In spite of seeing it hundreds of times in surfing movies and documentaries, nothing quite prepared me for the intensity of being smashed beneath a wave at high speed and tumbling deep down into the ocean. Blurry disoriented vision combines with overwhelmed physical senses struggling against the pressure and noise to create a sharp stab of fear and pain, suddenly smothered as all sensation focuses precisely on the massive rolling wave moving over me.
For a moment, that wave is my entire existence. Upside down, legs and arms akimbo, the light filtering through it defines depth and motion, a single moment in which everything stops to allow my mind to process this intensity. As the calm acceptance of the power around me settles into my mind a single thought escapes, unexpectedly shaking me from my reverence.
”How can I possibly capture this experience?”
My reverie is shattered, my need to find some way to quantify and define this feeling having the instant effect of pushing it away from me. Panic chases away wonderment as I recall the stories of surfers smashed into rocks beneath waves, the ceviche chef and avid surfer from the other day’s words ringing through my head in his strange accent: “Every time I catch a wave, I expect it will get me, it will be my last. It’s the only way to be safe.”
Ten feet under water, my face splits in a grin as I realize my constant fear of the ocean has won for a moment, slithering out of my subconscious to take over the space left behind by the fleeing wonderment. I can see the light flickering beneath me as the wave moves towards the shore and my orientation shifts as I realize down is up. Calmly I push towards the light, breaking the surface with a surge of emotion and a loud yell, both fists punching the sky as exuberance pushes aside the flicker of fear before it can take hold.
”This,” I think, “is epic. Totally freaking epic.”
Mouth wide open in a huge grin, panting from the chemical cocktail surging through my body, I turn just in time for the next wave to break in my face. Laughing as it pushes me with it, water streaming down the back of my throat through my nose and mouth and into my lungs. The ocean won’t get me this time, I have its measure for now.
That was my fourth wave, the first time I fell off my board (unexpectedly, I had ridden my first three waves nearly into the beach with no problem). Apparently it was really quite huge for a beginner, well over 6-8 feet.
A week later, I can vividly recall the look and feel and sensation of that huge wave beneath (above?) me. Honestly, after that nothing else about surfing really appealed to me. Riding a wave is fun, but it pales compared to the speed of a snowboard. Add in the excessive amount of time spent uncomfortably paddling around, watching the ocean, waiting for a special wave to lift you up… and for me, the constant psychic toll of suppressing my fear of the water… well, I doubt I’ll retire to an itinerant life of wave hunting after this.
I may, however, try to find a giant wave to throw myself under when the vividness of that particular memory fades… after all, it was pretty freaking epic.