Surfing Demystified

May 29, 2008, 1:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Featured, Kaitlin  | No Comments

I surf. Or, I have surfed. That is, I can balance, most of the time, atop a board while a wave sends me toward shore.

Californians really do surf. Many people here have a board or two sitting in the garage, and while most aren\’t privileged enough to paddle out every morning, it\’s not too hard to make it to the beach at least a couple of times every summer. If you\’re a student at Point Loma Nazarene University like I am — especially if you\’re a boy down in Young Hall, literally just hundreds of feet from beach access — the waves can be hard to resist. I hate to say it, but catching one really is like being on top of the world.

Paddling out is the hardest part. After wrapping the Velcro strap around your ankle, you grab the board and start wading into the water. When you\’re about waist-high, you wriggle onto your belly, stretch your legs out flat, and begin paddling. The waves that looked disappointingly small from shore suddenly tower over your head, but you have to brace yourself and press through them. Salty foam in your nose is part of the experience.

The sets of waves seem never-ending; just when you\’ve crested one, another spills over right behind it. But if you paddle long enough, and if you\’re not caught in a rip current or out on a particularly brutal day, eventually you\’ll find yourself out past the breakers. At this point you can position yourself, straddling the board, and sit upright. The water swells gently here, allowing you to float effortlessly. Even if you never catch anything, you at least have the pleasure of looking like a surfer to the people strolling out along the pier or sitting on the shore. Most of surfing, after all, is just waiting for the right wave.

If you\’re on a longboard, you\’ll be able to ride almost anything that comes in. Longboards are large and buoyant; the bigger the board, the easier it is to ride. Smaller boards make for faster, slicing rides, but only if you can catch a wave first. After you\’ve spotted a decent wave, you turn your board so that you face the shore. Throwing glances over your shoulder to time yourself, you lie down once again, and resume paddling. By creating momentum, you will be able to move into the wave, allowing it to propel you. As soon as the wave rises behind you, you pop up, positioning your favored front leg forward and leaning back slightly, crouching to maintain your balance. And if you\’ve done it right, you\’re up.

The surface is like permeable glass, solid and yet completely formless. You glide easily on a wave constant and somehow constantly changing. Who would have thought you could go so fast powered by nothing more than water? The beach stretches long and bright before you, the sky sunny and domed above, the sandy floor distantly visible below you in the watery green-blue depths.

And that\’s just longboard riding. Shooting through a barrel on a shortboard is another story, one I\’m not quite experienced enough to tell. But, as I think most surfers would tell you, that\’s not really what surfing is about.

Surfing is the horizon. Surfing is the simple elements of air and water, sky and sea. It is complete immersion in endless pulsing life, tidal rhythm and ocean breath, salt and sand and sun. Drifting with the currents, subject to the subtle indictment of that sharp limitless line, you begin to understand how insignificant we really are.


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