My decision to try surfing was similar to being baptized as an adult. I saw a video of people being dunked and felt this bizarre curiosity to partake vs. watching from the sidelines. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not that girl who will jump off a cliff just because “everybody’s doing it” and in high school had no problem saying no to drugs. I am my own person and always have been. I hate group think and act on the courage of my convictions. But some impulses can’t truly be explained. They’re mysterious and spontaneous and change our lives forever.
True, I’ve had my moments of ridiculous impulses like the time I put my foot in tar to see what the black ooze “felt” like and the time I thought I could slide down a pole with no hands. One incident resulted in hours of scrubbing my feet with turpentine; the other a visit to the hospital. Both occurred when I was five. But at forty, I rarely do things on impulse. Even when I feel God coursing through my veins, urging me to risk, I hesitate, trapped by years of grief and loss.
Trying surfing was a whim – catalyzed by a friend talking incessantly about it and seeing little kid after little kid on the beach in wet suits learning how to do something that from my vantage point I thought I might be able to do too. If these little tykes could go from lying on the sand to popping up on the sand practicing their pop up, why couldn’t I? In hindsight, it was the kid in me, watching those kids that created a longing – a longing to play. A longing to be part of something instead of trapped in the isolation of adulthood and singleness and the seriousness which is a deep part of my personality.
In the film “Shall We Dance?” – (the original Japanese version vs. the not-as-poignant remake with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez), a Japanese businessman mired in the monotony of corporate life stumbles across a ballroom dance studio and signs up for dance lessons on a whim. In secret because partnered dancing was once taboo in Japan. And we watch the miracle of dance restoring his suffocated soul, breathing it back to life.
I relate to this protagonist, my dance partner the sea, giving me pieces of myself back. It is the ocean and a board causing me to laugh and wake up in the morning with a sense of joy and to relax and sleep better at night. Surfing also introduces me to new friends, breaking me from my self-imposed rigidness and isolation, much the way the Japanese man befriended people in his dance class and the competition he enters!
It is the ultimate cliche to say that surfing is spiritual – so I won’t say it. But I will say that in its spirituality is a form of sensuality or sexuality. And if sexuality is about union and creation, then the wave meets me in that place of ecstatic contact – sometimes terrifying me, sometimes making me laugh, sometimes making me cry out with joy. Cowabunga. It also warns me to be careful; that its power can be dangerous but that a life without risk is one without transformation or relationship. With God. With oneself. With others.
My adult baptism was an amazing experience catapulting me on a journey beyond description for this blog post but in a way surfing and the baptism are related – both entailing water, renewal, dunking and being washed clean. Anew.
On days I surf, when I lie down at night, I still feel the movement of the wave within me. I feel myself resting on my board, the waves gently rocking me or the feeling of propelled motion as the wave took me that day. I feel the sea literary a body memory, still wedding me, permeating the very cells of my being and experience. If that is not God, I don’t know what is.