I don’t remember the first time I stood on a board, but I remember the first time I felt it. Felt the energy that is, the movement, the thrill of the earth and the ocean pass beneath my feet. It was as if I held a secret the rest of the world, save a few, were not privy to.
Like I had become a part of something far greater than I understood.
When I was nine I would sit on the sand in the summer twilight and watch the local boys. I liked that they could read the ocean, that they were physical products of this place, sun-bleached and tanned. I liked the way they counted – “one, twwoo, threee, fourrrr, five!” – and the set wave would peak on the horizon as if they had summoned it from the deep. So in tune with its rhythms they were.
When the sky began to darken, the numbers would dwindle until the lone surfer sat at one with the waves and the wind and the earth, bopping up and down with the flow of the tides and the pull of the currents, waiting for the peak of a wave to appear on the soft horizon, legs making slow circles in the water beneath. And I sat, unmoving as life continued on around me, watching from the shore as if we were the only people in the world. As if this place was the world.
He glided along the glassy banks and danced with the waves, so engrossed in the lull of the ocean and the movement of the tide that he became a part of it, his slickened body twisting and bending with the fluid motion of the effervescent sea.
He explained to me that I would never understand the true nature of the ocean until I had experienced its rhythms for myself. Until I had felt it rise from underneath me and seen it slide like glass beneath my feet.
It is a private expression of joy, he had said, of despair and anger, free and fluid yet loosely constrained; a dance whose rhythms are rec
ognisable only to those who have known it for themselves. He told me that those who surf for others
have lost the meaning of their art. That surfing for anyone but yourself is contrived, artificial; a selfish act, and yet, not even selfish in the way that it should be. If you surf for others everything is lost in translation and your movements, however skilfully articulated and perfected with repetition, will never truly communicate anything. If you surf for yourself – a private experience, not a pretentious performance – then you can articulate something that is universal beyond time and place and circumstance. You surf for yourself, he said, from in here. And he prodded his chest, water swelling from his wetsuit.
I sat on the sand every night that summer and watched, the familiar thrill of motion igniting in my stomach.
I could not help but think that things must look so different from out there.