While biking around the island, I ride along the street that runs through the center of high school. It must be just after lunch because students are walking from all directions towards the school--except one boy: he's flying by on a skateboard and in his arms he cradles--- a surfboard. The waves are unusually high due to last night's storm, and I'm sure he's headed to the beach for some adventure. I'm thankful as a teacher I don't have to compete with big wave days.
I have surfed. While just a teenager, friends took me to Dana Point for a one morning tutorial. I rose, surfed a few feet, got back up and did it again. But then I headed back to the desert. As an adult, my sister and I, rather naively, rented surfboards on Waikiki beach. We lasted maybe fifteen minutes and after a near collision with horrified Hawaiian faces paddling a canoe, dragged our boards back to the rental shop.
One summer I even arranged for surf lessons for the whole family. I think I caught one ride before toppling forward over my board. At this point, I gave up the idea of learning to surf for myself, but bet your bottom surfing dollar, the daughters went to surf camp and I make sure Max and Anni go to surf camp. Max seems to have caught the surfing bug--even for a landlocked child.
My own incapabilities cannot keep me from enjoying the thrill of watching real surfers, and this past weekend, they flocked to the beach to ride the continual high swells.
Surfers make waves look like nature's ultimate toy. On the cusp of the curl, a surfer paddles, stands, and works the wave like a pastry chef spreading cream. The wave forcefully, gracefully, moves the surfer forward. He rides it out and pops down to paddle out for another.
A few days later I'm walking the beach in Santa Monica. I pass an instructor on this weekday morning who is teaching kids how to read a wave. He points to the variation of the curl and explains the presence of a sandbar. What are kids doing at the beach on a week day?
I look around and see the ocean is full of what may be students. Could this be a PE class?
On my way back down the beach the surfers are carrying boards back up to the parking lot and the instructor is removing orange cones from where he blocked off his part of the ocean.
"Is this a high school PE class?" I ask.
"It's actually middle school, and yes, it's PE class."
"Do they know how lucky they are?"
"Probably not," he responds.
I learn that other middle and high schools in the area also have surfing PE: Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica High.
I love being in my wet suit in the cold surf. My body is warm but if I miss a wave in my surf kayak, it tosses me and spits me out. The cold stings the back of my head and the pungent smell permeates. I'm awake and exhilarated. When I walk out of the surf, regardless of the weather, I'm warm. Warm and feeling good about life. Nothing feels better than salt water and the pull of a wave.
So it is with envy that I watch the surfers. In part it is their youth, their agility, that they can take a natural phenomenon and play with it, roll it, manipulate it, like a little ball of clay. That they dare to swim into a monster, harness it and feel its power. It seems the ultimate mastery of nature.
When people think about dying and going to heaven, they most likely want to be angels; but for me, I will be a surfer.