Monday, September 15, 2008

Instantaneous Summer

There is a profound difference between a "surfer," and someone who can ride a wave.  I barely fit into the latter category.  Since I was a kid though I have always been fascinated by surfing.  Due, perhaps to my first experience with Rock and Roll, the Beach Boys.  I learned how once, on a family vacation as a freshman in high school, and surprisingly took to it pretty quick. Alas, the break here in Southern Arizona is usually less than adequate for surfing, thus I was given little opportunity to practice.  I did rent a board a few times over the years during trips to California.  
Last week we visited Oahu, and I, as a Walter-Middy surfer, would have been loathe to miss out on a chance to  surf the famous "North Shore."  Through a very Hawaiian style arrangement, I hooked up with Doug the surf instructor.  (Literally, OK yaa, drive up the coast about 4 miles, then when you pass the Chevron station, look for this van, it's got surfboards on it.)  I'll let his website describe his credentials. He was exactly what I needed as he catered the lesson to my specific desires. I highly recommend him to anyone going to Oahu.  Interested patrons can book via telephone and avoid the cultural experience I had.  Though truly I would not have wanted it any other way.
I followed him further North and East to a little used beach where he went over some basics with me before we paddled out.  The day was beautiful, just some high, wispy clouds.  The break was perfect (for me), at between three and six feet high.  There was one surfer in the water.  A leather skinned Hawaiian who looked to be around 50, but I wouldn't have been surprised by 40 or 60.  He had a long beard that turned from black to white.  Long hair that had been matted into strings by saltwater.  He wore no rash guard, and probably little sunscreen.  His board was so unremarkable that I can not even remember what color it was.  I wish I had a picture.  He was out surfing when we paddled out.  And he remained there when we left, exhausted after more than two hours.  Doug spoke with him and he invited us to surf with him, then offered a few tips on the tide, and the break.  I got up on my first wave (with a little help from my instructor), then struggled on a few before catching the hang of it once again.  Some of the waves were easy, walkers that did little more than catch the board and bring me about half the distance to the shore.  Others were high (maybe six feet), mighty rollers that broke more than once and tossed me around easily.  I had a blast.

Surfing for me is a kind of romantic fascination.  At its heart, I believe that surfing is just another pursuit of wilderness.  I am a square, I'll never be a surfer, it's just not in me.  But I am attracted to that Endless Summer lifestyle.  Roaming around, looking for adventure, that's what I really want, and I really believe I'll get it one day.  The Beach Boys are all dead.  They died when they recorded Kokomo.  The people who held them up as rebels and icons are now collecting their pensions, and strapping their grandkids into car seats in Volvos. Surfing is another extreme sport.  Capitalized upon the same as the NBA and the NFL.  But that old Hawaiian, out there on some unnamed beach.  He personified surfing.  He wasn't out there to conquer, or show off.  I am sure he could have handled much bigger waves, he was just there.  Surfing lives.
That old man helped me, a wobbly-footed square, catch wave-riders' Nirvana for just an instant.  We had been out for a while, and I was more than a little tired.  I had just paddled back out after a particularly dynamic wave outmatched me, tossed me off the board and shot saltwater up my nose with migraine inducing force.  The next wave was large and powerful, it gathered speed fast.  I was going to let it pass under me, and wait for a more tame wave.  But the wave caught me and took me with it.  I was either going to ride this one laying down, or try and get up.  I struggled, faltered, and rose.  I was up and doing all I could to remain so when I looked to my right and there he was.  A little closer than I was comfortable with surfed the old Hawaiian.  He perched on the wave like a statue, his hair flowed in the wind, and I swear I saw him grin.  We surfed in unison, the shore in front of me, the wave over my head behind me, and the zen-master on my right.  It only lasted a second or so.  The wave bucked and I was tossed into the drink.  He surfed on.  But for that instant, I was a surfer.
I don't know who the old Hawaiian was.  But he exists in my mind as the pope of surfing.  He is out there now, dancing on small waves and big, offering advice to the young bucks, sitting on his board watching the rain storm hit the mountains.  Surfing.