How I Overcame My Fear of the Ocean

I did it for love?

Eve Peyser

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Photo by Dan Stark on Unsplash

After years of pandemic-related hunkering down, a swim in the ocean at a beautiful Hawaiian beach might feel like a dream to most people. To me, it was terrifying. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been afraid of the ocean, but it was a gorgeous day in Kailua — the sun was sparkly as ever and the air was warm and salty — and not partaking in ocean fun felt almost disrespectful to the state of Hawaii and the very concept of being human. I took a few deep breaths and placed our belongings on a ledge a few dozen feet from the shore. “This is gonna be fun, right?” I asked my fiancé Hudson. Of course, he told me. I grabbed his hand tightly and said, “Let’s do it.”

It all started when I was five years old. I was swimming in the bay on Fire Island while my mom and godfather sat on the beach reading, intermittently looking up to make sure the kiddos were OK. I was having a blast splashing about by myself, when my head fell under, and I took a big gulp of water. Having lost control of my body, I began to panic. It’s my first memory of feeling like I was literally going to die. Wildly flapping my arms about, I managed to pull myself up, and then threw up a mix of salt water and the lunch I had eaten several hours earlier.

I frantically and quickly made my way back to shore, and sat next to my mom, shivering while I sipped on a bottle of Poland Spring. For whatever reason, I was incapable of telling her what had just happened. Even though I was totally spooked, and could’ve used some maternal comfort, I didn’t want to make a big deal out of the whole thing. When you’re a kid, you don’t get to keep too many things private — for whatever reason, this was the thing I decided I would keep to myself. From that moment on, salt water was my enemy.

Many people are scared of the ocean because sharks and other monsters happen to live there. Not me. (I, in fact, adore a sharky! Although, after a vacation to Costa Rica about a decade ago, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of jellyfish.) Mostly, the ocean scares me because it is as mighty as it is volatile. A wave can knock the wind out of you, the tide can thrash you around, and drag you further and further in. Not having control over things like that freaks me out.

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Eve Peyser

nyc native living in the pnw. read my writing in the new york times, nymag, vice, and more.