by Lisa Polisar
Good coffee, to me, like unadulterated organic, medium-roasted, freshly ground Hawaiian coffee from Kona, is like experiencing sex and church simultaneously. While all your bodily senses are awakened and stimulated, a sense of rarity and purity puts you in touch with something higher—spiritual and otherworldly. I grew up a half mile from the Atlantic and, thus, developed a similar passion for the ocean. Surfing has been a logical obsession for me ever since.
The first time my obsession slid into the realm of reality was when my best friend bought me a custom skateboard. Skateboarding, he said, is a great precursor to surfing because it puts you in touch with motion, movement, freedom, and balance at the same time. I knew right away that he was right. Having grown up as a musician, I was never athletic—except for skateboarding. As a kid, it was the closest thing to flying I could think of, short of jumping off the roof of my tree house wearing my red and blue satin Wonder Woman cape (which I actually did).
So, after rekindling my affair with skateboarding for a few months, my friend kidnapped me and took me to a local beach for a week—and sent me to surf camp. There were times, when I first got there, that I gazed out at the blue expanse with that annoying, rose-colored lens that affects all of us who have been separated from the sea for a long time. I watched the slick, neoprene-clad extremists riding the radical surges of spit and froth and thought, "Sure, I can do that." And then, as I watched more closely, focusing on the opposing directions of current and the ensuing clusters of surfers getting knocked off their boards, a more righteous thought pervaded my brain: "There's just no way."
Surf Camp was a way of compressing two months' worth of lessons into a half a day of intensive instruction. I learned about balance, posture, paddling, turning and, most importantly, foot placement. My instructor told me that not only were my feet placed correctly, but I also appeared to have a grace and agility that would serve me well. "Let's put your board in the water," he said. No more fooling around on the grass—time to rock and roll.
He chose a medium-sized wave and propelled me on a glide the first time. The second time he pushed me into the wave, I actually got up. The third time I think I stayed up for five seconds or so, and got up a few more times after that. At that point, I knew I was too exhausted to pull my salty limbs into position again. Logic told me to get out of the water. But for a true searcher, standing up on my board was only half of it. I wanted the real deal—full immersion.
You hear the stories. From strangers clustered on the edge of the beach, in magazine articles, surfing documentaries. You start out with nice, neat, unidirectional four-foot waves, you catch one, and you get up. You do a few bottom turns, top turns, and then some cutbacks as you start to feel more confident with the current. You continue to ride the waves under these ideal conditions for a while. Then, out of nowhere, you're standing on your board and a rogue cross wave mows you over from the side, and that's just the beginning. You're savagely knocked off your board. The water's rushing way too fast all around you. You're completely submerged. Your board is directly overhead, and when you thrust it upward to try to emerge, another wave clobbers you and you're stuck under the water for another wave, or another cycle, or several cycles.
Surf lessons were at a mellow, beginner spot, and I did fine with those neat little 3–4 foot waves. But when I tried my hand at the local beach later that day, the sea was rough and the waves were jagged and coming from odd and unexpected angles. I was out of my league and couldn't stay on my board for more than a second. And, yes, I got knocked off, pulled under, and trapped beneath a deluge of cold angry water for a short spell. It scared me and I knew I had to get out of there. But this is what I call immersion. If you've gotten up on your board, you're actually surfing. But if you've been knocked off and held under while waiting out a nasty conversation between multidirectional currents, to me, that's real surfing. Even though my experience with this kind of "immersion" was on a much smaller scale, it allowed me to really penetrate the heart and soul of the ocean and actually listen to her admonishing and alluring words:
What are the wild waves saying,
(Joseph Edwards Carpenter)
Lisa Polisar is a fiction writer, journalist, musician, skateboarder, and novice surfer. Her third mystery novel, The Ghost of Mary Prairie, will be published in January, 2007. Read more about Lisa's writing at www.lisapolisar.com.