There's no other place to begin than with the feeling I am left with from my last surf adventure.....tortured longing! Maybe I am just being manic and melodramatic...but without those motherwaves close by to ride, something is missing from my life. I've heard about "being bitten" by the surf bug, about how it can make a person crazed like an addict, and if this is that addiction so be it- I don't know of a better drug.
Now that I have gotten that off my chest, and you all know about my weakness, it's time to return to the events of my last glorious session in the surf. It all began in response to the question, "what do you want to do for your birthday,?" posed by various city dwelling friends. The answer was obvious. I wanted to wake up surfing! I wanted to wake up on the shore of the west coast, inside my mummy bag, after a fire-lit night of feasting on seafood and stories. I wanted to brush the sand off the last twenty eight years of my eyesight, and be greeted by the faceless gaze of the ocean, of which I was bound to surf. When the time came, I, along with my friend Cheryl whose birthday it was also, tossed some necessities into my van and headed in celebration mode toward our destination. The long tempering drive inspired intervals of tale-telling, tune-cranking, seat-dancing and singing, while my eyes tracked through the forest river rain for any trace of bear or cougar. The same thought ran through my head that always does when I round the tail end of Sprout lake: this is cougar country. On schedule, right after that, the wild aura of the west coast began to reveal itself, as the persona of civilization was left hanging on the branches of the douglas fir.
Twenty minutes from Tofino, we stopped to admire a roughed up blackbear, munching on young roadside plants, as unfazed locals zoomed by the eyes of my eastern friend, who had never seen a bear before. It was increasingly evident upon our arrival at the wet coast, that we weren't going to be having a feast by the fire. Instead of heading to the beach, we headed into town, and were soon looking out at the harbour from a misty sheltered cedar deck and being served sushi and saki by a seasonal surfer who sleeps in her car for the sinful love of surf. My kind of heroine! When I woke up in my mummy bag on a friends couch the next morning, the disappointment that I did not have bits of seaweed in strange places, sand in my eyes and shells in my ears, evaporated into the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. Knowing the waves were imminent, I jumped up like a kung-fu fighter in bell-bottoms, jesting with the morning sunbeams that poured through the aluminum blinds and stretching all limbs for my impending slaughter with ridiculous bravado.
An hour later, I was wearing the sun through my wetsuit as I walked toward the newday surf with my guide, Mollie. The conversation between our single silohettes as we approached the water was about none other than boys.. men... relationships. Even later, while straddling our boards out beyond the break lines and looking back at blue sky and shake roofs, we caught our female dialougue float easily back to that slippery realm, and had to toss our heads and laugh at our stereotypical behaviour. But that is besides the point, that I was exactly where I wanted to be on that day- in the ocean, on a surfboard, with a guide by my side.
No bells and whistles announced my immersion into the water, just a big slap in the face and a hefty pat on the back by a large breaking wave was enough of a welcome. The feeling of being in the water, the excitement, the rush, literally and emotionally, ungrounded me for the first while. I couldn't control the fact that I felt like a hyper child, unable to focus, attention deficit.... all that I could see were waves, all I could feel was water, my mind rippling, waves and water, bouyantly blissed out, happy...hmmm, maybe I just had too much caffeine! At any rate, Mollie backed off trying to teach me anything while I burned off some energy paddling around like a spazz. She'd already declared that we were going to work on catching wave swell. Once I'd settled back into the gravity of my body, that's what we did.
Quickly, I learned the difference between catching a wave and riding the soup. The energy of a wave that has not yet broken must be harnessed with fluid stealth and impeccable timing, where as an already broken wave has enough of it's own power to carry a person for as long as she or he can balance. Mollie didn't feel it was important for me to worry about popping up and standing for that day's lesson. The important thing was to experience the sensation of paddling into, and staying with the momentum a wave. I thought it would be easy, but it wasn't. We weren't located in the strongest point of the waveline, but again and again, I would paddle to the best of my ability without catching speed, as a wave casually rippled beneath or broke over top of my body. Nothing spectacular or defeating, just the work of a wee novice giving it go after no go. The few times I rode in on the soup, I actually stayed up longer than I had anytime during my first session with surfsisters, so it was sweet to discover this new balance.
Mollie stayed at my side the whole time, teaching me how to indentify where the waves were breaking, to think about where I would want to best position myself. She also went over the rules of order in the line-up, but we kept away from entering it.
Besides being shown how to maximize on my physical potential, I see the importance of having a skilled instructor while learning to surf as a safety precaution. Learning to respect each component of the collective surf experience begins with safety. I have the right to expect my instructor to look out for me while I'm learning, but it is not reasonable to expect other surfers, or strangers on the shore, to pick up the slack of my inexperience.
Mollie's guidance was very inspiring, but the greatest moment of the day came at the end, embedded in a feeling that can't be taught. For all my trying to paddle into waves, it wasn't until a solitary moment of silence, that something clicked. As I slowly paddled back toward shore, I suddenly paused and looked down my nose at the humble board I was paddling on. A wave of awareness filled me, as I realized the board was like an extention of my body, that the two of us needed to work as one. I had been making the mistake of trying to control the board, seeing myself as seperate, always looking beyond. With my forehead rested down, I wrapped my arms down around her belly and listened to the salty echo of my breath in the tiny space between our bodies. We merged. From afar, it may have appeared like a hug.....but really it wasn't, because that might mean I am (gasp!) a boardhugger. Seriously, the next time a decient wave came along, instead of focusing on some obscure point ahead, I kept my eyes down real close to the surface, converging my with the board's perspective and the immediate water surrounding us. The feeling was like the confidence and solidarity of true kinship. I caught the wave, and when I tried popping up, my head did not get lost in the air, it stayed connected to the board -- only for a moment -- but I felt it!
My body was shivering hard in my 3mm, telling me with chattering teeth that it was time to shed my selkie skin for footprints on the sand. I had done what I needed to do and my celebration was complete.
So, until the next wave.....I'll be learning to embrace my addiction.
Susan is a student at Malaspina University
check back with Susan throughout the coming year as she learns to surf. She'll be sharing her experiences right here.