Land Animals in Water

We are standing on the dunes with our hands in our pockets–land animals watching the winter ocean roar. The day is cloudless. The ocean is doing somersaults.

We are back at the car grinning, peeling off clothes in the December wind. We hop around encased in neoprene. We slip our feet into soggy pee-smelling booties. We run walk across the Great Highway and sink into sand. We look at each other and smile fear smiles. We wade into froth all the way up to the our armpits and then we’re on our boards, land creatures dashing in water.

I paddle like I am digging, plunging arms one after another, head down, shoulders dancing. On the inner bar liquid cities topple, the sounds like war, me in the middle, dodging, scanning for a route, finding a rip current, following it through anarchy. I am making progress. I have so much farther to go.

Then a wave. A fucking masterpiece–ocean architecture–right there in front of me. I feel as though it is the very first wave I have ever seen. A lifetime of water towers, crests, and then heaves down. I dive hard but I am just a land animal. The force is spectacular. It wrenches me into muffled darkness, into watery nothingness. I am in space. I am on drugs. I am a tiny little thing. Then it lets go.

I pop back up and devour the air. I laugh a crazy woman laugh. I say things out loud to myself. I am alone in a field of foam with waves thundering on all sides; overboard. I want out, I want cozy land comforts but my body is already clambering back up onto my board and then once again I am digging, moving directly at these mighty water walls. I see Will out to the left, battling his own battle. I want to bury my face in his neck. I paddle hard, digging for calm.

On the outer bar, we reunite.

That was fucking crazy, I say.

Yes, he agrees, that is what crazy is.

Outside in deeper water, civility reigns. We have time to find our bearings. We can see the horizon and we can see the shore. There are other people out here, ragged and beaming like us. I see a woman with white blonde hair paddling a school bus yellow gun. She is all muscle and laughter. She paddles past me and we exchange looks of lucky, happy people. Then in unison all heads turn and we see it together. A set. Waves come in sets. The set we see sends fear trickles running down my esophagus.

The first wave is on top of us and I am right there, right at the burly crux of it. I have to go.

For the most part, my life is standing in line. My life is BART rides and checking my email. My life is staring in the mirror and laying in bed on Instagram. But then my life is this: paddling down the glittering face of a hollow winter wave.

I drop in backside on a 4-inch-thick 7’ 6” shaped by my dad and lean into my heels. The wave is a hallway of green stretching long, growing tall, and then, so easily, folding over my head. I grab my rail and, after a million years of surfing, I am finally barreled properly. It is peaceful and soul-quenching. It is a joy like love.

Ocean Beach is known for these days. These offshore wind emerald glimmering lose your mind kind of days. But there are only a dozen or so a year. Some years, fewer. I could play it cool, I could pretend it was no big deal, but really, this day changed me. That sounds fucking silly. It’s true though.

Me, I’m a scaredy cat. I swim in doubt and I sink under pressure. I’ve always been like this–a hand-wringer. You should have seen me that day though. Me the land animal paddle soaring over a rolling emerald water city like I had fins and wings at the same time.

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