Why I Surf ] [ Why Surfers Surf
Surfing reeled me in when I was eleven years old: hook, line, and sinker.
The summer following fifth grade was coming to an end. At this time, my favorite after school activity was watching “Maury;” I was (as my Dad told me through a locked bathroom door) “becoming a woman;” and the thought of middle school starting in a few short weeks was giving me heart palpitations. As an ultra-cool summer send off, my GirlScout troop (Troop #8385) was going to the YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach for the entire weekend.
As I search my head and heart for memories, I cannot bring to mind the face of my instructor (the first of several that I’d have), what my bathing suit looked like, or who the other Juniors were from the troop who came. I do remember my stomach being so raw from rubbing against the foam board, normally a stomach sleeper, I couldn’t sleep on it all night. I remember surfing for so long, the sunlight had drained every last drop of my energy. I remember that my eyes stung only the way they do when you’ve surfed all day. I remember my nose peeling, and seeing the white line across it (that always showed up during summers) get whiter. I remember getting a pretty bad sunburn on my chest. I remember walking through the sand dunes pecked with ice plant and drift wood at the end of the second day. It was late afternoon, the skies were gray, the wind was picking up, and I felt a pang in my heart because I knew that tomorrow my Mom would pick me up and I would have to leave this place. What I remember most what was it felt like to be introduced to a world I had never known. The feeling I felt was a pure and uncompromised tidal wave of joy: a perfect state of wonder. It’s almost like an invisible embrace from a lost loved one. A knowingness that there’s something greater looking out for you, wishing you happiness. It was not unlike when I had sex for the first time. With my first love. These types of experiences are what drive life: to experience these things is why we are here. Last night, my 30 year-old cousin and one of my best friends, looking up at the sky, asked me why we’re here. Honestly, I think we are here to experience life. Period. We were placed on this planet so that we can know the joys and the crises; falling in love and heartbreak; breakdowns and breakdance; the births and the deaths; Koi fish ponds; getting water from a well; detentions; learning to tie your shoes; flat tires; first and last dates; being raised Catholic; joining the Peace Corps; making valentines; night surfing; going to Hawaii; illness; broken bones; one night stands; enemies and friends; failing; getting stung by a sting-ray; getting flowers; one-uppers; hitting rock bottom; having a bad trip; carving a pumpkin; asking questions; having a good trip; committing to sobriety; following a recipe; buying scented candles; the orgasm; going through airport security; watching your parents get older; going to the gyno; going to a job you love; going to a job that you hate; going to temple; going to war; the first day of school; losing a limb; having the condom break; having a nervous breakdown; having a baby; losing a child; losing your keys; losing your memory; moving out; having to deal with middle school mean girls; studying abroad; getting married; seeing The Great Wall; tasting the juice of an orange; going to Vegas for your bachelorette party; mixing baby formula; soccer practice; playing polo; being poor; being rich; being a good friend; being shot; going to a funeral; being excluded; hearing foreign languages; shopping; dying; shooting hoops; shooting guns; shooting the shit; putting; climbing the face of a mountain; succeeding; and breathing in fresh mountain air. Part of me thinks, the feelings we get from these stripped down, unstained, “perfect” moments, if you will, like losing your virginity or learning to surf… Part of me thinks, these are what we can have all the time. All day long. Uninterrupted. Swamis and Buddha probably get that, they probably see learning to surf and putting on your makeup as equally joyous activities. But I’m your average human. I’m not going to be orgasmically excited about driving down the I-15 to my paralegal job, but maybe one day I could be.
Surfing reconnects me to the feeling I had that weekend when I was a fifth grader. It makes me wonder. Also, like no other place in the world, the ocean instills in me a profound sense of peace. The salt water washes away all the bullshit. Getting in the water after an often-times soul-sucking work day, is like pressing the reset button on your Super Nintendo when the screen is frozen. The other day, I went surfing with a friend and together we saw the most beautiful sunset I can remember ever seeing. Ever. Someone in the water said it looked like a pink Jolly Rancher was on fire. And it just kept getting better and better as the sun disappeared at the horizon line. You couldn’t see the sun, all you could was a ball of glowing pink that fanned out like branches from an artery. A small section section of blue sky was still showing, and stars and a crescent moon shown through. The waves reflected the purple and pink lights, they were glassy, and it looked more like something from a psychedelic trip than a glassy evening of 2-3 foot surf. My friend just kept saying, over and over again, that this was the most beautiful sunset he’d ever seen. Surfers, cloaked in their black wetsuits, up and down the break were hooting and hollering in appreciation of what we were experiencing together. To add to all this, I caught the best wave I’ve ever ridden that day. It was a four foot wave, nothing special, but I’m new on my shortboard, and something just clicked. I dropped in late, kept close to the lip, and even found myself partially in a barrel. I zipped out from under the crest of that wave, encountering a speed I’d never felt on a surfboard before. I got some supportive shouts and whistles from some guys behind me, and I as I was resting on the outside, a fellow gnar-shredder complimented me, saying that I had done a good job. I paddled in after that, through a thick bed of seaweed, just as light disappeared altogether from the sky.
I also surf because surfing tests my limits. It continually helps me prove to myself, that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything. At one time, I could not walk up the nose of my longboard. Now, I’m comfortable doing so. I could not shortboard before, now I can(ish). I think part of me kept surfing when I first started, because I wanted to prove (to myself almost as much as my boy classmates) I could do it. Surfing requires that you focus on one moment, leaving no space for any other thoughts. When you’re paddling for a wave, you cannot be thinking about what’s on your grocery list. It’s impossible. I also like the fringe benefit of working out while having fun.
Surfing is also a big part of me, my history, and I would not be the same person without it. My first kiss was in a tent at a surf camp when I was thirteen (kinda old, I know, okay). One of my first real dates (I should say group date) was going surfing before school on a late start day. When I was away at college, I would turn on the water in my dorm shower and try to pretend it was the water of the ocean. When I would come home from Colorado during breaks, I appreciated my sessions in the water so much more. I actually asked a friend who also went to Boulder, to bring me back a jar of sand when he was going back to SD before I was. I’ve had a few near-death experiences in the water. I’ve made a lot of friends and had a lot of good times with old ones in the ocean. For instance, one day this summer, a close group of friends and I went out in PB on a Friday night. The next morning, myself and two of my cohorts work up, super hungover and drove the two blocks to the ocean and got in the water. When one of us wasn’t struggling/talking about throwing up, one of the others was. Surfing is now and will always be, the best hangover cure out there. We got burritos afterwards, and this is a pretty typical Saturday or Sunday morning for us, although I especially appreciated the company that day and still do.
Recently, The San Diego Reader did a wonderful article on why surfers love to surf. It is called “This Selfish Pursuit: The Incurable Surf Bug” and it profiles several different San Diego native surfers: who they are, why they surf, and for many of them, what sacrifices in their lives they have made for their love of surfing. The article offers the best explanation for why surfers surf (generally) that I’ve ever come across. Scott Bass, former editor of Surfer Magazine, is asked by the interviewer why surfing is so addictive:
“‘First, there’s the physics. When you think about it, he says, “these waves were formed by some crazy, low-pressure system,” and surfing is about the transference of that wind energy, and trying to capture its power.
The second part is what Bass calls the “Darwinian” angle. “When you go in the water, subconsciously, you know you’re going into the food chain. There was just a 15-foot shark [sighted] off La Jolla.” When surfers come out of the water, they’re energized by the idea of their own survival.
Third is the “incredible joy of getting wet, exercising, and ridding yourself of anxiety. When we paddle out, it’s just like being 12 all over again.
For the fourth part, he conjures visions that, while not quite surf images, recall our fundamental connection to the earth. “When we’re in our cubicles, we’re not close to nature.” When you come out of the water, though, you feel as if “you’ve reaped and you’ve sown.'”
I would highly recommend this article to any surf enthusiast/anyone. Find the rest of the article at http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2012/oct/03/cover-selfish-pursuit/?page=3&. The article also featured the story of a local surfer girl, Devon DeMint, who quit her day job to pursue her dreams of becoming a pro-surfer and professional writer. For all you surfer girls out there, Devon’s blog is great, I like it a lot, and its worth czeching out. Visit her blog, “The Mermaid Chronicles” at http://themermaidchronicles.blogspot.com/.
Hope you guys are finding your metaphorical (or literal) waves wherever you are.