When I arrived at Kalani, I was trying desperately to integrate what I’d learned at the monastery into everyday life, and I felt like I was failing. I was stuck between worlds. I needed a bridge, a translator, a medium.
And just as I felt completely lost, appropriately, I met a wizard.
His name was Romney Noonan. And he moved into the jungle commune shortly after Ciel and I had.
Looking like a younger Gandalf, Rom had long straight hair that had been bleached near white by hours in the sun. His blue eyes tucked under bushy blonde eyebrows. He was only twenty-five or so, but he laughed all the time with what seemed to be a much older man’s mirth.
I call him a wizard not because he said so or because he had a secret book of spells, but because Rom could do just about anything he put his mind to. He was a part-time gold-miner from Australia, but he also fixed the old surfboards that I thought would never ride again, turned the rusty beach cruisers into smooth gliding machines, wrote songs, ran triathlons, climbed mountains, built recycling systems, and spoke several different languages. And Rom possessed a quality that was surprisingly rare among our crew of escapees: contentment.
But more important to me than any of that: Rom was an adept in the particular magical art that obsessed me: the art of walking on water, the art of surfing.
Rom grew up Down Under surfing the shark-infested waters and he had accrued what he called in the Australian vernacular “heaps” of knowledge and skill on the subject. He never sat me down and taught me about how to pop at just the right moment, never gave me surf drills, and never had me master the many different types of surfboards–and yet, being around him great teachings naturally arose.
Occasionally Rom and I would pull our beach cruisers to the side of the road, peel a mango, and talk. Sometimes a pod of dolphins or whales would swim by and we’d ride our bikes along the shore, trying to keep up. Other times, Rom just looked out at the water and didn’t say anything.
“What are you looking at?” I asked him one day.
“Reading, mate. Reading the signs.” Then he laughed a little, not taking himself too seriously.
“The clouds, the wind, the ships out there.”
“Really, the ships?”
Rom pointed to some ships anchored offshore. Their bows were angled toward Pohoiki.
“Anchored ships always turn into the wind. The ships’ angle means the winds are offshore, which is good news for us.”
“So how do you read the clouds?”
“Sometimes it’s just a feeling. I think just watching a lot when I was a little one taught me some of the patterns. Look at–that cloud over there. You see how it’s hovering over a point of land in an otherwise cloudless sky? That can mean the wind is blowing over the land instead of around the side of it. And that can help you figure out how the winds are going to change. You’ll catch on. Just keep your eyes open, mate.”
At the monastery, many of the core lessons were about the Buddha’s teaching of interconnectedness, how everything is linked to everything else, down to the smallest insect or blade of grass, and how failure to respect that interconnection leads only to suffering, both for individuals and societies. I came to see that Rom was teaching me the same concepts in a way I could really connect with, a way that pertained directly to my life now.
Rom explained things like how the moon’s gravity pulled the entire ocean into a bulge, so that as the earth rotated, the bulge was pulled and pushed, shaping the tides. He taught me how a storm in Japan could create waves on a beach halfway across the ocean, and how those waves are also affected by the shape of the coastline and the topography of the ocean floor. And that the difference between the temperature of the land and that of the sea creates wind, and so sunset and sunrise, the times when everything begins to cool down, the sea is often glassy and best for surfing.
Rom taught me about short and long-period swells, about the bathymetry of the continental shelf, about deep water canyons and sea mounts. What I liked most about learning the science of surfing was that even the pure facts were poetic. And I began to see why the Hawaiians believed the gods were surfers. The interplay of waves and wind and sun and moon seemed all too magical to be real.
Once we hit the water, though, the talking stopped. “No one can teach you to surf,” Rom often told me. We might talk about what the waves were doing, but never about surfing technique. Rom just let me figure it out. Yet over time, I gleaned a couple essentials of the Romney Noonan School of Surfing.
• One: Understand your environment as much as possible.
• Two: Fear nothing.
…To Be Continued….
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