In my first graduate degree at Stony Brook University, I was graced with a gifted English professor who really made me take a hard look at my writing and where it might go were I willing to do the real work. Unbeknownst to me, she was in the habit of sending student work she deemed worthy to luminary portals such as the NY Times , The Atlantic, Forbes, Harpers and more. I found this out when I received a release form from the times…
Anyway, would I edit this now–Oh yes! Voraciously! But, was I thrilled? Yep. Do I remember writing it? Nope– it was just another assignment but I do remember being excited about the topic. It was personal, it was authentic, and it was my choice. Hmmmmm….
The piece is below but here’s the link to the NY Times Archive
Thank you Dr. Brown.
OPINION; Surfing My Way Back to My Past
HAVING turned 40, I found myself thinking back about the adventures I had let slip out of my life over the last decades. Reigning supreme among my memories were those of surfing in every season at every time of day, even fully suited in December with a coat of Vaseline between my skin and wetsuit.
Those brief winter excursions in the freezing water off Gilgo Beach were done for bravado, to maintain my status as ”one of the guys,” and were not much fun; not food for the soul. But the rebel in me hadn’t fully emerged so I remained anchored to the climate along with school, and the dictates of the underage suburban rebel.
But later, once I broke free of the shackles of high school, I propelled myself to warmer climates, surfing Rincón, Puerto Rico; Blacks Beach by San Diego; Sebastian Inlet by Cocoa Beach; Nags Head and Cape Hatteras. Most times it would be a group of us embracing the camaraderie and the security in numbers and all falling in with the spirit of the sport, trying crazy stuff, coaxing a stunt from a lackluster wave just for the pure fun of it, knowing a buddy would bail us out if we landed in trouble.
But the Zen of surfing, for lack of a better phrase, that I discovered by returning to it on Long Island two decades later, that was quite another story.
The rush of surfing is not just about the skill but is about getting back into the primal state; the ocean is the catalyst. (Anyone who has ever gone alone for a swim offshore for a half-hour or so would know this sensation.) I wanted to get back to those beginnings; that is why I decided to welcome my 40th summer by getting back on a board.
Arriving one early morning at Gilgo Beach, where I surfed so often in my youth, I met fog and damp sand and a shoreline like a fresh sheet of paper, all of yesterday’s footprints erased. Years had passed, but having surfed that very same break so often, I still knew that the wind was the deciding factor in what the day would give and what the ocean would sanction.
Checking the wind I sat for a while, studying the waves. They were arriving in sets like families on an outing. First little cousins and toddling siblings would dribble up in spurts and tangled tempests, then an aunt or two, arching their backs, until finally, the elders, proud, thunderous and wizened waves, and at last the patriarch himself would rise and fall, as if dragging his kin back to the sea to begin again. The trick was to see the patterns and to know that the family always had a renegade. It was the break in the pattern for which I really watched, and the aim was to meet it poised.
Between the exuberance and the thrill that awaited, there was a twinge of anxiety: the undercurrent of the idea that I may not return; not a likelihood, not even a strong probability, but merely a possibility. Always aware of the vastness of the sea and the eternal wild it represents, I went through the paces, hand over hand stroking the salty water, my body knowing the rhythm of the ebb and flow.
So on that glorious day of my return to the sea, I floated on my board waiting for the first wave that would carry me home. Finally, it came, and I was ready. I signed the pact, dropping down the face with speed and legs thrusting toward the shallow then up and over and maneuvering for the crest, roller-coasting the left, and cutting back before the crash, exhilarated, turning back to flat waters to line up again, breathing deeply, washed in Poseidon’s grace.
I did not try to conquer the waves, but to find a place on them and harness their power to meld with my own. When the ocean sought to remind me of my place and the currents tumbled and passed me from hand to hand like a rag doll, I remembered what I had learned — to relax, not to resist, not to panic.
Survival required submission. Beneath the surface, curled into a ball, knowing that position to be the path of least resistance, there was a sense of complete abandon, and simultaneously, in the womb of the wave, a sense of helplessness and trust. There I was, a woman of 40 and rolling in the arms of the sea; a mother myself, in the cradle of the universal mother.
Paddling back again and again, kissing the sand and bending back to the deep, I had a sense of remembering, or almost remembering, or perhaps it was more a precognizant awareness of the next wave, knowing the pulse of the ocean tied to the cadence of the blood in my veins.