Surfing Vancouver Island  

Paddling to Church  

Paddling to Church

I started paddling regularly this summer after acquiring a 9'6" longboard. Since I live three hours from where I surf, I don't surf regularly enough to keep in shape. Couple the long drive with small summer waves and a million plus visitors per summer sharing the long and winding road to the west side of the Island, and I figure that the east coast of the Island makes a fine summer time playground. During the summer I made it out paddling almost daily and really came to enjoy the solitude of my paddling time. The few times that I made it over surfing this summer, I reaped the benefits of my daily outings in spades. Great to have the energy to get out repeatedly and still have enough jam left in me to enjoy the rides in. The familiarity that I have gained with this new board, just spending time on the flat water bay in front of my house, has allowed me to enjoy the most satisfying & fun sessions that I have had since blowing a disk out of my back, four years ago.

Yesterday was the last day of sunny warm weather in a week long stretch. I paddled out on the glassy rippled bay and turned west up the shoreline. The seal that usually accompanies me on my paddle was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a swan came out from the shoreline and, keeping a good distance, started dogging me up towards the creek mouth. The creek empties into the bay and runs into a spit which turns the flow to the east. As I closed on the creek mouth a flock of some 40 Canadian Geese turned and prepared to land. I sat up and took in the spectacle. They hit the water with a loud oscillating whir, and began to honk trash at each other, at the ducks that were scattered about, and at me. They quickly settled down to feed and drink and I became more aware of the different species of ducks taking off and landing, adjusting their positioning around the creekmouth to accommodate the much larger geese. Each type of bird with its own take off and landing sounds.

I kept still and the flooding tide, engaged in its twice daily ritual, pushed me further and further into the birds until they formed a great crescent around three sides of me. Occasionally one would look up at me, honk, and quickly return to it's business. The scene took on a peaceful, timeless, even surreal feeling. I began to realize that I had come to relish my hour of paddling and drifting more for it's meditative aspects, than the for the physical exercise and conditioning I require to enjoy surfing.

The geese, having completed their rest stop took to the air, regrouped into their classic "V" formation and headed north (who am I to question their direction in life?). I turned to head back and there was the swan, ten feet away. As soon as I passed, it began to pace me and cooed to me. It sounded for all the world like the mellower dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Park. A little further on, the seal appeared. He is intensely interested in me and watches me from a safe distance on the surface, and occasionally dives and swims a close underwater reconnaissance. I thought a few different times yesterday, during the paddle "what a great picture lies in front of me" and "too bad I don't have the camera with me". At the same time I realized that to photograph some thin sliver of this awesome scene that surrounded me and filled my every sense, would produce a fully inadequate and narrow window into the experience of this day.

Today the weather has changed. I paddle out onto rain swept waters. The mists have returned to the coast and define every cove along the shoreline, every knoll on the mountains with their own hue of blue, green and gray. I notice that the deciduous trees are starting to splash color through out the fir forests. The rain lends that freshness to the air that I have longed for so many times during extended journeys into the southern states. The shroud of weather accents the solitude of my path on the ocean, and my thoughts are of being without thought, and of spiritual growth. I lose my past and my future. I glide over the rain rippled surface. I suspend judgment for a fleeting moment. I am in my church.

When I snap back I am passing a reef that rises a foot above the water's surface like the hundred foot long bony spine of some great creature. There are a half a dozen sea gulls watching a seventh gull. The object of their attention looks bad, haggard and beat from age and weather. I wonder what they are up to, this group of six. Do they await the death of their dinner or do they stand watch and honor a bird of the feather? I want to think the latter, but if I had to lay money, it would have to be on the former. The rain stops and a small chop comes up fast. It makes a sharp, high pitched, tapping on the front of the board as I close on the shoreline. There is a low layer of whispy cloud that streaks westward like bats fleeing hell.

I have a neighbor that lives across the road. We wave when we pass but I don't know him well. My kids know his kids. Some hikers just found his sixteen year old under a bridge over on the mainland. They figure he was there for a couple of weeks.

The second layer is made of large, distinct, dark clouds, a little higher, and probably the source of the rain showers that are passing through. They move towards the north. One of the neighbors is down on the gravel beach feeding the swan and she waves as I get out and head up to the house. The heat from the wood stove is filled with the scent of dinner as I settle down at the keyboard and write this. My wife calls me to the TV news. A mile south of my home break an Scotish tourist has come eight thousand miles to venture too close to a surge channel in the rocks. A big set came in and claimed him. Three people in his group rushed to his aid and the next wave nailed them. One of them managed to climb out.

Out the window, beyond the monitor, I can see the solid top layer of cloud. It flows from far out in the Pacific, east towards the edge of the continent. It looks like the weather is setting in. My youngest puts some wood in the stove and I am happy to be warm and dry, in my house, with my family, as darkness envelops the world.










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