There's been a string of hurricanes affecting the weather lately, with the latest one finally moving into our swell window for a few days. Summer monsoon conditions this year seem like they'll never stop, which is fine with me; I love those thin, high clouds, slightly muggy air, and smooth glass from dawn to dusk. The weekend's suddenly empty schedule was welcome, even if the reason being that I no longer had a girlfriend to see. My kid was with her mom, my obligations were none, so what could I do but surf?
Knowing the swell direction and interval would compel everyone to search for surf out of town, I stayed put, hoping for some uncrowded waves. If I wasn't getting the best on the menu, at least I'd be able to eat all I wanted. A like-minded friend offered intel of fun-looking waves breaking over a simmering bait ball, with a flotilla of birds on the inside. Fortunately or unfortunately, the warmer water this time of year brings massive amounts of sea life, ranging from red-tide phytoplankton, to bait fish, to sea lions, to animals even higher up the food chain. Upon hearing that the waves still looked good and the birds were dispersing, I committed, put my "performance groveler" in the back seat, and backed out out of the driveway.
After winding past palm trees, rattling over cattle guards, and negotiating potholes I had no business attempting in my little two-wheel drive hand-me-down, I parked off the road behind my buddy's truck. Quickly checking booties, leash, and wetsuit (probably should have done that before leaving home), I set off through the brush, alert for rattlesnakes and poison oak that the Rainbows on my feet would provide no barrier against. I walked alone through the humid air and cloud-softened light on a trail that, by now is as much a part of me as the creases on my face and pterygiums in my eyes. Over many years on this special little trail, I've walked in the tracks of mountain lions after a rain, watched it widen, narrow, and deepen, and been very rude to anyone I didn't recognize on it. I know a few others with the same history. And for my dedication and sacrifice I've been rewarded with a spot in the rotation and fading memories of magical days. A bit more, I guess, if I include the injuries that never quite healed, and those that get worse with every session. Plus the occasional guilt, shame, and mild depression that come from prioritizing a flexible schedule above all else.
Too often do I wonder why I turned away from financial gain, relationships with startlingly good women, a secure future, and reliable cars to be able to walk this little bit of sand and dirt whenever I please. An answer never comes, no matter how many times I ask. Likely the truth is simultaneously too momentous and meaningless for my delicate mind to understand. Sometimes I fear my slow descent toward insolvency, which seems preordained. Sometimes I think I can tell myself forever that I'm the one who has it all figured out.
15 minutes later, I get my first look at the surf. My supposition that there were better options for this swell was accurate, but what I see is all I need; sheet glass, a steep peak with a lip that seemed to hesitate and look around before picking a place to land on the reef below, and the first wave of the set all lined up and patiently taking my buddy to the bashable closeout section on the inside.
Scrambling down the bluff, I watch the rest of the set; three good waves and some that aren't quite hitting it right, but no birds or bait ball. The sea lions seem to be content with arcing in and out of the water well away from the take-off zone, although there's no guarantee one of them won't get tangled up in your leash while trying to impress his lady with a threatening dive under your board.
Sunscreen on, earplugs in, wax rubbed, fins tightened (should I switch? It looks a touch bigger than I thought it would be. Nah, fast and responsive is what's needed today), and I'm between the rocks racing to not get caught inside. The first rinse of whitewater is slightly surprising. It's cooled off since yesterday. Unexpected with the swell coming from warm water regions. It's not cold though, and after some spirited paddling I'm already wondering if I should finally buy an all-3mm suit for these few yearly weeks of "warm" temps. I don't get far enough to consider hooded vs. no hood, however, as a glassy wall is standing up right in front of me. I still haven't stopped moving from paddling out, and angle in with a few kicks towards the beach to get down the face as the wave hits the reef. Palms flat and feet on the deck as my board falls away, I look up and see my answer stretching out down the line; beautiful, dark blue, and perfect.
Every once in a while, surfing lets you see what the best version of yourself feels like. The lighter, faster, responsive, adaptable, unafraid edition of yourself. The self that, on land, would be able to solve all your problems and live with a smile on your face and deep in your soul all the time. Sometimes surfing is just what we tell our kids life is like; if you try hard, stay focused, believe in yourself and your preparation, then success is sure to come. Today is one of those days. It's even better, actually, because it feels like I'm not even trying, while wave after wave keep offering perfect turn sections, occasional cover-ups, and a forgiving lip on the inside to try things that I know I have no right even attempting, and yet one or two are successful. The wind never comes up, the tide never gets too low, and no one else even checks it. By the end of an hours-long session it hurts my shoulders to duck dive, yet I find the reserves for one more, and one more, and one more.
There's a comfortable time between finally exiting the water and unlocking my car back at the road where it's easy to believe in my conviction that surfing and freedom are all I need to be happy. After all, If I had too many other people's schedules and needs and feelings to consider, I would have missed this glorious session. And the one yesterday. And probably not have been able to luck into a mid-afternoon score a few days ago. But by the time I'm bumping back into my driveway, and the house is empty, and no one is coming over later, and the car heater stops working, I wish for the type of freedom that sacrificing everything for a flexible schedule can't provide. And even then, in the cold dark loneliness, I still tell myself (out of fear, blindness, or true belief, I'm not sure): "Nah, but then when would I surf?"