You may not understand when I tell you that the drive over there was filled less with anticipation and more with dread. In a way all I wanted to do was turn around and go back to bed: I felt downright sick to my stomach. I thought about it then and I’ve thought about it since then, and I’ve decided that what it came down to was fear; fear that I wouldn’t remember how to do it, that I would be once more reduced to an utter kook making a fool of herself- but worse than that, the fear that it just wouldn’t be the same. That the joy and passion I once felt was only a wishful-dream of a memory, not and just as intangible.
When I arrived at the beach is was pretty empty- only a handful of joggers and walkers, and two guys with a short board learning how to use it. I smiled with nostalgia and thought to myself- please don’t let me fall down more than they do. As many times is fine, but just not more…
I’ll be honest- it was not good surf. But it wasn’t flat, either, which means that the waves were a hell of a lot better than they would have been in Birmingham, so I’m not complaining. In fact, I felt downright grateful for those teensy little swells that I knew would help ease me back in to the feel of things without threatening to drown me.
I unzipped Ruli (she travels in a pretty sturdy board bag, since I tend to have to take her ridiculous distances) and put on a fresh coat of wax- I was a little nervous about that, since I only had cold water wax with me and the last time I surfed in Jacksonville the water was warm as blood. It turned out, however, that the water was plenty cool enough to keep the wax in place (and me from wanting to die from lack of refreshment).
We eased into the water cautiously- although the calm meant I didn’t have to worry about losing my balance while I stood on one foot and strapped my leash to the opposite ankle. Then I walked her out a little deeper, keeping my fingers lightly on her back until it was deep enough for me to slip on and start paddling.
As soon as I was on I realized that I was in the wrong spot on the board- so I shimmied backwards until I felt the proper balance my body remembered. Then it was one clean stroke after another as I drew myself out to where I could see the little waves peaking. I have to say that a part of me didn’t mind one bit that I didn’t have to battle frigid white water to get out. It was definitely not a bad thing to not be exhausted before I even attempted the first wave.
I picked my spot and sat up, automatically shifting my weight to swing Ruli’s nose back toward the shore. I only had to sit maybe thirty seconds before I saw the tell-tale wrinkle that told me I’d be able to ride it in. Theoretically.
Down on my stomach I went, falling back into the familiar rhythm of paddle-paddle-paddle- then I felt the wave reach me and I felt the tiny drop that means Ruli is well and truly set and then…
I wish I could say that I triumphantly sprang to my feet and rode in on a blaze of glory, all my former hard-won skill undiminished by the passing of years. But the truth is that I lay there on my stomach and let myself be carried in while I re-familiarized myself with the movement of a wave. Time enough for standing on the next one.
And I did stand on the next one, for a whole split second, although it was the most awkward damn pop-up the world has ever seen. My body remembers a lot about how it should move while surfing, but not, apparently, how to properly place my damn feet. Nor how to keep my ass out of the air. A pop-up should be one fluid movement from prone position to crouched- mine was more like a pop-and-lock gone horribly wrong.
And yet, even though the faulty pop-up was repeated several times (and yes, even the belly-ride to shore got repeated) I did manage to nail it once- and then again. And I remembered what it was to surf again.
I will admit that the joy was neither as deep nor as fierce as what I have felt in the past- but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the Atlantic and I are Just Friends- whereas the Pacific and I have something of a Passionate Love Affair going on. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoy hanging out with the Atlantic, she’s a cool anthropomorphized body of water and all- but there’s just something about the Pacific that really stirs my blood and makes my heart sing.
It’s possible that it’s the raw power of the Pacific. I go in there and I know damn good and well that I could die- in a very serious way she could crush my body and fling it lifeless to the shore, or hold it down until the air has disappeared from my lungs. I step into her and I surrender to her- she lets me ride her- or she doesn’t. Whereas the Atlantic tends to be so mellow that I can wear my sunglasses in without fear of losing them.
But whatever. It’s a start.