I have always accepted that the ocean is a force larger than myself. The sound of the waves crashing is relaxing, but having a wave throw you for a spin is a whole different sensation. Sure everyone has had this feeling before; a wave has you whirling in its cold liquid fervor and then reminds you who’s the boss of the ocean. As a kid I said the ocean made me feel like a tiny piece of clothing in a giant washing machine, and at the beach among all of those grains of sand I always felt like the one little grain all on its own. As much as the ocean humbles and scares me at times, the beach is also where I have felt the most at peace. I have felt the waves take all of my worries away with them and the ocean water purify my body inside and out. For years it was my dream to live on the beach. I’m not sure how this dream led me from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to the shores and jungles of Java, Indonesia, but before I knew it I was four wheel driving through the mud with monkeys to get to some of the most giant waves in the world.
Well, maybe I do know how. I fell in love with a surfer so it was only routine that I tag along for a long surf safari. I would admit proudly that I was like what a groupie is to a rock band. Instead of attending rock shows and having group sex, I tagged along on adventures through uncharted territory, beer and camera in hand, always left totally in awe and sometimes totally alone. I learned exotic languages and ate lots of crazy food. Also, I learned a thing or two about the ocean and its waves.
I learned the anatomy of a wave and was eventually able discuss things like the “lip” of a wave, which is the way the very edge of the wave curls over when it’s perfect and sort of crumbles when it’s not. The word “Tube” and “Barrels” (used as both nouns and verbs) are just what they sound like. Sometimes waves make perfect tunnels and surfers ride inside like a tent. Except a tube is like a tent made of moving water! I have heard that getting “tubed” is like man/woman and ocean becoming one and that’s it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
I learned that lots of factors are at play to make a good wave. The direction of the wind plays an important role in the waves’ anatomy. Also, the tide and whether or not the wave breaks on reef or sand are important factors.
Low Tide in Java, Indonesia
I learned that in Indonesia it is considered bad luck to wear green and that Indonesians have a lot of fear and superstition surrounding the ocean and its waves.
I learned that animals, like dolphins and turtles, surf and some of the first human surfers were from Polynesia. I think it’s pretty cool that humans evolved to do it too. For that reason, in a way, it’s natural for us too, right?
Rainbow Wave in the Western Central Part of Mexico. Photo by Ryan Winter
Above all, I learned that you have two options when a wave gets its hands on you. This tactic can also apply to life. When a wave has you, you can either scramble like a madwoman to get to the top, or you can accept the great force of the ocean, relax, and propel yourself upward, and you will find yourself breathing at the surface. I’ll tell you right now, you are much more likely to float to the top doing the latter. No wonder it must be hard for surfers, with all of their courage, strength, and glory to accept that the ocean is still a force larger than themselves!
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