Tonight I stopped at Cardiff to surf. I have this mixed relationship with Cardiff, and probably with surfing if I’m being totally honest. I’ve had some really good days here. Some days there is really nice left break there, and because of the sandbar protruding from the estuary, the waves can break in a nice triangular pattern making the break easier to predict for a novice surfer like me. Today was not one of those days.
I sit on the beach for a while, watching the surf, waiting for the wind to die down. The swell is coming from the northwest and the southwest today, meaning that both sides of the triangular break are being hit with big(ish) sets. Let me qualify big. For me, big is five feet. I have a 9’6” longboard and my small frame plus that board plus 5’ waves—that’s my max. I say this because experienced surfers would describe today’s waves as fun-size, not big.
I have the board and the desire to paddle out so I do. It’s exhausting to paddle out through the break. I actually think back to this post I wrote last Fall. I remind myself, Just keep paddling and you’ll get out there. It feels like it takes a really long time and by the time I reach the area I deem as safe from being demolished by a big set, my arms are spent. This seems distressing for a minute but it’s actually no big deal. The moment to rest, to take in the sky, the water, to rise and fall with the waves instead of struggling against them—this is actually a big part of the joy of surfing.
I interrupt my reverie to observe how the waves are breaking, to decide where I should position myself. I like to sit where the waves are catchable, but more towards the side because I lack confidence and it always feels intimidating to plunk myself right in the middle of the group of surfers who all seem better than me. This strategy of sitting on the side works some days but usually it just means I have to paddle extra hard to catch a wave on its shoulder or if the waves are soft at all, I just don’t catch anything. Sometimes, the not-catching-anything makes me braver and I scoot closer and closer to the crowd sitting where the waves are peaking. Today, I don’t quite make it because these larger sets keep rolling through.
I watch the waves. I paddle for a wave here and there that seems big enough to take me but small enough to not obliterate me. This strategy also sometimes works but often gives the same result as the shoulder strategy described above—I don’t catch anything. I get brave and inch over to the left side of a peak. A wave comes in and I paddle for it. I catch it and pop up to my feet. I prepare myself for the drop but it’s no use. I don’t make the drop. The board shoots out in front of me and I tumble through the wave. I count this as a success. Any wave I paddle into today will be a success. I paddle back out and find myself drawn south again, outside of the peak. The big sets are still intimidating.
I am surprised by two dolphins that surface only about 15 feet from my board. They are making farting noises with their blowholes. I watch them until another big set comes in and I have to paddle out. I almost make it over the wave but it catches me slightly sideways and pushes me forward with my board extending parallel to the wave. Thankfully I’m able to pull out before I go over the falls (which is about as comfortable as it sounds).
I repeat the process of paddling for waves, not catching them, paddling out hoping not to get smashed by the big sets, getting smashed by some of them.
There is a technique for getting smashed with a long board, called turtling. To turtle, right as the wave is about to crash on top of me, I flip the board over so the board is upside down in the water and I am holding it on either side with both hands in some form of dangling underneath. If the wave is big, it usually pushes the whole thing down but then the nose of the long board pops up out of the water and I use that momentum to flip it over easily and quickly climb back on. Sometimes it’s amazing how efficiently it works. Sometimes it’s a long trip to the bottom of the wave and back to the surface.
All in all, I was in the water for about 90 minutes. I kept telling myself, I just need to catch one so I can ride it in. Then I realized that my arms were so tired my ability to catch anything was in jeopardy. So I began the long paddle in. This is not necessarily the easy part because by paddling in, I am on the inside of the break, exposed to all the sizes of breaking waves. But again, I remind myself that I’ve done this before. And I walk onto the beach with board in hand, sinuses full of sea water and arms like dangling ropes.
Some days you don’t catch any waves. It’s okay to be bad at things and do them anyway–actually it’s recommended.
“Trade your cleverness for bewilderment.”Rumi