Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The great unknown...

One can never really know the ocean. As far back as we can tell it has been a source of worship and devotion; a vast mystery that has provided both life and death with the same arbitrariness. It's character, while omnipotent, is otherwise indefinable. In Spanish the ocean is given a masculine characterization "El mar", yet in French a female one "La mer". The ocean is the most prevalent part of this world, yet we know so little of it.
If there is anything that I have learned from my time with the ocean, it is that I will never truly understand it, that I will never truly know it. I've learned that despite an utmost respect and appreciation for its power, the ocean holds no allegiances. That regardless of how well one thinks they know the ocean, it will either reward or strike out against all with impartiality

Being back on the coast I'm reminded of my life back in El Salvador. I used to wake in the morning to beams of sunlight streaking through my ragged blinds, my bed sheet crumpled at my feet from the creeping heat of the day to come. I would throw on my board shorts and walk out the door, stand there for a minute stretching my arms taking in the smells and sounds of the tropical coast. I would grab my board and saunter down the lush forest path towards the ocean, reflecting on last nights festivities, visualizing the impending surf. I arrive on the beach and like every other morning am awed by the perfection of the glassy waves as they peel across the point one after the other in synchronized succession. I wade into the water and lay on my board to begin my long and uneventful paddle out. Reaching the point with my hair still dry I find my place in the already busy lineup.
Here, where the water is warm like a bath tub, the crowds arrive with the rising of the sun.
The humble surfers will follow etiquette, but the humble are often few and battles for the waves will inevitably be fought. My time will come and I'll catch my wave deep on the peak, the slow point-break so forgiving as I drop in to its steep slope. I ride it out, up and down the face of the wave, all the way into the shore. I paddle back around to find my next wave. That was El Salvador.

I'm in Canada now, and I'm quickly reminded of how easier it is to be a surfer down south, and how dedicated one must be to surf here on the Northern Pacific coast. I'm reminded of how immense the ocean actually is, and of how little I understand it. Here I wake up in the morning curled in my heavy blanket, I hop out of bed and quickly throw socks, pants and a thick sweater over my shivering body. I walk outside and the damp cold air hits my nostrils, a gray faint light fights its way through the overcast sky. I grab my wetsuit out of the shed, it is soaking wet and icy cold from the surf the day before. I throw my clothes off and I begin to slip it on, one agonizing pull at a time. With the wetsuit on I grab my board and apply some soft wax, I begin the walk down to the beach. Rain spatters down and blows into my face as I tread through the dark forest path, the thick tangles of bushes and ancient trees line my way to the crashing ocean ahead. I make it to the beach, a sprawling bay lies in front of me, the ocean is angry, huge waves are breaking sporadically. I wade into the frigid water and walk my board out as far as possible, jumping over the smaller waves as they break, not yet ready to completely immerse myself. The water deepens and I hop on my board and start paddling hard, determined to make it quickly to the outside - the one place of relative tranquility among the madness of the beach break. A huge wave breaks a few feet in front of me, I duck dive deep, the cold water hits my face like a hard slap and takes the breath out of me, I come up shocked.
Every first duck dive at the beginning of the day leaves you shocked like never before in the cold waters of the ocean.
I finally make it to the outside and relax for a moment, always maintaining a careful watch on the horizon for a big set, those giant waves that break much further outside than the rest, always sending a few careless souls rolling to the inside.
I paddle around a bit searching for the right spot, my patience rewards me and a perfect wave forms up in the distance. It is a monstrous wave, swelling up thicker and thicker as it rolls towards me. It hits me as I'm paddling hard, trying ever so desperately to capture the moment, to get on this one unique wave before it breaks into foamy whitewash and disappears to never be seen again. It is peaking now, the lip of the wave beginning to curl, I push hard and fight to make the drop over the face of the wave, but it is too late. The wave breaks suddenly with such speed and power that rather then gliding down the face of it I find myself free falling from its very pinnacle, my arms flailing as I fall through the air, my breath held in anticipation for the punishment the ocean is about to deal me for testing it. I land hard and am sucked up by the wave as it crashes on top of me, I relax and let the force spin me, my wetsuit is flushed by the frigid water. I come up eventually and take a deep breath, disoriented I quickly look for my board; in earnest I need to leave the impact zone if I want to avoid being tossed around like a toy. I hop on my board and paddle out again, angry at myself for not making the wave, respectful of the ocean for putting me in my place. This is the Northern Pacific.

The beauty of surfing is that it can be done almost anywhere that there is a coastline. The right conditions are surely to create waves at some point in time, the variety of waves are infinite. The direction in which they break; the speed; the size; the thickness; the form all make the ocean the most diverse playground in the world for those looking to ride the waves.
My respect for the ocean grows with everyday I spend in its presence, and I will always approach it with the utmost humility. For I have experienced its wonders and received its fury. But still, I do not know the ocean, I never will.

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