It starts with a buoy, bouncing and sending waves of information to shore. When it lands on my computer screen my body feels it. It’s just an echo. The memory of hundreds of rides shaking my nerves awake. I experience the same excitement that I feel when the horizon goes dark. This feeling infects each moment after. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic I’m just a little more patient because I know what’s coming. As the swell steams closer to the coast the community starts to buzz.
The day before a swell is filled with anticipation. Pouring over graphs and charts, we try to project the character of the coming waves. Will it have long lulls? Is it going to be combo’d and peaky? How’s the wind looking? Kyle’s deep in the rabbit hole. He’s sending me more information than I can process. I’m chugging water. No cramps, no problem. Got swell? No problem. I know within an Earth’s turn I’m going to be gasping for air and to those of us afflicted with this counter-evolutionary curse there is no more comforting thought.
The night creeps by. Usually I wake up an hour before the alarm, decide to get up instead of fighting to sleep. Why sleep when the stuff of dreams is dawning in the present? The excitement, wrapped in fear, re-packaged as anxiety and harnessed as fuel sits like a cinder block in my stomach. Downing bananas. Arriving at a spot when the waves are big drops a whole bag of unique subtleties.
First comes the sound waves. Sometimes before you can even see the spot you can hear the boom. The explosive impact, hundreds of pounds, water colliding with itself. As Mickey Smith says, waves with weight. You don’t even have to say anything to your buddies, they know. The moment has arrived. We’re never so lucky as we are in that brief present, fins in hand, ankle deep in salt water, staring into the face of an Ocean very nearly out of control. Sentient beings lingering at the edge of adventure and mayhem, even the ground trembles.
In a blink we’re in it, neck deep in the sloshing, spinning soup. From this angle, outside could be a mile away, you have no idea what lies beyond the foamy insider which on most days could pass for the wave of the day. The arms are feeling it. How long have I been swimming? Five minutes? Twenty minutes? Every once in a while a surfer will paddle up beside me and a set rolls through, the board is out of sight. Before even riding a single wave there are strobe-light moments to be had, getting lost in a shifty horizon. My eyes are scanning the shape of the lump, running the algorithms of physics I’ve never bothered to learn. Where will this damn thing break? Can I make it if I run for it? Do I need to stay put and let some of the energy fizzle? This decision is made on a near-subconscious level and when the call is wrong a price is paid. It makes that first moment out the back twice as sweet.
Time to hunt. Never a bad day out there, but the speed, hot nasty speed, there is no substitute. The set swings my way and I’m clinging to the back of the freight train. On waves of size, the bulk of our bodies hydroplane. We break free of Poseidon’s grip, if only for a little while. And when the ride comes to an end, we feel his mighty wrath. He tests our flexibility first. Can your heels touch your head? Then its the vestibular system. There’s no up or down it’s all wash. Lastly its the lungs to suffer and relief is only found through still thought, the zen of almost drowning. When we burst through the surface air is cotton candy. Each sweet inhale sends endorphins to my throbbing cells. The most pure of the joys is the one written into the fabric of our bodies, nectar of the gods and it doesn’t cost a cent.