On Surfing


I stayed out of the water for three months after my near drowning in Costa Rica. It was at a reef break a mile offshore in 9 foot waves – waves that jacked up quickly and broke unpredictably left and right just as fast. The boat had to stay a quarter of a mile away in order not to risk getting swamped by the swell. I got caught on the inside after the first of a short interval 3 wave set – no sooner had I popped up from the second wave that I was hammered by the third and held down for as long as I had ever been held down.  I can remember saying to myself as I was churned underwater, “go with the flow, relax, stay calm.” And I did go with the flow. I did relax. I did stay calm. And then I didn’t. I couldn’t any longer. No air. Instead, I thrashed to get to the surface, pushing to get my head out of the water. Back on my board, breathing again, I had nothing left. Or at least I felt I had nothing left. Nothing left to get me over the oncoming swells and back to the boat – which looked so very far away – and with no one to come to my aid. Evidently I made it. But the eventuality of my getting back to the boat was not obvious to me at the time. I was terrified for my life. Terrified.

I got back in the water at home in Santa Cruz for the first time earlier this week and stayed for 15 minutes. I went back for a 20-minute session yesterday. First wave was great. Nice smooth drop-in on a 3-footer and a ride down the line. As I paddled back out, I turtled my board to get beyond a breaking wave, but the force of the lip smashed the board against my forehead and I came up hurt and dazed.

Surfing is not a sport for the delicate. Nor is it a sport for those unwilling to own the collection of scars that will be acquired through an inevitable sequence of slices and slams. And it’s not necessarily a sport for the self-professed or closeted masochist, either. But regardless the slings and arrows of my outrageous fortunes on the water, I do go back. I paddle out for another wave, another ride, another rush, and invariably another encounter with reckless abandon.

Most days I do stay away.

But some days, some days, I have the best waves ever!

There’s a swell today. It looked big this morning. Maybe it’ll be a little more forgiving this afternoon.