I am new to surfing, and I am inconsistent.
This morning, for instance, I caught several waves and was gleeful. I stood and even swerved around like you see people do sometimes.
I could hear the Beach Boys singing surf songs in the background! This afternoon, though, not so much.
I was crushed over and over again, mushed and tumbled in a sandy, salty cyclone until I had no idea which way was up or even who I was. And all this just trying to get out to the break!
How often is preparation the hardest part of an endeavor?
After finally having paddled out there, arms like jelly, I tried for much too large a wave much too late — it was that or be rolled and pounded and dragged back shoreward. Again. So I tried. I paddled furiously and felt the wave take me.
I was heaved forward with exhilarating speed but far too steeply, which buried the nose of my board so that I shot over it, my face the sole point of ocean contact.
I skimmed along on my nose until finally the wave, along with my board, crashed down upon my back. I remember eventually surfacing, gasping, swearing, wondering why I even try and then catching the setting sun in the corner of my eye.
And somehow it was all perfect — these are the moments we live for.
I have been in Costa Rica for three weeks now. Having been immunized and needing a place to meet my sweetheart who has been living in Europe, we settled on this Central American paradise.
I have been watching birds and swimming in waterfall-fed pools and abusing myself in surf. Really, though, I have been resetting — watching both the literal and figurative horizon, waiting for the next swell.
There is one theory that says you should take any wave that comes along. “Don’t be so picky,” the theory insists, “just take a wave.”
But my professor de surf has different advice: “Breathe more,” he says, with his Italian accent. “Don’t be afraid to wait. So often we rush the beginning and then have no chance when the wave arrives. Go when you’re ready. This is the ocean — there is always another wave. Always.”
Given that none of us has ever lived through a pandemic, I think this year we are all beginning surfers.
We may have swum or even studied amazing wave riders and their techniques, but it is new for all of us. We will inevitably fall on our faces.
We will be held under by forces larger than comprehension until we are disoriented and demeaned. We will be smashed by the very vehicles meant to ferry us safely to shore. But we will continue — what else is there?
The sun sets each day, birds herald the dawn with songs raucous and divine, and we are better for paying them attention. And we’ll improve, because there is always, always another wave.