Erin Bank | COVID, Anxiety & Kitesurfing
Updated: Feb 6
I'm a San Francisco-based writer who writes personal essays, feature stories, and fiction. I also have a day job at an academic university. When I'm not sitting at a desk, I'm running the trails of Golden Gate Park and trying to learn how to kitesurf. I live five blocks away from Ocean Beach, and look forward to the day I can kite there! Until then, I'm sticking to Bodega Bay, Third Ave, and downwinders at Sherman Island.
Here is my story;
July 2020: deep in the doldrums of the COVID-19 pandemic, my partner and I were restless and morose. He, exhausted from a stalled-out job search and never-ending chatter on the Facebook forums he helps manage. Me, exhausted from a constant balancing act between health and depression and a new reality of working from home.
These were struggles shared by a nation, and indeed the world. In the US, every conversation seemed to devolve into a debate about mask-wearing and personal freedoms. Frustration and fear were palpable.
In a pre-pandemic world, this was to be the year of getting upwind consistently, of nailing my transitions, of becoming independent enough that my partner and I could actually kite together rather than going in shifts so he could support me.
Instead, I laced up my running shoes and stuck to dry land, while my partner walked the four blocks from our home to Ocean Beach in San Francisco. The shelter-in-place rules meant I couldn’t access the more beginner-friendly spots in the Bay Area. The windy season was blowing by me, as was any hope of meeting my goals.
Kiting was one of a long list of things I had to let go of due to the pandemic. A list that also included running trail races, making a major job change, visiting family spread over the country, attending a writing retreat, traveling to conferences, and taking a summer vacation.
Except early in July, it occurred to me: I still need a summer vacation.
A few years ago, my partner drove up the Northern California coast to Oregon, and spent a few days at Floras Lake. He thought this would be a perfect road-trip destination. Although winds blow off-shore and are gusty as they come over land, it would be possible to do our, by now well-established, routine of laps: me riding until I got to a spot downwind, handing off the kite, and walking back up the beach while my partner rode back upwind.
And so, I cleared my calendar full of Zoom meetings, set up an out-of-office email response, and drove north.
I have anxiety that causes me to masterfully over-analyze pretty much any decision, major or minor, from what to eat for lunch, to when to go for a run, to what I want to do with my life, to understanding why people won’t wear masks, to dismantling systemic racism. I become convinced that I have the answers, a perfect solution, if only I can think about it enough. This constant whirring eventually shorts out my brain, leading to depression.
On the trip, my brain had room to just exist. Every day was simple. I had to think through very little because choices were limited: one thing to eat for breakfast (oatmeal), one activity for the day (kiteboarding), one market to purchase dinner supplies (and $5 growlers of beer), and one evening activity (conversations by the campfire). My brain had nothing to over-analyze. I had nothing to compare my days to, which meant very few “shoulds” popped up (I should be running every day, I should be writing more, I should at least get out the trainer kite and walk around Ocean Beach, or go out surfing, I should be making bread and learning a new language and doing push-ups every day and…).
And then there was the kiting. Kiteboarding necessitates focus and kind of a meditative state (especially for me since I’m still progressing and have a lot to think about while I’m riding). When I’m focused on dealing with a sudden gust that lights up my 7m Switchblade, deciding if I can stay upwind of a jet ski giving a lesson, and working out the timing of a transition, there isn’t a lot of space for my brain to wander. To over-analyze. I can’t ruminate over problems at work, or even worry about a pandemic or politics or racism or misogyny. I come off the water feeling like I had been nowhere except perfectly in the present moment.
What a lesson in knowing that I don’t have to be analyzing every problem all the time, trying to solve it all the time, in order to still care very sincerely about the problem. It didn’t feel like I suddenly forgot about these huge issues. But the pressure was off because I had given my brain—kiting had given my brain—some time off to just be. I could connect with the most basic part of myself, the part that cares deeply, without all the noise of needing to immediately jump to a solution. Like kiting, deliberate transitions must come before jumping.