If you had stood on shore and watched it you might of said it was a foot or two less, but on it I could see. It was taller than I was. The waves had been different today. Mild on the take off, almost too mild, and then when the wave got close enough to shore, it felt the bottom coming up fast, and it pitched forward in a tube and kathump! Exploded into the shallow water.
I had gotten sick. Mentally mostly, and then simply old, stiff, weak, fat, physically too. Not the sickness like they put you in the hospital with, but the kind that comes with stress, worry, comforted by the simple pleasure of a pint of hagen daz. A very long time ago, before most of the people reading this were born, I had once been a great rider of waves, but that is too long ago to be remembered and compared to what happened today. In the more memorable past, a good decade back, I had become so sick, and weak, that at one point I expected I would never ride waves again.
The funny thing about being sick, mentally or physically, is that it is not the sickness itself that is the loss. It is the things you give up. The things you once could do, and now can not.
It has been a hard decade coming back from the pit, which oddly enough is the exact word to describe the ultimate position on a wave in which a surfer can be.
For 10 years I have worked hard on my body, and my mind to come back to a point where I can enjoy the things I used to enjoy. Those who know me can tell you immediately, that I have become no svelt super athlete yet. I look more like an aged bull than a lithe athlete, thick, rolled, with my thickest section being a good foot lower down my body than it should be. But strong nonetheless. As we used to joke with a little petite staff member as she regained her courage to face people again, strong like bull. This is only on the physical side. After a decade of hard work cleaning out the crags, and the cracks and crannies of my mind, I have cleared out most of the cobwebs, but there still remains a few good pockets of fear and regret. All this though is a long forgotten memory from where I sit at this moment.
The sun had a summer twilight stillness to it. The waves for the most part rolled in, threatened to break, but did nothing until they hit the shallowest water and up and kathump! Broke like mini sticks of dynamite on the shallow water. By some hand of god or nature, there were not many surfers out. Maybe one every 30 feet down the beach.
Then every 5 minutes or so, a wave would come in maybe shoulder high, and start to break gently further out, the smooth milky paddle in, plenty of time to stand up, and then whhhooop! It would hit that shallow water and start to tube in a way that has no analogy in nature other than itself.
Each time I would take one, it would take all the courage I had to stay on it, and not chicken out and cut off the back of the wave. Each and every one was fantastic, spectacular, and left a large grin on my face.
After a while the tide rose a bit, and the better waves moved up the beach. I went in and moved my chair up the beach a way too. It gives me comfort to have a marker I can see from the water, and to always have a bottle of water with me, one of the weaknesses that I still hold on to like a babies bottle.
I head back into the water, and after a few more smaller waves, I suddenly see a thin darker line appear above the ones in front of it. One skill I never lost through my years of loss was the hard won ability gained through decades of watching the water, as a surfer, as a skimboarder, as a lifeguard, of being able to predict waves. Even as an older slower surfer, I still can predict things that will happen on many waves that are so complex that the English language, even among surfers, have no words for.
This wave peaks its head up and says hello from a distance, when it is still a good 20 seconds out from me and still soft and weak while traveling over deep water. I paddle out a few more strokes to where I think it will break. I look and see that there is one surfer who is closer to wear it will begin to break, and realize that he will be the one who gets it, not me. I then see him increase his paddle speed while he is paddling out to the wave, which I recognize as him trying to get over the wave. It is the sign, that I myself have often shown of being a bit afraid of the wave, and not wanting to ride it, but simply to get out of its way.
I then see it for what it is, the biggest wave I have seen today, at least on my end of the beach. On the other end of the beach where the more skilled surfers are the waves are breaking almost twice as big as where I am, but for the moment, on this day, during this hour, at this spot, it is the biggest one I have seen. The funny thing about it is that it looks almost too perfect. I have a habit that when the wave is too perfect I often fall on the takeoff, simply out of over excitement that the wave will be too perfect. It is not unlike a young boy with his first girl. The excitement and apprehension can make even the simplest of acts overwhelmingly difficult.
So I turned and began to paddle. I was aware that I had fallen a few moments ago and mildly spraned my left knee, that’s my good one. I also knew that this wave, the way it was breaking today, was breaking in about 5 feet of water when it starts, and about a foot or two of water at the end of the ride, however it ends.
I stroked into the wave, and as I went to stand I could see both how big, and how perfect it was. As usual worrying about my knee, and the over expectation of this perfect wave, I almost fell, I got my footing and then saw the wave unfold before me.
I have had the past few years a religious like attraction to tubes in waves, and getting inside them. It is a skill I have never mastered, not even in my springy youth when my skills were honed to a razors edge.
I had an amazing opportunity on this wave to get tubed. I immediately decided against it. This wave was dark green thick. It was the color of the darkest coldest wettest forest you have ever seen. There was no transparency to it. It was a solid object and thick written with will caps. A wave like that, even one of the size I was on, if you were dumb enough to go head first into the shallow sand with it behind you, could snap your spine in a second. Half a second. I know, because just a few months ago when it was summer on this beach, in smaller weaker waves, I had helped carry a military helicopter pilot out of the water who had doven in headfirst from a wave, and could not move his legs. I never found out if it was permanent or not, if anyone knows please inform me.
So looking at this wave laying out before me, taller than me so that I could not see over its top, thick and green, with foam roaring behind me, and its face opening up to a more gradual slope in front of me, I leaned forward to step on the gas and took off.
The amount of speed and acceleration I felt can only be described by a surfer. On a wave like this I accelerated faster than the fastest car I have ever ridden in. It feels more like a roller coaster going around a corner, or what it must feel like when a dragster takes off. The first section was just a dream, it lasted probably a second and a half, and covered twenty feet. Then the next section, quite a bit smaller than the beginning of the wave, but by now I am really flying. I see that there is even more wave I could make, and that part is starting to break, and if I took it the speed would have been beyond my ability to control it with the potential of broken bones and what not, so I pull straight into the face of the wave, and with a huge bucket of cold water on my face bring it to an end.
The smile that came to my face lasted all afternoon, all evening and into tonight at 3 a.m. where I now sit.
For a young and skilled surfer this would have been a really good wave, not a life changer like it was for me. But then most of them haven’t really suffered yet enough to appreciate it.
I am writing all of this as a celebration of being able to use my body for this frivolous, unproductive, challenging and moderately dangerous task.
A friend of mine who is 21 years old called me at 12:30 tonight and told me that one of her 21 year old friends had died in an auto accident. Too young. Too much suffering too fast. He will not have an opportunity to appreciate improving after his loss. At least not this lifetime.
When someone dies this young it is often the first one of their generation, in their group of friends. I remember what that feels like. It really shakes the foundation of what seems real and possible, right down to the roots. I would think the biggest losses most of us feel are the loss of our own life, and then the losses of the lives of those we love the most.
It is also an odd intersection of events that the things which are the most dangerous also leave us feeling the most alive.
I feel for the guy, I feel for his friends, and I celebrate life today. It is short, it can be glorious, and it should never be taken for granted. Not even for a second.
So if you read this, if you have made it this far and shared my wave today with me, may this moment, right now, be outstanding, and may your health be great and your body strong, so you can ride your own version of a 7 foot wave in two feet of water when you are 42 years old, and its own version of that every year after.
I also have an unborn friend named Adriene who will be born sometime in January we belive. I have not met her yet. I mention this to complete the story as one life ends, another is about to begin.
The story continues. Take care.