Surfing is a sport that looks so incredibly cool that deep inside you know it has to be hard. Jerry Seinfeld describes it this way: “I think surfing is cool. I think it's funny all the trouble that people go through to get into the ocean and that really the ocean is just constantly throwing us out of it. That's what surfing is, the ocean throwing us out."
I’d say that’s fair. That’s what it feels like to me, anyway. The ocean constantly throwing me out. And under. Constantly trying to take me under. The ocean has been described in many amorous terms that invoke feelings of peace and calm and relaxation. Most days when I’m surfing, those are the last words in my head. The ocean is more how I imagine an abusive wife to be: unpredictable, violent, with a total disregard for my wellbeing and an unseen undercurrent of evil churning beneath the surface at all times. The ocean is not your friend. She doesn’t owe you anything. She doesn’t care who you are, how far you came to surf, what you earn in a day, how many kids you are supporting, and least of all, whether or not you survive. She’s a bit of a honey-badger, if you catch my meaning. (Please don’t YouTube that, Mom and Dad. But if you do, let me say this: Matt showed it to me).
While it could technically be said that I can surf (standing upright on a board while being propelled by a wave), no one would look at what I do and say, “Hey, that guy’s a surfer.” I spend more time paddling than riding, I miss more waves than I catch, and I lack an effective bottom turn. I’m a ride-the-whitewash-straight-to–the-shore kind of surfer. On a good day.
But being bad at something isn’t particularly humbling. I just started doing this surfing thing, so I don’t feel too bad about being terrible at it. What’s humbling is the feel of being inside of a force so incredibly strong that you cannot possibly overcome it.
The kinetic energy contained inside even a small wave is remarkable. Being at the wrong place in a breaking wave is the best way to understand this force. If it breaks directly onto your head (surfers call this being “guillotined”) you will be immediately submerged and rolled up in the wave as if God just dropped you in a front-loading washing machine. Going “over the falls” refers to the act of trying to paddle into a wave, only to be dropped from the peak of the wave down, forward, into the foot of the wave. And then having the pleasure of again being rolled, this time a little deeper. Adding to the sickening feeling of being underwater with no sure sense of “up” and diminishing oxygen reserves, you are simultaneously haunted by the sudden memory of your surf board. It’s that 7 foot long, hardened epoxy weapon strapped to your ankle, tumbling inside that same wave, waiting to either smash your face with its blunt end or gash your skin with its fins. Oh, and did I forget the rocks? The wave that just dragged you under would love nothing more than for your skull to meet her friend, Rock.
It’s easy to get out of bed, walk through a climate-controlled house, drive your car to a desk job, drive home, and repeat ad nauseum. All the time never really encountering a physical force more powerful than yourself. Being surrounded by, and occasionally submerged by, an ocean that is infinitely move powerful than me, has been a remarkably effective way to remind me of exactly where I stand in the grand scheme of this planet.
As for the CrossFit, more to come on that later. But let me just say it’s hard to get too full of one’s self while being out worked by a woman whom you significantly outweigh.