Upfront, I confess: I blew off a post-benefit debriefing session because a window of opportunity opened and up and no way was I going to pass it by. Not when I haven’t surfed for over two weeks. Not when I’ve spent more hours volunteering for Surfrider, raising funds for Surfrider, promoting Surfrider, than I have actually surfing. (Not that one has to surf to be a member/volunteer! More info at surfrider.org/humboldt!) My apologies to the folks I was supposed to meet. It’s a hazard of associating with surfers, but one I mitigate as often as possible. (Too often, she grouses.)
This morning, lying in bed, I realized a cure for insomnia. Step 1: work, volunteer, socialize and care for your family non-stop, spreading yourself so thin that you run out of time to sleep and when you do end up in bed, the worry about what everyone needs and what might not be done keeps you awake. Step 2: Do this for at least two weeks straight. Step 3: Manage to pull off all your obligations successfully. Step 4: Let the realization that your mind is are on the verge of collapse (forgetting things you meant to do and an inability to carry on a coherent conversation are typical indicators) allow you to fall over into your bed, teeth unbrushed, face unwashed, duties involving your children handed over to your husband, who promises to stay up as late as necessary. You will sleep for 10 hours straight.
With my wits back about me, I whipped through a fair amount of to-dos on the ever-present list, keeping one eye on the buoy and plenty of pressure on a friend regarding a potential evening session. My brain might feel rejuvenated from sleep, but my soul needed the solace only the ocean can bring.
When the numbers held firm – 7 at 12, 8 at 11, 6 at 13 – I sent my regrets about the meeting. The sky released the rain it had been holding all day. The view from the road offered fog. We showed up to scattered trucks, cars, surfers slipping in and out of wetsuits, racing toward the ocean or sauntering away from it. One guy sat Zen-like, legs crossed, atop a dune. Another stretched along water’s edge. About a dozen loitered in the line-up. We watched sets roll in, near double-over, but clean, organized, a fat channel offering a quick ride out and, if one could hang against the current, a staging place to pick off increasingly hollow rights.
We both figured a short session – neither of us had been surfing much and these waves had some strength to them as well as size. My goal was a couple rights, a left, avoid getting caught inside. Baby steps, perhaps, but just being out in bigger, heavier surf – all things being relative and cold-water waves twice my size counting as “bigger” and “heavier” to me – the experience is mostly about reinforcing my confidence at this point.
The channel swooped me out, a river racing alongside the ocean. I didn’t wait. I went for the first right that came my way. Stood up too quickly – a terrible nervous habit – fell out the back luckily instead of falling down the front. Chastised, I went for another, this time forcing myself to paddle longer, wait till I was firmly in the wave’s grasp before standing. I made it to my feet, bounced over a stairstep that’d formed on the face, kept my balance for a moment, but couldn’t avoid the whitewater breaking over the lip. Got knocked down, then kicked back to the surface, grinning so stupidly that anyone watching would’ve thought I’d been knocked senseless. I didn’t care that I’d fallen. I’d made it first, had a moment of clarity, stayed on the wave long enough to recognize it. I need so little to be happy. A drop.
Came around again, waited, swallowed hard as the set darkened the already gray horizon. Paddled into another right, later, steeper. The board fell away beneath me, my feet landed on it, together we almost made it, but the nose slid into the face, just the tip, but enough to pearl the board and catapult me off of it. Everything spun. I counted… one… two… three… like I always do underwater, found my leash and climbed hand-over-hand to the surface. These are playful waves by big-wave standards; I can’t imagine handling the hold-downs following wipe-outs on 20-, 30-, 60-foot waves, much less following a wipe-out with being caught inside, which is what happened next.
Shabby wetsuit thoroughly flushed, I escaped the impact zone and paddled back to the channel, shivering. A super-ace-surfer friend commented, “Heroic drop!” then suggested I might try popping up in a crouch instead of standing up so tall. I nodded. (Popping up into a crouch – that’s what I always do. In my mind. Mr. Fluid makes it look so easy….)
My buddy had gone in, so I decided to as well. Let the current push me up the beach, went for a couple lefts, couldn’t get into them, found myself on the wrong side of a set and let the broken wave whoosh me to shore on the whitewater. An inglorious ending, but I was cold and done and happy enough with my small triumphs. In Little League, when the kids smack the ball into play only to get thrown out at first, good coaches will holler, “Way to connect!” That’s how I felt: no, I didn’t hit a home run or even get on base, but I went up there and connected. I’ve never become a better surfer by not going. So today I went.