Thursday, July 10, 2008


Whenever I go to the ocean and spend a few hours diving in the waves, as I did last week, I am reminded of how much they have taught me.   Occasionally you see somebody out in the surf who is clearly a newcomer to waves.   Again and again they stand in the way of them and get smacked down.  Now, if getting hit in the chest and head and back by powerful walls of frothy salt water is your thing, then go right on standing there and getting smacked.  There are certainly worse ways to spend a day.  

Personally, I prefer to face waves in a few other ways:  diving over, diving under, moving out beyond them or riding them in.  Of course, each way holds its own life lessons.  

Diving over is tricky and only works if you catch it just before the big break.  You have to know your wave and decide whether you have the traction on the sand shifting beneath you to make the leap.    This way involves risk and quick judgement and the willingness to get a huge faceful of froth.  But done right, it can result in a very pleasant floating, flopping ride to the other side.

Diving under is the easiest thing.  Just put your arms over your head and face the wave and plunge straight in the the heart of it.   But if you've never done it before, it looks scary.  It's only once you've tried it that you understand that the quietest place in the surf is directly underneath the biggest waves.  Ah yes, the old "there's no way out but through" philosophy. 

Getting out beyond the waves usually means putting yourself rather far out into the ocean, which only works if you like being in the ocean over your head and trust that you have the strength to swim back in, even if a rip tide is pulling you farther out.  To get beyond the waves you have to take a few in the face first, or try the diving under and over techniques often enough to get good at both.  Beyond the waves can be choppy or peaceful and you are never guaranteed a wave-free existence, but what a place to hang out and enjoy the vastness of the universe. The risk is in straying too far from shore, but the pay-off is excellent.   

Riding them in is the most fun of all but requires a willingness to eat some sand, scrape your knees on shells and occasionally feel as if you may be ripped apart.   It also requires great patience in finding just the right wave to ride and catching it at just the right moment as the wall of water tips forward, but before the actual crest.   But when you catch a great body surfing rise -- ah!   What a rush!   


pj said...

It's 95 degrees in New York today, but right now I'm riding toward shore with the cold in my limbs and a mouthful of seaweed. Thank you -- this is lovely in its literal meaning and in all its other possible meanings.

Diane said...

I love your descriptions, and I suspect there are also some life lessons here. being willing to take some in the face, getting in deeper.... words to ponder

Kate said...

I love body surfing with a mad, painful, sand-in-my-shorts passion. Thank you for bringing back some lovely memories.

pj said...

Hey, J.D. Salinger! I've nominated you!

Kate said...

Heya -- what with one thing and another I'm taking my blog private. If you want an invite, shoot me an email at and I'll send it right out.

Robyn said...

I thought some of these thoughts just yesterday, having taken the 2 hour trip to the beach for the day. I had such a yearning to feel the sand under my feet and smell the sea air that we decided to be spontaneous and just go. Whilst searching for cowries I was being dumped by waves and a thought kept flashing into my mind ....this is much like life. While searching for cowries you are going to get dumped by a few waves but you get up again and continue the search.

The poem by Mary Oliver is one of my favourites especially that line at the top of this page and the psalm...I lift up my eyes...another favourite.

lj said...

Welcome Robyn! I think you are my first South African visitor. You have a beautiful blog. I'm fascinated by the totems you create -- I'll be coming back for more.