Standing atop the dune the other day, while inserting my earplugs and zipping up my suit, I was accosted by a smugly grinning dork who glanced at my board and said: “You’re not actually going out in that water, are you?” Mind considering this possible response: “Um no, I just thought I’d put this rubber suit on and lug my board around on the beach for awhile…” yet mind yielded to politeness as I smiled and nodded instead. “Cuz, it’s 55 degrees!” he followed.
“It gets down to 35 in the winter,” I said, still smiling politely, “and yes, we do still surf then!”
“Wow, you’re crazy!” he said, apparently not considering it rude to accuse a total stranger of mental infirmity while standing atop a dune. Then with a glance to the surf, which was knee-thigh with waist high sets, and really glassy clean, he probed further, still sporting that smugly sarcastic grin on his dorky mug, “Is there really enough there to push your board?”
PUSH my board I thought. Smug Dork, the waves don’t push the board, I wanted to say. But then, I didn’t have time to explain wave dynamics and the physics of the displacement hull under my arm. I chuckled instead, smiled some more, then turned my back and headed down to the water, leaving him to ponder whatever a smug smiling, dork atop a sand dune might ponder while heading towards the parking lot after an encounter with a “crazy” surf-chick on her way to the “freezing” water with her wetsuit and board.
“It isn’t always about size,” I explained to a less smug couple later who asked if the surf had been “good,” as I headed back to my car. “It’s the quality of the wave, the shape and form. And yeah, it was pretty good until the wind came up.” This time it was they who smiled politely, I’m sure completely uncomprehending of what I meant about “the wind, the shape and form.” We nodded and smiled mutually as we continued on our respective ways.
No, it ain’t about the size…so much. I mean, sure, it’s gotta be at least big enough to “push” my board. And yeah, it can be exhilarating when it comes “rough” and thumping. But it’s the quality…the shape and the form that really counts. Take this particular day in question. As I said, only knee to thigh, with the occasional waist high set. But until the wind came up it was clean and glassy and the long walls were well suited to trimming with my displacement hull board. I caught a few fun little rides, side-slipping around sections with the slightest of ankle adjustments, milking the waves the way only a D-Hull can, all the way to the beach, stepping off in knee deep water to paddle out again. And I had it all to myself. Three miles of beach break and not another surfer in sight.
But it was more than the rides, or the waves. It was the experience of it all. In between sets, I sat on my board, gazing out to the horizon. A dozen or so yards beyond me, a raft of eider ducks congregated. Gulls swooped by, some gliding only inches above the water, others, circling high overhead, backdropped by a hazy blue sky and wispy clouds. A lone seal popped his head above the surface, checked me out with his curious eyes, dove under, then surfaced again a little further down the beach. I gazed into the emerald water, clear enough to see the rippled sand bottom. Water beadlets spiraled down the curled tendrils of my hair, like those spirally bead toys that so fascinate toddling children. I closed my eyes to the sun, opaque pink light through my lids. The warm air breathed the faint onshore wind on my face. Peace, serenity, though I was only about 50 yards offshore…within easy sight and shouting distance of the bundled beachgoers, sitting in their folding chairs with books in hand, or strolling the sands, heads down to spot the beach detritus of broken shell and dried rockweed, and perhaps a rare treasure of a sea polished bit of glass or stone. Rarely did any of them look out to sea, towards me on my board; I might as well have been just another bobbing sea bird, or curious seal to them. And it amazed me, how little distance one must travel to get away from humanity. To meld with the more natural world, as we once did, and to be embraced by nature – only 50 yards offshore.
I caught a few waves, trimmed across their faces, watched the sealife, the seascape around me until faint ripples of wind appeared outside, ruffling the surface, presaging the coming crumblies. And I caught my last one as the wind arrived, rode until the sectioning face closed out impossibly before me, straightened out and rode it in all the way until I stepped off in knee deep water. Then I lifted my board under my arm and headed up the sand to the dunes. Atop the crest, I turned for a last look. The wind had already chopped it into a mess. I smiled with wry (perhaps even a wee bit of smug) satisfaction, before turning and heading down the backside of the dune, for the parking lot where a smiling couple asked me how big the surf was and if it had been any good…