It wasn't until I was on a paddle-board at sea, standing-up and looking down at a series of waves, that I could truly see how their power gathers and disperses. While I’ve previously felt the curl’s whiplash on my surfboard and viscerally knew if I was in the right position to catch a ride, it took being both immersed and watching the pattern come and go from above to grok the groove that is wavelength’s expression.
Paddling with only your arms lying on your belly, trying to get up to speed, the wave will inevitably overtake you. Knowing exactly when by feel alone is a hard earned skill. From the line-up, you get an incomplete picture. It’s coming, it’s coming, then it’s past. An iconic example of ‘seize the moment’ if ever there was one. Fundamentally speaking, to surf a wave, you must put yourself in its unrelenting path. A sitting duck.
Under the crest you can size up height, get the kick, but you don’t see the amount of leg behind it. And it goes without saying, being tossed down the trough like a rag doll doesn’t clarify anything except what not to do next time. You cannot outrun this raw force. You can tuck under, or you can attempt to get up to speed, and if all goes well maybe pop into position to grab a lift and get carried off.
That there is a wave to ride is an amazement in itself; a combination of tide timing, ocean floor shape, swell direction, wind speed and angle, frequency and amplitude. A wave has travelled thousands of miles, ripples from a storm’s impact, singular yet part of a set which climaxes at the shoreline. It’s a spectacular array of forces coming into fleeting alignment.
Above all, if and when all comes together, your weight well-distributed to drop under the lip and onto the face, seeing green before you, focus intact, you slide down the shoulder and feel the incomparable propulsion of ocean water. An instant of harmony with the most potent engine on our planet. Humbling and empowering at the same time.