Thursday, July 9, 2009

El mar, mi amor...

It has been a long while since I've written, almost all of this time has been spent along the coast surfing and living the beach life. I returned to El Salvador where I surfed all kinds of different breaks everyday, and now have moved on to Nicaragua where one must take long muddy roads to reach the various beaches that are pristine and beautiful. I write this now the day after my beloved surf board, which has been through so much with me, has been stolen. This both angers and saddens me deeply, but already I have a new board and I know that the waves that I find tomorrow will make all better.

I've often attempted to explain to people what it is about surfing that makes it so special, so much more than just a sport. Often it seems my attempts have been to no avail. Thus, I will now endeavor to articulate this passion that captures new people everyday and opens them to its wonders.
I now present my admittedly esoteric and yet hopefully explanatory ramble on the ocean and surfing.

"You must live in the present,
launch yourself on every wave,
find your eternity in each moment." - Thoreau

It has once been said that there are three great elemental sounds in nature: rain; wind; and the ocean. As one sits far removed from the ocean its presence remains in its infinite and awesome roar. As one moves closer the cry of the waves not only become louder, but the noises expand into a natural symphony; the spraying and hissing; the slamming and crashing; even the clattering of large rocks being pushed by the undulating tide. Often the sounds of the ocean are accompanied by a shaking of the ground, so powerful is its force. In fact, when one stays long enough on any particular beach, one begins to notice how it all constantly and drastically changes. How one day as you walk along the beach during a picturesque sunset while your feet sift through the sands, you are on that beautiful landscape you know so well. Then, the next morning, as you begin a morning stroll you are met by a completely different beach all together. What was once sand has now become rock both big and small, the shape of the beach has shifted, giant logs have appeared half buried as though they've been there for years. Such is the nature of the ocean and everything within its grasp. Fluid; constantly shifting and moving and cycling; power beyond comprehension.
Only such a force could draw someone from the life they once imagined. Only the ocean could draw one away from the human temptations of money or love; from stability and relationships. Only the ocean can inspire one to devote at least a part of their life to understanding and experiencing its wonders and joys and might. The means by which such understanding can be attained is through surfing.

For many surfing is merely a sport, but there are those few who understand it as so much more. Surfing is meditation, bringing ones mind into an almost zen like state. It is a conduit between humans and nature, giving us a greater appreciation for the earth and its power. Surfing pits humans against the raw and awesome power of nature; to harness such force in such a simple and non-technological manner is to rise to ones full potential as a human being. Surfing is a lifestyle, signified by a free flowing, constantly moving, positive outlook.

Surfing is the perfect complement to the indefinite and spontaneous traveler, and it is no coincidence that the two are often found together. They both require a sense of openness and adventure; an appreciation for this world and all its wonders. Surfing takes the traveler to new frontiers, off the beaten track to communities and settings that offer no amenities - only the ocean and the people who have for generations lived by it.

Even if not traveling, surfing still provides that removal, that solace from society. One could be surfing off the coast of a large Western city, but just being out there off the land on the periphery of civilization one can find peace and solitude and an escape from the bustles and pressures that we find imposed on us in everyday life.

The experience of surfing is continuous and wholesome, including both the struggling paddle out and the exhilarating ride in. As the waves come crashing into the shore the paddle from what is known as the "inside", where the white water rages, to the tranquil area called the "outside" becomes the first difficult test of ones endurance and understanding of the ocean. It is during the paddle out that one may experience the full wrath of the swelling ocean. There is nothing more daunting than a seemingly huge wave forming up a mere few feet in front of you and crashing down on you as you lay prone on a small board - a mere speck in the vast openness of the ocean. Either you make the "duck dive" under the wave with smoothness, gliding underneath it, penetrating through the power to arrive perfectly projecting to the surface on the opposite side of the wave. Or, the sheer might of the wave and the rip it carries underneath its breaking curl is too much for you and it grabs you and throws you back and spins you and holds you under for what seems like an eternity until you are ultimately spat back up to the surface like a piece of driftwood.

Once one reaches the outside they find themselves in the calm of the open sea. Here one waits for the perfect wave in a state of patience and awareness. Here one soaks in the beauty of nature as they as they sit afloat on their small board in a relaxed position. Often I've sat on the outside staring at the setting sun on the horizon, contemplating the sheer vastness of the ocean and magnificence of this earth. I've often looked across the Pacific knowing that at the opposite side lies a land far different, and that just maybe, sitting off that coast so far away is another surfer, equally awed and at peace.

"It does remind me of the majesty and timelessness of nature,
as compared to the brevity of our own existence...
I love being out the back when its sunny and the water is blue and clean
and the waves are crashing down and there is foam and spray all around.
Especially if I'm alone, or almost alone, and there are miles of breaking waves.
Actually catching the waves can be secondary." - Peter Singer

Waiting on the outside I've seen seals frolicking only yards away; turtles paddle up beside me to inspect with their inquisitive eyes; huge flocks of mighty pelicans swoop down along the breaking waves. I've seen fish of all shapes and sizes project themselves from the water in a great leap, or ride along a wave as if for fun - perhaps so. I've even once seen a mighty wave form up in front of me, and as it curled over me and I dived under I glimpsed a pack of three large manta rays riding the wave as it broke over me.

Surfing affords a natural proximity to nature like nothing else, both physically and mentally.

Patience and mindfulness are virtues of the surfer, and after an often long wait the time will come and the wave will arrive. The riding of the wave itself is the ultimate experience, the raison d'etre, if you will, of surfing. It is also the ultimate form of meditation. As you wait sitting on your board, staring into the horizon and those distinctive lumps appear in the distance, the time has come. A set has arrived; a movement of water has been generated somewhere out in the great ocean, perhaps on the other side of the world, and here it will end, and you will harness its thundering conclusion.

As the wave forms up into a peak behind you those insignificant thoughts and preoccupations festering in every humans mind disappear and complete concentration and mindfulness begin. You move into position and behind you towers the wave. It has formed into the peak and you are now on top of it, rushing forward with the momentum of the wave. Nothing else in the world - in the universe- matters now. With your mind so focused, it is just you and this manifestation of nature - your own being fades into nothingness. With the force of the wave you rise onto your board and take the drop down the steep face of the wave. At this point you are surfing, and as you move along in the direction of the wave while it breaks behind you, a fluid wall forms before you and an unconscious creative instinct guides your movements - an instinct only revealed with patience and understanding and reverence for the ocean. There is no other feeling like cutting up and down a liquid wall as it appears before you, your instinctive movements constantly adapting to the fluidity of it. Over time you gain an understanding of the wave, and you know where to put yourself in order to gain speed and make your way back up to the top of the wave, only to drop back down yet again.
As quickly as it comes it goes, and the wave dissipates leaving you with a feeling of euphoria that can only be described as "stoked", a feeling that words alone fail to grasp.

"The only thing that actually comes close to riding waves is sex." - Mark Richards

Although those particles of water will find themselves in another wave, as ever throughout the history of this planet, nothing will ever emulate that unique wave and your movements on it.

Each wave one catches is a once in a lifetime experience. Each wave is something new and exciting.

And so the ride ends and you begin the cycle again. Paddling out, waiting, placing yourself to coincide yet again with the infinite cycle of the ocean and finding your next wave. Surfing.

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