“I remember the fall and the coming of winter, the water got cold. It was a time of the west swell. A swell of change – a swell you rode alone.”
These are some of the hollowed words from the 1970’s surf movie, Big Wednesday. Since the first time I saw that movie in the dank basement of Nates Parent’s house, my life has been altered. Friendships have been strengthen and dreams sought out because of the life written and captured in this film, but not until today, February 9, 2007, have the words above rung true or done anything more than to further the plot of the film along. For all these years the words: “a swell you rode alone,” had meant nothing more than one man in the line-up. Existentialism and ones personal place in or outside the lineup were a void to us and moreover to myself.
Today, alone in my car, cup of coffee snug in my hand, fish sung atop my car, I drove down Goldenwest to P.C.H thinking that this day, this session would be no different than the one the day before, or the one from days prior. I Pulled into Bolsa Chica State Beach and walked my coffee out onto the sand, stood there in the wind and watched longboarders struggle to pick off the wind blown peaks. I harbored no thoughts of grandeur toward my forthcoming session, and simply resolved to get wet and call it what it was, me trying to cleanse my mind before a long day at work.
I left Bolsa and pulled into North Dog Beach, cut the engine and leaned upon the cliff top railing. Some lines, some peaks, no sets. I looked further south to where I had surfed yesterday: Cliffs or Dog Beach or South Dog Beach, you decide. Yesterday was my first experience at this peak, and as I joked with a fellow surfer out there, it was nothing to send a postcard back to mom and dad about but it was a good day. A new spot in a way, though it is probably just over a hundred yards north of Goldenwest, I found that it holds the swell better and has a longer line, both right and left. And though it was some 24 hours ago, I can barely for the life of me, remember how I surfed or the details of my session. I know I befriended a surfer in his 40’s. We talked shapes, had some laughs, and more hoots and cackles than anything else as he on his 7 foot “longboard” and I on my super thick fish, caught more waves that the squash tail fellas sitting inside. So looking down the beach, looking back on yesterday, I fired up the car again and drove down to the next parking lot, pulled into the same spot I did yesterday and suited up. I taped my toes, pulled on my booties, stretched the frayed rubber around my frame and then stretched out my arms. I scraped my board and then rubbed on a little wax. I walked down the cliff and then stood there, watching the size come in: three, no, four, no, five deep sets which appeared to be chest high or better. I had made a good decision.
The details of the session would be too numerous to list here and I’d honestly rather tell you of them over a cold Narraganset by a campfire so I’ll just point out a few way marks and leave the rest for our reunion.
I stroked out in what I thought was a lull in the sets but ended up taking four waves directly to the head, cold water flushing through my beard and through the neck of my wetsuit as I pushed under the thick white wash. As I came up laughing after each one, I started to feel that today would be different. I settled right into the middle of the pack and took my first wave, a low chest sized left, not too steep, not too fast, just a nice welcoming wave. I took the drop and then laid into a huge cutback right in front of one of the guys who was kind of eyeing me, but it wasn't a sharp cut back and it wasn’t aggressive, moreover it was fluid, just like a strut of a cut back, all style, all hip movement, right in front of the guy and then off through the white water and back off the wave. I don’t know where it came from, I hadn’t cut back like that since I the last time I longboarded but this time there was about four feet less of fiberglass under my feet. That first wave was all mechanical, I hadn’t thought about it at all, I just popped up and then the waves was over. On the paddle back out I thought about what I wanted to do on the next wave. Granted I had just executed a cut back that would have made the men of the 1950’s proud but I knew I could have done more, so I mapped out my ride before hand. The next wave was backside (first was frontside) and I had decided to cruise the line and gain as much speed as possible instead of the drop and the cut back, so I pumped it and pumped it and then dug my left arm into the water and just pulled the best cutback, back frontside for a second into the white water and then back backside again. When I got back up to the top I shot down the face again and when I dug my nose back into the wash, finishing my wave ::::: dig this, I had the Beatles "Getting Better" in my head . Out of no where the song just came to me and I started laughing. "It's getting better all the time."
The pop was there, the drop was there, the pump was there but furthermore the stoke was there and I was cognizant of it all. Everything; the burn in my arms, the salt on my face, the wind seen only in the spray, it was a transcendent moment in my life that I had complete control over. And I was alone. Surfers to my left and surfers to my right but not a single person with a name. It wasn’t a lonesome solitude, like I’ve felt so many times before, but rather it was full, like I had learned how to fill my void with myself, or better yet had grown whole again, completed my being. While still in the water I knew that the session was going to end well, it’s that feeling of knowing you’re going to win. The feeling completely void of arrogance and full of well deserved confidence. This wasn’t 15 foot faces, and it wasn’t the biggest or hardest I’ve ever surfed but in a way it was: I had finally faced myself; my inhabitations, my solitary fears, my weaknesses, and my self inflicted void of confidence. I don’t know how many years I had been hiding and darting in-between these flaws of shortcomings and excuses but today, today I surfed them out.
The water was cold, the swell came from the West, I surfed it, and it made all the difference that I went at it alone.