Sunday, September 28, 2008

It’s probably not gonna kill ya…

It’s an amazing wave. Steady, just strong enough, and long. Both Nic and I have caught some fabulous rides. A soft up, a pop and you’re off. Free and clear of the water, pushed down the line for what feels like eternity, as gentle tropical breezes roll over you. Breathless and smiling, triumphant.

Between those moments of glistening perfection, we’re both discovering pockets of absolute frustration. Watching the more-experienced pick off wave after wave with ease as I try for just una mas and my weary body fails again. On this particular morning, my arms and morning optimism had slowly given out after too many blundered attempts. Despite a mad scramble to the outside, I got pummeled by a rogue set. One after another they consumed me. Sputtering and tired, bleeding from a fin that cut a line from my kneecap to heel, I make a beeline out of the lineup to I catch my breath.

As he paddles by, on a flower-covered surfboard that matches his white-haired wife’s flower board, he tells me I’m too far out. You need to get inside, these waves here—probably not gonna kill ya.

Leathery, tanned skin accentuate ageless bright blue eyes. He’s right. I smile then wearily fall in-line behind him, as he continues.

It might look scary, but you gotta keep pushing yourself. Sure, you’ll get pounded a couple times, but that’s the only way to get better. Don’t worry about those other guys out there, they’ll go around ya. Now, they definitely ain’t gonna kill ya. These waves here – he points to the fresh sea-green swells curling in – probably not gonna kill ya either.

My last few years of surfing: The long drives, damp wetsuits, cold mornings in colder water, carefully picking my way--on a rainy day--through slippery sandstone cliffsides and rocks to surf with Steve and Leslie. Like a football coach, Steve points to my position and shouts orders above surfs roar. Don’t be scared to take a few to the head, he says. Leslie laughs. I paddle with all my strength, until the moment I think I might stand a chance…and then I pull back. The fear of falling, of taking one—any one--on the head, is too great and I would rather feel the wave pass through me--strong, powerful, up and over, and a gust of icy backwash to the face—than to risk falling into those churning jaws if I fail to stand up. Here in Mexico, I imagine it’s the same surf ghosts that haunt me.

Before paddling off, he tells me, You gotta push yourself, you gotta challenge yourself, give it all you got – if it shakes you up, you’re doing right and it’s probably not gonna kill ya.

Thinking of the increasing complexity of my life, of late. The gut-wrenching stress and sickening fear that has haunted my days and nights of the last couple years as I tried to pick my way through the maze of my carefully lived life, of late. I remembered when it wasn’t this way. When I was 17, dreaming of 30, and anything was possible. Now I’ll be 30, I have done what I thought one should do by 30, and I laugh at the ways I see myself resolutely clawing my way back to the daring vitality, the happy simplicity of 17. And, perhaps it’s really that simple. Perhaps there are two kinds of things in the world: those that will kill you and those that probably aren’t gonna kill you.

It’s the refrain that replays in my head as I lay down to paddle, slowly at first, then after a quick look back, I arch my back higher, I whip my arms back and forth until my whole body moves in unison with the intent of catching this wave. There is nothing else. There is no world, no other people, no “what happens if I fail and fall” – there is only this wave and this wave only. As it pushes, and green walls slide up, I’m pounding the water with all my strength. And just when I think I’ve lost it, I’m hoping to my feet and whipping the board around to bear left, left, left to the warm, sea-green expanses awaiting.

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