I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.
In real estate they say location, location, location. In life, “timing is the thing.”
About ten years ago I had a bad case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On a big day at Playa Negra, I was sitting way outside. As an aging geezer in the lineup, incapable of competing with guys who could fly through the air, emerge from deep within barrels, and all the other miracles of younger better surfers, my strategy was to ride an old semi-gun with great flotation, sit beyond the pack, and pick off the occasional outside set. Usually it worked, and I even got my 15 seconds of fame thanks to a great video by Tony Roberts, our local cameraman extraordinaire. As it turned out, however, I wasn’t out far enough for the 10-wave set that gave me a new perspective on life.
You probably know how it is. If you don’t make it over the first one, you’re sitting in the impact zone for the rest of the set. No question of successfully duck diving a 7’4”, super floater semi-gun under 10-15 feet of churning foam. I spent the next few minutes being slowly dragged underwater, wave after thunderous wave, shoreward like a tiny lure behind a tuna boat. Those few minutes of near death experience provided me a new perspective on surfing in particular and life in general.
After trying a couple more sessions at Negra, replete with panic attacks and tachycardia whenever sets loomed on the horizon, I started to realize that what used to be fun was, frankly, not fun at all. I migrated out of the mainstream, found somewhat calmer waters, shed the plethora of plastic accessories that form the foundation of modern surfing and, went back to a more Zen-like approach to immersion in the magic of riding waves—bodysurfing.
First, allow me a clarification. I’m not talking about flailing into a breaking wave and sloshing along face down in the soup towards the sand. We’re also talking several notches above the more experienced practitioners who manage to get one arm out in front and more or less go sideways, “shooting the curl” in the surfing language of yore. The practiced application of timing and location can yield some real delights of “inner fun” that are completely out of sight to observers from shore.
My favorite secret spot offers up small hollow barrels on an almost daily basis through the long dry season. With a stripped down approach, i.e. no board, trunks with minimal drag and a couple of techniques, you can slide into barrel after barrel and get both the adrenaline rush and the cosmic inside snapshot that sticks in your memory and keeps all wave riding diehards coming back for more. It’s not only about different techniques; it’s really about a whole different perspective about what your time in the water is all about.
To help round out my thinking on just what I’ve been doing since that near fateful day at Negra a decade ago, I talked with longtime local homie, Johnny Coopwood, surfing artwork standout and another convert to ‘surfing in your skin.’ A nagging back issue has hampered his board riding but not dampened his stoke. He’s still hitting the hollow spots, and, given his artistic ‘third eye’, has a way of both capturing and describing the visuals with an intricate precision. But again, the bottom line is that seeing is believing. And the experience itself is ‘existential’ and not so easy to capture on celluloid—or in digital format. Let’s make it simple: you can’t convey a feeling in a photo.
One photographer who has done a great job of portraying both the power and the spectacular palette of visuals in breaking waves, is Clark Little, best known for bone crunching close-ups of shore break waves in Oahu, the Mecca of world surfing. Given his expertise at taking quick shots in tight places, he’s also gotten some great shots of bodysurfers, doing their thing, out of sight but enthralled in the grasp of nature’s unfolding glory. He called one photo, “Back to the Roots”, a reference perhaps to the existential and experiential—diametrically opposed to the commercial ‘image’—aspect that has come to rule over the ‘sport of kings.’
Thirty-some years ago I was trying to evolve my own third eye, practicing yoga and meditation in an ashram on the banks of the Ganges River where it flows out of the towering Himalayas. Sipping chai on the rooftop terrace with a venerable sadhu, a holy man involved in a lifelong quest for truth, calm and wisdom. Hindus have a deep reverence for water in general, and the Ganges in particular.
While looking out over the “mother of waters” I began to describe the experience of tube riding, perhaps failing with my words, but using my hands as surfers often do when describing what goes on in our watery world. The guy was no dummy. He got the point and rephrased it within his own deeply spiritual world-view. “When you are riding in the tube, as you say, of a crashing wave, it is then that you are truly experiencing the roar of OM.” I left the hills on the first bus in the AM and headed for the mellow tubes of Sri Lanka. Three decades later my meditation continues to focus on opening the third eye to those inner visions at beaches along the Guanacaste’s Gold Coast.
Tom Peifer is an ecological land use consultant with 19 years experience in Guanacaste. 2658-8018. email@example.com
El Centro Verde is dedicated to researching and promoting sustainable land use, permaculture and environmentally sound development.