Sunshine screaming me outside. Rousting the kids down the trail to the beach. T-shirt, holey jeans, barefoot; warm in the still, clear air. Frisbee off-and-on for hours. If I succeed in nothing else, let it be known that I can throw a Frisbee accurately and with enough power to carry the disc across the gap to my intended target. I make one of the best catches of my life, sliding on my knees to clasp the Frisbee in my hands before it hits the sand.
All the while, I watch the waves. That one and that one and what about that one there wow. Should I just surf here, trot back down the path, suit up, return with board tucked under arm? Unsure I can make it out and watching the tide withdraw toward the evening minus leaving half the beach more exposed than showed when we arrived. The high tide and double-digit swell washed up dozens of stumps, carved cliffs out of the dunes. This is a winter beach, despite the momentary drop in height and interval. A slight north wind chills the air enough that the kids beg to go home. We all return to the house – I leave almost immediately, loading the truck with the same rushed purpose I grind coffee or pull the cork from the wine bottle. Not that I have a problem.
A last glance at the buoy readings showed 5 at 10, 6 at 12, incremental differences that mean the difference between barely head-high and well over. The minus tide’s effect worries me as I bounce the truck over highway potholes and parking lot craters. At the beach, my dream of easy peaks disappears in the reality of the near-double-over pitching screamers breaking in the middle zone, the peeling lefts providing a playground for spray-throwing, cutbacks, barrels as evidenced by the pack of guys taking turns riding them. I know I’ll get my ass kicked. Not by the guys – they’ll ignore me – but by the ocean who often fails to return my love.
I don’t want to drive away, wetsuit undonned, board untouched. I walk out to the jetty for a better look, shiver in the north breeze that’s picked up, not dressed to observe, but wearing only what can be quickly peeled off. I wish for a friend, someone to encourage me into the water, walk back to the truck, defeated and noting the sun about to slink down beyond seeing.
The friend arrives at his truck – I’d parked next to him on the sand – dripping wet and grinning, glowing with post-session bliss. “Go surf!” he says.
“You still have time!”
I hem, I haw. I am tired of repeating the line about not surfing enough to feel like charging. It never sounded good and wears worse with time.
“Go. You can still get a few waves in.”
Helpless in the face of this logic, I pull on my suit, tug the cold neoprene over my ankles, knees, hips, zip up, rub a nub of wax across my board. Ten steps toward the ocean, I glance back, intending to wave goodbye to S, who has already driven away, but the moon stuns me into forgetting anything else. Huge and golden, hovering over the mountains, dwarfing the range below. I cannot stop admiring it, even as I paddle out, bare hands slicing through seaweed and 48 degree water. Only when I realize I’m already at the red dolo do I wrench my gaze away to get my bearings. The sky to the southwest has turned bright orange, a swath of electric tangerine across the horizon. Thank you already, I think.
The clump of surfers floats significantly north of me. I debate joining them, but the corner’s breaking, so I figure why spend the twilight being the worst surfer out and trying to catch waves I’m likely to wipe out on anyway? I’ll practice late take-offs and going left. Over here. Where I will neither embarrass myself nor get in anyone’s way as I’m sorting things out. Waves are breaking just overhead, but the minus tide makes everything bigger, faster, harder.
A wave, a drop, a moment in control, long enough to swing my arm around, feel the board slide down the face, time to acknowledge my engagement with the ocean – and then the wall of whitewater hit, knocking me flat off my board. Undeterred, I paddle back around, still amazed by the moon, the sky, the fireworks reflected in the bit of chop the breeze has stirred up.
Then, a wipe out.
I perservere. This is better than not surfing. Not surfing has never made me a better surfer.
A last wave – the sun is long gone, the sky far more black than blue or orange now – the board drops, but too slow to get up, I am instead pitched forward, landing on my board, then spinning under the wave, up through the foam, smashed back underwater. My feet hit the ocean floor. I push off, climb up my leash, catch my breath. The gym has helped with that, improved my cardio, strengthened my arms, shoulders, back, but my coordination still lacks. Damn it.
Still, grateful for the nudge into the water. My comfort zone needs redefining. Only going in the water, looking up at the swells about to break, taking one on the head, making a few drops – those are the actions that lead to improvement. So, thanks, S.
The moon rose quickly, shrinking and whitening, its warmth diminishing along with its size. Still beautiful, though. A fine beacon lighting the way as I drove home, body shivering, heart warm.