Founder's Note | Where We Come From Posted on 26 Oct 16:28
I love surfing. I should say though, that since I’m a relative beginner, I usually tell people I’m going “not drowning,” and if I end up catching a wave, then well hey, what a day! Here in San Francisco, surfing is… “challenging” would be the polite word. It’s not like the warm beaches of San Diego, or the tropical Hawaiian perfect rollers you’ve seen in movies. Surfing up here is - more often that not - totally miserable. It’s cold. And windy. With strong currents. The waves are never consistent. And getting past the break can take hours. And did I mention the sharks!
But I love it. It’s just you, your board, and pure nature. We came from the ocean. It was here before us and will be here long after we’ve gone. To feel the raw power of the ocean’s swells, to be able to harness it and ride a wave; it’s one of the most magical, spiritual, and humbling moments you can experience. You feel small and alive all at once.
Last weekend I went out to Ocean Beach with a couple friends, Stephanie and Chris, both relative beginners like me. Because of El Nino (and I’m sure global warming), this season in San Francisco has been unusually warm. So when we arrived at the beach, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and very little wind.
We jumped in and started paddling out. And then for the next probably hour, we still kept paddling out. It was a joke. Wave after wave kept coming. The white water would not relent. I kept looking at Stephanie and Chris after every ten minutes of focused paddling and just laughed. We were in the same spot we started! I could still stand on the bottom.
Somehow I eventually found a current (or more accurately a current found me) that whipped me past the break. Yes! But now I saw that the waves were fairly big for my comfort level. And steep. And fast. All things that more or less meant I was bound to get rocked.
But here I am, finally out. The sky is perfect. All of a sudden a large seal breaches the surface five feet away and barks at me. I never know if seals are a good thing or bad thing when it comes to sharks. I’d rather the sharks go for them than me… so hopefully their presence is a net positive. Pelicans are nearby dive-bombing for their lunch. Sea ducks are flying low on the water’s surface. I don’t know what time it is and I don’t care. I can barely lift my arms. I breathe deeply. I’m in heaven.
It’s sometimes hard to conceptualize the smallness of our existence. One short life, on a tiny insignificant planet, in an average galaxy, hurtling around in endless space. Our lives don’t register in the accounts of time. I look out west across the horizon and think that this is the closest thing I can experience to infinity. Sitting on my board, my hand in the water, I feel the push and pull of the currents, and try to imagine how far these drops of water have travelled to reach me.
I see a wave come towards me and start paddling as hard as I can towards the beach and feel the momentum pick me up and start moving me forward. I feel the face of the wave develop and I can clearly see a sharp drop over the top of my board. I move to stand up and seize the immense power behind me, but the wave moves too fast. And I don’t commit to the drop. I shift back as I stand up, and am now surfing the top of the wave - not where you want to be. I try to push myself over, but the battle was lost the instant I didn’t commit. I lose my balance and fall. My board is pushed into the face. I’m dragged down. I hold my breath and cover my head and wait, the chaos of browns and greens and swirling sand throwing me around like a rag doll.
The wave pretty much carried me back to the beach and finally spit me out. I looked back out to sea and could still see the seals and the pelicans and the ducks; I felt like a dinner guest who had been shown the door early. This is their world I was playing in.
Later, I rejoined my friends on the beach and we slapped high fives and shared words of encouragement. We survived another day of not drowning. Despite our obvious failure at really surfing, we smiled and celebrated because we needed to be heard. It’s why we shout when we climb to the tops of mountains. If we don’t, it almost feels like we may disappear into the vastness of our surroundings. So we laugh, and shout, and share the joy of the moment, of experiencing the power and beauty of where we all came from.