The ocean beach we visited on Sunday had the most fantastic surf. Big, wide rollers, breaking just meters from the shore, ideal for body surfing. Or so I used to think when I was about 15. Back then, on my favourite Hong Kong beach, I liked nothing better than standing just far enough out to catch a wave, paddle in on the crest, and come crashing down onto the sand in the shallows. There was something exhilarating about it, and I could do it for hours. When I went to bed at night, I could feel the motion and swell of the waves in my sleep.
I used to scoff at my mum and the other women, who never swam in the sea when it was rough and certainly didn't body surf. It was always the Dads and the teens who went in, while the Mums sat sedately on their beach towels reading magazines and chatting.
And now? I stand there in the shallows, just out of reach of the crashing of the waves. I know that the best place to swim would be further out, where you can swim through the waves or body surf, but something is preventing me. I have lost my nerve. What was once enticing and thrilling now seems frightening. Fear of drowning, fear of being dragged out to sea by a current, whatever it is makes me apprehensive about going in. It takes me a good 15 minutes to summon up the courage, and then I go in for about five. But I am constantly on my guard for big waves breaking over my head, and I am fairly relieved to get out, although it still feels good afterwards with the salt on my skin drying in the ocean breeze.
So what has changed? Is it motherhood that makes us fearful- a knowledge of responsibility for someone other than just ourself? Is it more awareness of the bad things that could happen; more stories of drowning, related over the years; more ridiculous shark films? Or is it a more mundane fear of coming out of the sea looking dishevelled and pummelled by the waves, bathing suit hanging half off, unbefitting of a mother of two? Maybe I'm more happy just paddling on the edge with the Littleboys, or swimming in the calmer sea of Long Island Sound.
I'm not sure, but what I do see on the beach is Dads, kids and teenagers swimming in the surf. And hardly any women aged over about 20. Somewhere, somehow, we lose our nerve.