be seen as being bad. It is the most radical of all acts to find stoke in the badness. 

My ego isn’t big enough to believe that I am the worst surfer on Oahu but maybe? And I may or may not stay that way. It doesn’t matter, really. The stoke is mine. It is not owned by anyone. No one can give it to me. I cannot buy it or barter for it or sell it. I can’t drink or diet my way into it. I can’t get it from Instagram likes, or from boys. It doesn’t care about college degrees or the balance of my bank account. It doesn’t care if my family approves of my choices. It doesn’t even care whether I have a family at all. 

I paddle for it. Left-arm. Right-arm. Left-arm. Right-arm. Maybe it will come today. Maybe it won’t. I paddle out anyway. 

I am bad at surfing. And it is my birthright. I paddle out and I say: My life matters. I matter. I have a right to be here. The stoke is mine. It is yours. It is no ones. 


Callie Lindemann is a writer, lawyer, reader, and surfer on Oahu. You can read more thought-provoking essays from Callie on her Patreon.


You might also like: Surfing as a Middle-Aged Female: The unique challenges and joys


Callie Bad at Surfing


begimiddleCover Photo: Learn It, Then Live it

We love hearing the stories of many women. This article was contributed and not written by a regular Still Stoked author. If you would like to contribute one of your own stories, please get in touch.


  1. Absolutely LOVED this article!! Reading it when I’m just about to go surfing myself, as a fellow bad-at-surfing beginner. I always feel a little embarrassed – until I’m in the water and I’m just loving the stoke. I love everything you said about it not being anything anyone can take or justify or criticise. Love love love!

  2. Thank you for this,..I think about sucking more often than not and even feel like I’ve developed a ridiculous anxiety over going out. Regardless I will continue to work on it and with some help through various YT instructionals and even a program I bought into I may be getting better, somewhat. All I know is that when I finally come out of the water, I feel good. No actually I feel great! Until of course I overcome the anxiety and paddling out again next time. I won’t stop until all signs point me in that direction be it age, lack of physical ability or pressure from within. 🤙🏽🏄🏽‍♂️🙏🏽

  3. Callie-you’re beautiful inside and out. I’ve ridden a single wave and not one that I caught on my own. Tallest I’ve ever felt nonetheless. I miss your sunshine and positivity and earnest support. I miss beans and rice and farofa and colorful bikinis. You are associated with some of my most beautiful memories and I hope you know that. If I’m ever in Hawaii.. ❤️

  4. Callie,
    I love what you have written! It is honest, brave, and fundamentally touches on a deep longing that we all share….that is too find a place in the self where judgment does not even exist because there is something much deeper that awaits us.
    with love, evie

  5. Yessss. This is me! Being an ex pro snowboarder people expect when I say I’m bad at surfing that I’m being modest. But I genuinely suck! And it’s brilliant. Love trying to learn. Don’t love being smashed. Love when I catch a wave. Hate when everyone else is getting waves and I’m not. BUT… I still go and most the time, even if I’m just sitting out there, it’s bloody rad!! I have a love hate relationship with surfing but it keeps calling me back even though I know i suck!


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