Writer, Editor, Storyteller

There is Nothing in the World Like Surfing

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Paddling Out

You’ve parked. Changed into your wetsuit. Waxed your board and walked through sand to stand before the ocean’s rhythmic pulse. You've stretched and wrapped your leash around your ankle. You step now into water. Your board in hand.

It’s cold on your bare feet, but it's worth it to not be wearing booties.

The fog lays over the ocean, a stubborn quilt, obscuring the sun and everything else fifty-yards in all directions. But you can make out set waves pealing as if twisting corkscrews – one of nature’s many spiraling tricks.

You walk, trudging slowly past the oncoming froth to where the powerful ebb and flow of water reaches your waist when low, your shoulders when high. The whitewater of a breaking wave approaches, sucking the water around you out and down by its tidal pull. Before the salty suds hit, you thrust yourself on your board and over in one fluid motion, the froth sliding under.

You paddle and awaken to the beauty of your body, the morning, your life. Your triceps, deltoids, and lats propel you over pods of fish, seaweed, and possibly, though you hope not, sharks as you glide on the water’s cool surface, soaring above an outré underworld. 

A crashing wave rushes toward you. Before it hits, you thrust the front of your board down first, like doing a push-up, and then the back end with your foot. It’s called duck-diving, and the goal is to get your board and body as deep underwater as you can. If you do it right, you slip smoothly underneath the whitewater of a crashing wave, popping up on the other side to paddle. If you do it wrong, you are drug violently back ten yards or, worse, your board is ripped from you. At a visceral level, you’re aware now that the ocean is as powerful and as indifferent and as mysterious as the moon’s relationship to the earth. This is part of the draw. 

Waiting

Out past the breaking waves, you take a moment to catch your breath. You sit on your board, your feet making circles, pushing water to keep you stable. It’s not crowded. The closest surfer to you is twenty or so yards away.

Seagulls hover above waves’ crests, appearing out of and disappearing back into the fog as they ride the updrafts of the waves just before breaking. Dolphins pop up periodically, at times no more than five yards away. None of this surprises you, but it still fills you with awe. You breathe deeply, slowing your heart and waiting. You are nothing more nor less than another animal in nature’s playground.

You’ve barely caught your breath as lines appear on the horizon. A set. Back on your board, you paddle toward the peak of the third wave. It might not be the biggest of the set but has a good shape to it; paddle hard and you'll make it to the center just before it breaks. You make it over the first wave as it crests, digging for the second. Once over that, you take two more deep, powerful strokes. You spin, looking left to see if the guy that was paddling toward the peak is too deep. He is. There’s no way he’d make the section if he goes right.

Pay Off

The wave is yours.

You dig and pull, leaning your chest forward, shifting the weight to the front of your board, but not too far lest your board’s nose sink into the water, causing you to pearl – all of it subconscious. Muscle memory.

Dig and pull. Dig and pull.

The wave slides under, lifting you on its face. You dig and pull with all your strength and stamina. There is no room for hesitation. The wave knows if you want it or not. If you’re unsure, it will slide right past you or toss you over the falls.

But you’re certain. You want this wave. Your will and body align, propelling you into its push.

Near the crest, the wave’s energy overcomes your own. You raise yourself on your board, in a mini-cobra, waiting to pop up in case you need one or two more strokes. A millisecond later you know the force of the wave has become your own.

You spring to your feet.

Looking down the shoulder of a perfectly glassy, arching and steep face, you are still, for a split second, in anticipation, knowing you’re about to be shot out onto the top of a surface that will never appear in exactly this way again. This is your wave, your canvas, and all of the minutes and hours spent in the ocean will come together for the next few, fleeting, euphonious seconds as you use it to draw your own unique line. 

There is nothing in the world like surfing. 

 

Daniel Olson