Nearly every morning, rain or not, I ride my cruiser two blocks to the beach and walk The Bay.
This daily indulgence is justified with, “Shadow does his business and gets some exercise.”
In reality, the reason for my routine is all about the surf.
I go to check the swell size and direction, wind, sandbars and crowds, formulating my own private surf report. Even with NOAA Buoy and Tide Reports, plus Surfline and Satellite Images updating hourly, I’m not able to determine my internal “yes/no” response to the call of the ocean without actually visiting. Something visceral happens when I see, hear and feel the overall surf situation.
I realize this is an extravagance that living nearby, having a flexible schedule, and owning diverse surfboards allows me. I’m committed to not abusing these gifts, like the guys who check the surf five times a day, waiting for that perfect combination, and rarely unlock their motivation to get wet.
My baseline is set at “will I have fun?” Sometimes it’s a scare-the-shit-out-of-me fun, sometimes a giggle-a-minute playtime, sometimes it’s a chatting-and-hooting-with-friends fest, and sometimes it’s a drop-to-my-knees-nose-to-the-sand-reverence session. Any will do.
Picking a break, a board and a bikini are the most difficult choices I face. Once in the water, decisions, even thoughts, recede to backstage.
Sensations take over: water temperature on my skin, smelling surf wax or turtle breath, arm and back muscles loosening and engaging, seeing the never-gets-old staggering beauty surrounding and engulfing me.
Beyond the perceptions, there’s the surfer-being that kicks in as the line-up gets closer. Although I never took physics, and without a conscious thought, my mind computes the angles needed for takeoff, drop bottom turn and rail setting.
Dimensions like paddling speed, body torque, weight transfer are figured and permeate through my system like a warm-wash of déjà vu. Recognized surfers are acknowledged. My place in the order is accepted as I paddle to the compass-spot my non-thinking geometry-mind calculates in relation to the landmarks specific to each break and swell direction.
As the first wave approaches, that it is “my turn” to take, I spin, paddle, plane and feel that unequaled rush of precisely matching a wave’s speed and angle, allowing my board, and therefore me, to merge with the ocean’s offering.
My body-brain takes over as my feet magically land, correctly spaced, on the board, back foot drives down, countering the steep drop and along with somebody rotation, throws me into a bottom turn. Gazing down the wave, the necessary speed is punched into the computer allowing me to make that tricky section and eventually squirt over the back of the wave, paddling back out to the lineup.
Of course, there’s also the times when a glitch in the machine digs my board’s nose, flipping me ass-over-tea-kettle backward, or too much rail on the face pitches me sideways, and up and over the falls, or the timing mechanism is off and I miss the wave entirely, or am too far out in front and take a battering.
There are those instances of a leash wrongly wrapped around both feet causing a stick-person stance and no control, or a hand slipping when pushing up and slamming my chin into the board instead of popping to my feet.
There’s perfect execution but the wave closes out before I can get out, and underwater cartwheels and somersaults make me an unwilling gymnast. There’s breaking through the foam after a long hold-down and gasping in bubbly saltwater. And, there’s that gut-sinking sensation of feeling my leash snap, my board riding the next wave solo and beginning the long swim to shore.
Billabong had it right when they coined the phrase, “Only a surfer knows the feeling.” All of them.