Thursday, October 06, 2011

Surfing and the way of the world

What is it about the surfing boy image that draws me in like a teenage girl to "Jersey Shore"? I honestly don't know. It could be the water and our nature as humans to go back to the substance that carried us for nine months in the womb. Maybe it's the battle of man vs. nature as we tackle our fears to mount the biggest and best waves. Or maybe it's just living out of the back of your van down by the beach and not having to go to work every day.

Yeah, the last one is probably it.

Last week, I traveled to California. It was my first time on the golden shores of the west coast. I stayed just north of Los Angeles and spent plenty of time exploring and living life.

The very first day I was there, I headed off to see the beaches of Malibu, just a short 20-minute drive. At first I thought I was in the wrong place. Let me say right here,

"Baywatch" is my point of reference for all California beaches. Instead of the warm sunny beaches I had seen on television, I found a 20-degree temperature in the 12 miles to the beach.  actually had to put on a jacket.

But I suffered the cooler temperatures and watched as people grabbed their boards and headed into the chilly, dark blue waters of the Pacific. The looks on their faces said it all as they got lost in concentration in the search for the perfect wave. They were happy. They were passionate. They were fulfilled. And a few were terrified.

As one happy surfer came out of the water, I listened in to a conversation with a fellow surfer.

"I've been out here for four hours," he said. "It was so fun."

The satisfied surfer must have been 50 years old. He was enjoying his communal time with the water and making the most of the day's waves.

One day, while I was trying to get some work done from my remote office on the west coast, I stumbled across an article in the Los Angeles Times about a international surfing competition. The Nike U.S. Open of Surfing was going on in Huntington Beach, Calif. Huntington Beach is known as "Surf City U.S.A." I had to find a way to get to this competition.

So, I got out my trusty map and figured out where Huntington Beach was. It didn't look too far on the map, so I set out on what I figured was probably a 45-minute trip.

I soon realized that a 45-minute trip doesn't exist in Los Angeles. Three blocks in certain areas can take 45 minutes. Three miles could take hours. Thirty miles could take decades or longer. I spoke to one Los Angeleno who had been stuck in traffic since 1969.

"I just want to get off The 405, man," he said to me from the side of the road where his car was sitting, out of gas. "I swear The 405 is going to be the death of me. I just want to see Hendrix."

I didn't have the heart.

I did finally arrive in Huntington Beach with plenty of time to take in the sights and sounds of my first surfing competition. There were surfers from all over the world at this event.
The beach was loaded with kids of all ages. Some kids were just hanging out on the beach waiting for the concert featuring "Putrid Vengeance" and "Surf the Sand" were the main acts set to take the stage that evening. Other older kids, old surfers, were there to cheer the contestants and encourage them by saying things like: "You've got to take this one" and
"Do something" and "Make this one count."

It didn't take me long to figure out I didn't understand the surfing lingo. As I sat and watched the competition, I listened to the announcers trying to figure out if they were speaking English or not.

They were, but their words were not registering on this country boy from Oklahoma's mind.

"That next wave is kind of having a motorboat ripple effect at the base," the expert surfer dude informed the crowd. I also think that "Motorboat Ripple" was the name of one of the bands. "Whoa. There's a quick slash to the inside. He really opened up that section," the announcer continued.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I couldn't even swear there were actual surfers in the water.

Then I saw them and everything else dropped away. It was interesting too, because I have very little perspective as to what makes a good surfer. Then I went to the other side of the pier.

The professional surfers were taking on waves on the south side of the Huntington Beach pier. But on the north side, the rookies, the non-professionals, the kids trying to find certain death, were tackling the same ocean.

On the south side, the professionals were slashing and taming "motorboat ripple effects."
On the north side, the rookies were trying not to run into the pier and each other. Watching the pros go up and down and wave and make it submit to their board inspired me to learn to surf. Watching the rookies try to ride a wave only to make a sudden and ugly dismount made me want to give up my dream and stick to boating.

At the competition a 39-year-old man from Florida, Kelly Slater, took the competition on the men's side. And a 20-year-old Australian named Sally Fitzgibbons outlasted her competition to claim the women's prize.

One of the things I noticed was how the announcers kept mentioning how a hurricane was situated about 1,500 miles away and should make a huge difference in the size of the waves by the weekend. While people in Mexico were battening down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Eugene, the surfers of California were waxing the boards for the waves
Eugene would bring to California's coasts.

That's another crazy thing about surfers: The biggest thrills they get on the water are in the waves brought on by the worst weather.  "The hurricane swells have arrived," a surfer said to no one in particular on the beach, taking a break from the waves. The hurricane brings misery to some and thrills and excitement to others.

It kind of had me thinking about surfing through this life. The world has enough negative stuff to get in the way. Instead, I want to find thrills and excitement. It's all about the focus.
People are always talking about the worst of our world: the economy, debt, war, famine, drought. But what if I take my focus off those things and put all of my energy in how I am suppose to tackle today? Could I find a way to happiness and joy and fulfillment?

I don't know, maybe. I really don't have time to think about all of that. I'm already late for the "Motorboat Ripple" concert.

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