I’m not a surfer. But as a sailor, kayaker, windsurfer, and observer of waves, I think I get how they work near the shore.
Waves are perpetually crashing down parallel to the beach. As this happens, there is an opportunity to ride that powerful force in a perpendicular fashion. This chance exists from the outside, pushed along on top of the wave but mostly outside of it. It also exists on the inside, fully immersed in the pull of the wave and drawn perpendicularly to the crashing wave with the same power.
I remember well as a kid when I first saw a seal riding this inner force of ocean waves. Shooting along inside of crashing waves at the beach as the surfers took the slower outside route. Both were playing. Neither seemed to get caught in the crash very often, or to mind very much if it happened. They’d just go out and do it again.
Looking at the world around us these days, there is plenty of downward crashing motion to go around. We’ve had a bit of an odd pause with 2020, like when a wave meets another equal and opposite one and they both magically cancel each other out into stillness for a moment. That stillness lasts longer than we expect but only because it’s unexpected. In truth, it doesn’t last long.
For every rise, there is a fall. For every wave that stretches across the shore, there is a receding pull that draws it back to rise and fall again. There are waves for miles behind all the action of the crests and the crashes, just gathering their power and waiting for their moment.
We cannot prevent the crashes any more than we can prevent the waves themselves. We can try to fight them head on for a time, but ultimately we will lose. Waves gonna wave, and it’s best to get outta the way when they come a’crashing.
And yet…there is the perpendicular path. The playful approach of surfing along that downward crashing force without getting caught up in it. From either outside or inside the wave, there is room to dance as long as long we keep carefully attuned to our ever-changing surroundings. There is a lot of destructive power that we can ride without being destroyed ourselves.
Like a surfer, you don’t just start with the biggest wave you can find. You learn with the smaller waves. You get a feel for it that bypasses conscious thoughts and actions. While developing this instinct, you crash a bit at first too, where it’s safer to do so. Then the bigger waves don’t seem so big, they look more like fun. You can navigate your way and not get thrown off if you see a seal surfing the inside of the wave beneath you.
I’m probably a little late in looking for the smaller waves now that there is another economic tsunami coming. I hope not to be in the water when the big one washes through and draws the once safe shore out into the abyss. But I still want to learn to surf these waves, and to better read them from the shore before I go decide to go out.
Even in the crash, there are opportunities to speed forward. And to play atop or within all the destructive power without getting destroyed.
I see that doesn’t have to be scary, and it might just be fun.
Any advise for this fledgling surfer? Comment below, please.