A year ago I made a commitment. I’d had long lapse in my time with the ocean, so to end the drought I found heaven in salt water once again – I would surf the next 366 consecutive days. Daily romps with the sea have taught me countless lessons, but here’s a few that will follow me for life.
1. The Ocean Is The Best Way To Start Your Day
The ocean may as well be a salty planet in a far flung universe. You sit, floating on this archaic plank while foreign creatures swim beneath you. Occasionally you fly down a bump on the surface of its moving liquid highway. You detach yourself from land and experience nature unfiltered, maybe pretending you’re an indigenous cetacean yourself. The smell of smog starts to dissipate as your body becomes more cathartic. The flotsam of land is forgotten. An unwavering pelican flies overhead and a dolphin flicks under you. How freaking awesome is that? When I surf in the morning my day has purpose. It breeds clarity and puts into perspective things that truly matter. If I wait until the afternoon I sometimes find myself stressing over pointless issues that should hold no bearing. It’s doesn’t matter if the waves are hucking, wind-blown towers, soft crumbly lines, or barreling slabs of perfection. The ocean just does something to you and makes everything right.
2. I’m Not Invincible
My mind, however steadfast and frothing, can’t keep up with my biggest limit in surfing – My body. Being an injury prone clumsy wrecking ball of a girl, I’m not even sure where to begin. There was the day at Topaz, where skipping down the beach path with my longboard I tripped over a metal plate and looked down at a shredded toe, nail hanging on by a bloody sliver. A chunk sliced out of that same toe complete with all-over reef scrapes months later in Mexico. A couple trips to the ER with suspected broken bones. Countless scattered indents and discolorations courtesy of my heavy log that can still be seen 6 months out from their respective bruise. Strained left shoulder in a sling days before my Nicaragua trip. And none of those were the worst one, which I feel now as I type. On June 2nd I dislocated my right shoulder and separated my AC joint while trying to save my board from being ripped to shore, and for the first three weeks the only way to surf was with generous pushes and help from my comrades; at the moment I’m still limited to one-armed paddling.
Maybe we aren’t meant to do something every single day. Or maybe I have to find a cure for the “just one more wave” syndrome that magically turns into three additional hours of playtime. Cuts, scrapes, scars and all, I’d imagine it wouldn’t be as exciting if it was cloaked in safety net.
3. The More I Surf, The More I Want To Surf
That pretty much sums it up. Many think a daily dip has been an incessant chore, but it’s quite the antipode. I wake up and want to feel the ocean. I pop out of bed longing for waves like it’s been a year since I’ve seen the sea. Every slide down a wave and every cross step, bottom turn, and noseride fuels more stoke. I actually can’t remember a day that I didn’t want to surf. Of course there were rough and difficult days, but when my feet hit the sand I came out stronger and more prepared for whatever lied ahead.
4. There’s Always A Corner Somewhere
Though it was tough at times, navigating this El Nino winter with a heavy 9’6 log, there was ultimately something beautiful to find in every single session.
The first big windstorm I remember came November 25th. My surf and life coach Mike Siordia was watching, perched in shelter as I pierced through the 25 mph winds, paddling through seemingly endless towers of whitewater. As I vaulted up the final wave between myself and the lineup a gust pitched me and my longboard backwards, smashing us both hard into the bottom. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much sand in my life. For some reason I remember smiling and laughing as I washed ashore with beach mud caked across my face. From then I became a smarter, more educated surfer. I studied winds and charts and swell direction and forecast for hours, finding small havens and windows in many unmanageable days. A few overhead beachbreak mornings were a bit unnerving, but the triumphant feeling of overcoming semi-calculated risks is second to none.
The gnarly days make the good days epic. And finding peace, pleasure, and reveling in the off-chance corner in the even hairier days make every day, at the very least, good.
5. Wanderlust Festers The More You Travel
When I started my surf mission I was (and still am) obsessed with scouting new spots to slide at. I had been surfing since I was 5, but when 20 came along with a long, draining relationship to accompany, I stopped surfing, competing and pretty much lost grasp of everything I loved and cared about. I cut toxic ties in summer 2015. When I jumped back in the water for the first time in forever my life fell into place. I thought “Holy shit, I remember now. The ocean is what I live for.” Wanting to make up for lost time and with rediscovered sea induced giddiness, I made the commitment to surf for a year straight. I didn’t just want to stick around my South Bay digs. I yearned to pick up and leave at a moment’s notice (work permitting) and often did. I’ve hopped around to four countries and one Great Lake – Lake Michigan in Chicago last September, Nicaragua In February, El Salvador in March, and Cardon, Mexico in April and May. Dawn patrol trips an hour south or north an average of 2-3 times per week, and I’m always plotting my next escape, mind-drunk on the offshore winds of Nicaragua or the bright green backdrop of Noosa. I want to disappear in Mexico for months and I want to explore the shores of South Africa. I hav the bug, and if anyone feels like adventuring, we should share board bags.
6. I’ve Grown To Love Cold Water
Sticky summer days are a logger’s utopia. Drenched with sun, sand, and sweat we sit beachside for hours, almost too tired to trudge back to our shredmobiles by the end of the day. But something I began to crave, especially after coming back from tropical Central America trips in the dead of California winter, was an icy surf-bath.
People looked at me like I was a silly lunatic in Santa Cruz wearing a 1mm shortie for hours in 57 degree water. I had my reasons for putting myself through this: The arduous feeling of straining to put on a wetsuit (and straining against the restrictive force of it in the water), I might be a teeny bit of a purist, and mostly, coming across both Chris Burkard’s as well as the “Iceman” Wim Hof’s talks on the benefits and clarity they’ve gained from cold water and breathing techniques to counteract feeling “cold” had me set on digging deeper in what I was already beginning to explore. I watched their talks with intent and began a practice, wearing minimal neoprene, free of goosebumps and frozen feet. In turn I felt so incredibly alive.
7. It’s Not Just The Surf, It’s The People
Sometimes the only ripples you want to see in the water are those made solely by your fingertips. But other times, you want to share in some stoke with your sea people. I must say, true sea people are the best kind of people.
I’ve had the honor of getting to know surfers from all walks of life in the past year and I love them all. Millionaire surfers, van-resident surfers, grumpy surfers, vagabonds both lost and full of purpose. The Mike Frank’s of Doheny and the Ben Thompson’s of Malibu that express themselves through Fred Astaire-like water dance. The wise gurus like Frank Paine of Hermosa. Jose Bacallao, defender of the ocean and and Jose Barahona, my shaper who has become a father to me. Those like Marion Clark-Setterholm who selflessly bus inner city kids to the water’s edge to see the glory of the ocean, maybe for their very first time. Sharing waves often with these folks, watching their infectious stoke, seeing what they give to the world and humbly learning from their kind spirits is without a doubt the most rewarding aspect to surfing every day.
My daily surf has made me a better sister, friend, daughter, colleague, citizen, and human being. I’ve just had the best year of my life, and even though I haven’t given much thought to what happens next, I do know that as long as the ocean is in my life, I’ll be just fine. For now, I think I’ll keep on surfing.