photo by Chris Enlow, and destroyed by me.
My first surf in Oregon was almost eleven years ago, nearly two months after moving to Portland from Swansea, with $500 and a surfboard. I told myself the move was temporary and I'd be close to the sea again within a year or so. I'd seen too much to walk away permanently. My older brother was in the process of walking into the sea forever and he soon did, while I was land-locked. Several years prior my friends and I tried in vein to reach a stranger as she was swept out to sea and it still weighed on my mind. I was convinced that a 'mastery' of surfing was a way of telling the sea that not all of us would surrender so easily to drowning.
When I finally pushed off into the Pacific, the waves were pumping, a little out of my comfort zone but I thought I could handle it. The first hour was great and I gained confidence, but as is common in Oregon the tide turned and things started getting nasty. I found myself in a place I didn't want to be and it was taking all my strength to try and get to safety. I knew I was unfit from not surfing for a couple of months but something far deeper was going on as I struggled against the rip. After losing my composure and ending up on some unfriendly rocks, I was about ready to be done with this surfing malarky. The next day, I woke up and felt almost paralyzed and came down with a violent flu. I concluded that the onset of illness had zapped my strength the previous day and it became my number one priority to conquer the Pacific.
It took a long time to figure things out. Countless skunkings and aquatic beatings. Scouring the coast, pondering the maps, gleaning information any way I could, year after year. Lots of mental investment in scoring good waves. Too much investment, in hindsight. Until I eventually surrendered and accepted I was going to get what I was given. No need to yearn and struggle anymore. 2010, was when I learned to walk away from both the agony and ecstasy.
October 2010, I think I began reaping some rewards of all this. Session after session was proving to be pretty fruitful with very little effort. I surfed some of my favorite spots under the best conditions I've seen them and was presented with a shit-tonne of waves. Avoiding serious danger, surviving in tact and turning my back on the sea again, without too much of a struggle.
On Wednesday, discussing some blood work with my doctor, after she notices a natural deterioration in some mineral or another that should have begun deteriorating some time ago, she said, 'You are an adult, now.' We both laughed and I replied, 'Yeah it's been a long struggle but I think I can see that now.'
On Saturday, watching a fellow surfer effortlessly pull into tube after tube, I told myself I should be doing what he is doing. After some great waves with no tubes and a couple of air-drop to batterings, I started to get pretty angst-ridden. Each time I rode the rip back out to the peak, feeling otherwise completely at home in the sea, I wondered why the fuck I wasn't getting tubed. Sure, I'm not a very good surfer but it was there for the taking. Surely I deserved it at this point. The more I hunted the tube down the more I got slapped and the more I felt drained. Meanwhile, my mates and I kept nodding at each saying, 'this is simply too good to paddle in.' And, indeed it was but the lack of even a little cover-up continued to gnaw at me and eventually sucked me dry.
The next morning I woke up, stiff, energy-less, with a sore-throat, dizzy but not quite paralyzed this time as I was eleven years ago.
I Recounted the positives of an otherwise magical session in an email to my friend Josh in Ireland, and he replied with a photograph of himself in a tube. A tube he caught after feeling at ease with some pretty serious life-decisions. It was then I was reminded that this whole thing is a process and a practice you are never going to finish. Tibetans say, that even if you are going to die tomorrow you should still read a book today.