Pacific Lines

How do you write about surfing without invoking every cliché in the book? I don’t think you can, and I know for a fact you can’t do it justice through words on a page, either.

But some lines come close. And if you throw in a few pictures too, you might get closer still.

One of my favourite passages isn’t anything famous, it’s just part of an introductory paragraph from a photo feature, titled Autumn Serenade, in Surfer magazine:

“Much of Southern California partook in the seasonal delights of fall last week, even as temperatures were unseasonably high. How’d surfers beat the heat? By squaring into almond tubes and setting backlit trim lines from Baja to Oceanside, as the sun made its slow path across a cloudless sky from morning to dusk.”

I can take in those lines again and again. I think I can taste them.

almond tubes
Oceanside. Photo: McGuinness.

A more analytical quote I came across, and that stayed with me, is from a blog post by Kent Healy. He’s talking about at the end of a surf session:

You leave with nothing but a feeling. After investing the time, taking the risk, and expending a lot of energy in a surf session you walk away with no certificates, no trophies, and certainly no more money – nothing tangible whatsoever (unless, of course, surfing is your profession). The only true gain is emotional. And such is life. For this reason, we should think hard about why we do certain things in the first place. At the end of it all, we take nothing to the grave, but a collection of experiences and memories.”

You leave with nothing. But you leave with everything.

There’s a passage somewhere (or it may be a number of passages that I’ve merged into one in my memory) by Simon Short, either on his blog or in his book, The Average Surfer’s Guide, in which he describes a blissful feeling, driving home after surfing, eyes red, hair thick with salt, physically exhausted.

In this case, you don’t just leave with nothing, you leave with less than nothing. You’re fatigued, you’ve burned all your energy, your muscles ache and your eyes sting if you rub them. But you are more than you were before. You feel better for your beating, for getting turned over by the ocean, and dragged along the sand, and for that wave, the best one of the session, when it all came together. The one that keeps replaying in your mind.

The one that maybe one guy saw, a guy you don’t know, and he may have been looking the other way anyway, but that doesn’t matter, nothing does right now, because you’re stoked. And there’s an elated fuzziness wrapped around everything, after you get home, and you were up so early this morning—up at first light, before the dawn—that you’re feeling kind of sleep deprived even though it’s not even midnight, and you’re feeling kind of delirious, even though it’s only your third bottle of lager, and you drift into sleep.

Maybe you had a shower and washed off the suncream, sand and salt, or maybe you never got round to it, but it doesn’t matter, because tomorrow you can get up late, like, maybe 7.30, and check the forecast, and go again, because it’s typhoon season, and there are storms out to sea, commanding the Pacific, and that means swell, all week, and it’s offshore in the morning, changing to glass.

Perfect, silver-blue glass, rolling unfocused through your dreams.

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