After a decade of undiagnosed illness had kept her out of the water, one surf lesson (and a handsome surfer) was just what the doctor ordered. ‘The Surf That Saved Me’ is Jessica de Kroon’s entry into Write To Surf – Zag’s surf journo competition with epic prizes by Billabong up for grabs (see details below).
THE SURF THAT SAVED ME – by: Jessica de Kroon
I’m a funny girl. Funny “haha”, as well as funny strange. I believe it is the strange that makes me funny “haha”. The interesting thing about funny people is, they usually had to go through hardships to have the insight and honesty into making other people laugh. I am no exception to this rule. From the age of 14 to 24, I was undiagnosably ill, and I did not believe I would ever live a normal life. Miraculously, (if I’m allowed to use that word) I was diagnosed almost 10 years later. It was a bizarre outcome. If I hadn’t met another girl who’d had a similar diagnosis, I would still question it. Low testosterone is rare enough as it is, but to live with an undiagnosed allergy to sunflower seeds for almost a decade on top of that is pretty weird and scary as well.
A brief description of the allergy symptoms include: fluid on the lungs; fatigue; painful dermatitis of the face and mouth; swollen lips (my mom used to call me Angelina to make me feel better); low immune system and inability to fight infection; agonising ear infections that lead to hearing loss; and loss of joy.
Low testosterone symptoms include: Hair loss; extreme mood swings and irritability; depression; anxiety; weight loss; lack of motivation; and loss of joy.
My story does not actually begin with my past, but with what happened that made me deal with it. I was heart-broken over a break-up after my recovery. I became a different person after I got better, and could no longer deal with the mess it had created. So, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my boyfriend, *Tyron, of three-and-a-half years, and left our home. I moved back in with my parents at 24 years-old. It was a humbling experience.
I spent almost a year confusedly trying to be normal and live a functional life before I decided to go back to studying. I knew I loved to be creative, but had no belief in myself anymore. I literally had to force myself to face the fear of rejection as I joined the first-year copywriting class of 2014 at Red and Yellow, an advertising college in Cape Town.
I was getting a little too old for this at the time, but I sometimes used to go to this horrible nightclub called *Panther Panther, and get absolutely slaughtered along with all the other drunk and debaucherous youth. It was like a release for me. Ironically, it was at that club that I met a guy who would completely change my perspective on a life that had effectively chewed me up and spat me out.
One night I was there, I was reeling from anxiety mixed with alcohol and a lack of cigarettes after midnight, before I spotted a group of young men smoking. I decided to approach and ask for a smoke because:
A) There were no women in the group to judge me.
B) Men give women a smoke when they ask for it, most of the time.
I marched up to them and was promptly given my heart’s desire; Marlboro Beyond. The stronger the better, as I used to say. And there he was, *Ryan, tall dark and handsome, leaning against the bar with a closed, relaxed smile on his face. I had no interest in him. As far as I was concerned, all men were the same, and they couldn’t give me anything that I couldn’t get for myself.
I stood there, sassing his friends for a few minutes while they all lied to me about what they were studying and doing for work. He was the last to speak, and answered with no qualms and definitely no hidden veil of a career. He was off for a gap year in a month’s time, and that was fine by me. Why would I care?
It was on the dance floor that things got really out of hand. This was not unusual, so I don’t know why I was so surprised when he stepped towards me with intensity in his eyes that made my face burn. He cupped my face in his hands, like the ladies always dream of, and bent down and planted what can only be described as the kiss of life on my lips, as a jolt of electricity coursed through my body. The Bedlam around me was silenced as I sunk deeper and deeper into that kiss. It was some time later that we looked up to see his friends had gone. LOL. We decided to ditch the club, got in his car, and drove off into the night together.
We didn’t go anywhere in particular, other than his friend’s place for a time. We mostly just sat in his car, talked shit and kissed. Things got deep, but that’s just me. I am an all-or-nothing kind of girl most of the time. “Do you believe in God? I asked without fear. “Yes,” he said, without hesitating. I couldn’t tell if he was intimidated by me or not, like a lot of guys have claimed to be in the past. All I could gauge was that he was not afraid to be himself, and I really liked it. “I wish I could believe in God, but I just can’t. I don’t have any proof that he even exists. I don’t know how to believe in Him,” I said, honestly. “Well, surfing makes me feel closer to Him,” he replied. I had no idea what he was on about.
By the end of the night, and a lot of laughs later, I was sitting and watching him and his friend messing around in the kitchen and cracking jokes. A smile of endearment spread across my face, and I felt a bolt of lightning hit my heart. I was stunned. It couldn’t be. Was it? I was confused and taken-aback by the warm, fuzzy feeling spreading through my chest. “Already?!” I screamed in my head, panicking. This did not happen often. Instantaneous feelings for someone are pretty legendary in my book, (by that I don’t mean “cool”) and yet there it was, slapping me hard in the face.
There was only one problem. He said he was leaving to go overseas in a month.
We met up a few days later. He said I should come and hang out at the lifesaving club where he was a lifeguard. I’m not stupid, I know how life works. This definitely wasn’t “The Notebook” and any guy who is leaving for an extended, fun overseas trip is definitely not looking for a girlfriend, but I went anyway. It was time for me to learn to face my fears.
I hid the fact that I was deeply afraid of him and almost faint from the nausea of being around a guy I was so attracted to. I found it really hard at that point to have any kind of conversation with him. I was effectively struck dumb a lot of the time. My friends will tell you that this is highly unusual for me. I barely managed. We talked about life and kissed a lot mostly.
He asked me if I wanted something to drink. Milk was on offer. I love milk. He handed me the carton just like that. I burst out laughing because it was such a naively down-to-earth thing to do. I wanted to tell him that that was just how I liked it, but thought he might think that was gross, so I didn’t.
“I’ve definitely found my passion in writing. I love it,” I said with pretend confidence, although what I was saying was the truth. “Really? I have no idea what I want to do with my life,” he answered. He seemed worried and downcast about it. “Don’t worry about that now, you’ll find it one day,” I said, hoping to be a comfort. I even suggested that he “Go and work for Zigzag,” because he was obviously very passionate about surfing. How ironic.
I took the opportunity to ask him to teach me how to surf, because one thing I had to let go of during my illness was my first love, the ocean. It was time to stop pretending to hate the water, and get back into it. Why Ryan chose a day that was practically storming is beyond me, but the harder it is when you start off, the faster you learn, so I got in anyway.
The water was cold and grey, with a would-be hurricane hanging over it. I was struggling to concentrate on the long list of rules that had attempted to terrify me and make him look like a hero. I must have looked like a complete clown in the swirling water, but de Kroons are nothing if not determined, so I kept on.
He pushed me out with each try, and I paddled hard so I could catch a wave. It took a few attempts before I could eventually get to my feet. I stood shakily and gasped to catch my breath as a feeling I cannot describe gripped me. I flew briefly back to the past.
I was standing, arms folded and irritated at some religious concert my parents had dragged Tyron and I to. People were standing with their eyes closed and arms lifted, looking happy and at peace. It was so annoying. Tyron started shaking my arm excitedly. “You know, I read a study that showed that Christians actually get high when they worship.” Huh? I curled my lip as if to say, “Are you on something yourself?” Ryan was smart, and he understood science better than anyone I had ever met, but I couldn’t believe that.
Back to the present, and the holy trinity did not appear before me like the apparition that the mob demands, but from within. Mind, body and spirit connected together in a moment of pure euphoria that almost threw me back into the sea as I sputtered and gasped for breath. I half-laughed, half-whooped, as the water pushed me forward in a rush. “Surfing makes me feel closer to Him.” Was this the greater meaning I had been searching for?
On my last attempt, Ryan lay on the back of the surfboard to make it easier for me to balance. I could feel his chest on the back of my feet as the wave pushed us forward. When I felt the wave lift us he shouted, “Stand!” I shakily struggled to a stand once again. I looked toward the beach and I felt my spirit soar. Jack and Rose from Titanic have no idea what flying really feels like.
I didn’t ask Ryan to stay. I didn’t see the point. If he had wanted to he would have, and there was no way I was ready for what my heart was offering me. I wished him well, and decided to get on with my life. “You’re not ready!” my best friend, *Stacey, shouted at me over the phone. “I know that!” I shouted back. “I can’t help the way I feel, though.” “Why should you help it?” She asked. “Sometimes you’ve just got to let things be.”
I am doing more than well now, and loving every moment of joy I can snatch in life. I don’t smoke at all, or drink much anymore either. Surfing is still a favourite when I have the time, but my first love will always be the ocean, no matter what I’m doing in it. I’m grateful for what I have been through, because it has taught me to appreciate what I have. Perhaps I do believe in God now.
* Names were changed
All photos by Paige Fiddes (unless otherwise credited)
Click here to check out all the published stories from our Write To Surf competition.
Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. At the end of the year, we will select and send one aspirant journalist from the competition on an all expenses paid assignment for a major feature in Zigzag. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity. Please note: Prize hampers will only be delivered within South Africa.
The Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Hoodie; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 2 x Da Kine traction pads.