Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A wave of respect; a surfer’s take on Mother Nature

When you first begin surfing, you plonk your long, heavy foam board in the water, fighting white water, as you rehearse in your mind the few simple steps just learnt to go from prone to standing in a flash…
Each approaching ripple in the water fills you with excitement, your arms dipped in the water, ready to furiously paddle and feel the momentum pushing you forward. If you manage to find your feet (and balance) and stand up for a few photo-worthy seconds, then surfing success has been achieved.

My first few surfing practices were attempts to master and improve on this simple formula. I reminded myself it took all of three minutes for the surfing instructor to explain the procedure, but as he then revealed, before I embarked on a fairly successful wave, “It takes years to become a good surfer”. Wow… my ride quickly ended when I found myself entangled in a bunch of menacing seaweed.

But I emerged victorious and inspired. I wanted more. I found myself perfectly aware that bridging the gap between kook and wave-thrasher was not going to be an easy task. And I loved it. I was the animal on the hunt for a chase, and decided to meet my match in the ocean. A duel with Mother Nature.

Of course, you quickly realise just how out of your depth (to use a pun) you really are. Not only is your 30-second intro to surfing a pretty flimsy one, but you are confronted with a force that is as capricious as well, the weather.
There were days I would quietly snub the lack of waves under my board, arrogantly hoping “I could finally get a decent surf in”, only on other days, to be ready to paddle and stand, and be thoroughly mangled and ripped to shreds by a violent rip. Bikini and I – parted by the sea.

If you see surfing as sexy, it’s hard to be sexy when your hair is salt-laden, hanging over your face in dreadlocks, and it’s quite possible you just mooned a bunch of surfers who had time to catch the wave and also you - not catching it. It’s funny, it’s embarrassing, it’s painful. That board also does a fair amount of impact when you are on the wrong side of it. Ouch.
And then, “but I want more”
If you manage to continue surfing after the bruises, the nose dives, the spectacular screw ups and disrobements, you begin to appreciate one thing – this is Mother Nature’s territory. This is a playground that can be placid and pleasurable in a moment, only to unleash fury and force similar to a natural disaster in an instant. Because we are only human with our little boards and boards do break. Think of what can happen to a surfer then…

This is what you come to realise if you truly appreciate surfing. I don’t mean in a spectator kind of way. When you embody surfing, you submit with respect to the power of Mother Nature and accept that you are not riding the wave, the wave is riding you. As time goes on, you recognize that the simple surfing formula is the same, the only difference between catching the miniscule and momentous waves is your approach. Like a Buddhist monk, you approach your master with deeper and more involved insights, when the time is right. Once you have become enlightened to do so.

Surfing is the same – catching a wave is a mix of privilege and prowess. You stake your claim to the world, possibly riding out towards jaws dropped or sly sneers. It’s competitive, it’s raw, it’s spiritual. It’s surfing.

And I, in all my kook-iness, am honoured to be in this world. In a world where as Kelly Slater, world number one, points out “…surfers get to experience a lot more highs than normal people.

Copyright © 7 June 2011 10.31pm SoulSurfer


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