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I’ve got a case of cymophobia: a stupidly abnormal fear of waves.

Surfer girls. Surfer boys. Tanned, strong and no fucks given. The holiest of long-haired Oracles. As a kid I was entranced by the mysticism of surf culture. I’d snatch up second-hand surf magazines for 50 cents each, then study glossy aquamarine scenes that shone cover to cover. The double-spreads of another bronzed body squatting in the middle of a wave with hands outstretched – smiling in ecstasy – were always ripped from the magazine and Blu–Tacked to my wall.

But I’ve never surfed, besides from a teen boogie-boarding incident that went badly. Ever since, I’ve had cymophobia; an abnormal fear of waves. I still love the *idea* of surfing, but when I see a wave, I can’t help but remember the time I was tossed into the frothy washing machine of an ocean for a good ten seconds. Maybe it was only five seconds, but it felt like twenty minutes, I swear.

The terror was so real, that despite my biblical magazine-gazing sessions, I’ve used every excuse since to stay safe in the shallows. Until… the Mature Age Gap Year. I quit my job on a whim and went travelling to some of the most wild and dangerous countries in the world. I’d never drunk so much or jumped off so many things in my life. On a Nicaraguan beach that serves rum at 9am, my friend and I got chatting to a local surfer who offered us a lesson. Surely this was a sign to get back on board. *Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.*


The shoreline was suitable for toddlers. It was a glorious sunny day. I learned to paddle. I threw my knees forward and uprighted myself. Alrightttt! I’m doing this! But as soon as the waves grew tall enough to actually surf, I bailed. Like any fear, cymophobia runs deep. Putting myself out there felt like a risk without a waiver, to be completely and utterly torn apart by the gnarling teeth of a wave launching forward to toss me across a reef-wrought ocean.

Frustrated with my pathetic-ness, I decided to sign up for extreme immersion therapy. Scuba diving. Good idea, right? I figured if I coughed up one grand for an open water course, I’d surely fix this problem. Wrong. I got real good at scuba and totally forgot about the waves. Basically, I learned to sink under the surf and equalise as quickly as possible.

So begins my journey as a qualified scuba diver. Gliding across the underwater world of the Disney-esque Caribbean, I was practically Ariel, submerging and dancing along reefs, welcoming the swell of colourful marine life. I would look up towards the surface, lapping shark-like from high above, and giggle bubbles into my regulator. I could breathe just fine with the constancy of oxygen and a fine-tuned knowledge of my instruments that artificially kept me alive 30 metres below sea level. I couldn’t have distanced myself more from my problem if I tried. 


I still have cymophobia – but I think it’s more to do with atychiphobia: an intense fear of failure. We’re all filled with human fears, ancestral wounds and karmic debts. According to Hinduism, if we don’t overcome our fears this lifetime, we’ll become reincarnated in another life, faced with the same challenges again and again.

There’s so many things that I love intensely – that I’m also terrified of. Writing is one of those things. Facing the critique of an audience feels like being tossed to death against a gnarly reef. I get so afraid that I don’t even try. I make everything else a priority – and so I conquer nothing. Surfing, writing, relationships, whatever I love intensely… but I’ll do anything else in life you tell me to do, and I’ll do them real well, because I don’t care about those things.

The problem is, I’m losing time. I still can’t surf and I’m still shitting myself about being a writer. I know that riding that first set of big waves will feel like climbing Everest. I know that publishing my own book will feel like every heart-bursting experience in the world – rolled in one. I know I’ve gotta take the first step. So I’m here. Writing to you guys. Putting myself out there. And I’m gonna learn to surf this summer – I promise.

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About Rose

Rose Mascaro is a writer, editor and teacher who is passionate about teaching others how to build a life of creative bliss. A published writer, and the 2020 editor of Teen Breathe magazine Australia, she has a Master of Arts in creative writing.