The question had been nagging at me for weeks. With the crappy weather, marginal conditions, the new board, and my hectic schedule, I hadn't caught a wave in weeks. In fact, I had yet to catch a wave on the new ride. But more and more I kept asking myself if it wasn't my circumstance, but me. Can one lose that instinct, reflex, muscle memory, and knowledge?
Had I actually forgotten how to surf?
This week was an asskicker: the work days were spent gearing up for an open house, a day-long interview sessions with UCSD engineering grads; evenings were spent getting the house ready for a visit from my grandma. Both went off without a hitch, and the day was spent lounging in the sunny backyard, resuming my quest to get through all of Patrick O'Brian's 20 (21, if you count his unfinished last work) Aubrey-Maturin novels. Barbecued some steaks and chicken for dinner, and at 6:30ish decided what the hell, let's paddle out.
Home Break was empty, save for a lone harbor seal, a couple of dolphins, and a red-haired Japanese kid on an 8 foot speed egg. The marine layer had rolled in, and everything was gray, the sea, the sky, and the rocky shore. The tide was pushing in, yielding a smattering of knee and waist-high stuff, not a lot of power, but perhaps enough to (finally) grant me a ride. I suited up sans booties, and paddled out. I expected nothing; there was no "By GOD I'm gonna catch a wave or die trying", no conscious attempt to fine-tune my paddling, no careful scrutiny of the horizon waiting for the sets to develop. I was just going to see what happened.
What I remember most about surfing back in Pacific Beach was not remembering; the curious juxtaposition of totally losing myself in my best sessions. There was no thought process, no carefully storing away mental snapshots of my best takeoffs, bottom turns, cutbacks (although one remains: the floater I pulled on my beloved, long deceased Brewer, nine feet of longboard skidding across the top of a peeling four footer, landing it, and emerging for the water with a blissful, albeit shit-eating grin on my face). I wasn't a great surfer, far from it, but I was competant, and assured.
In the water this evening, everything fell away, as it used to - it was me and the board and the ocean, and the rest of the world was just so much ambient noise. So I can't tell you much about the wave I caught and rode tonight, the first wave ridden on the new board. I know that it was a waist-high left, sorta mushy, and that my timing, paddling, and quickness all fell into place. For a brief moment I reached that Zen-like state that's eluded me - I wasn't thinking about the wave or my form or the fact that I still hadn't caught a goddamn thing on this board, I wasn't thinking at all. It wasn't a long ride - drop and a bottom turn, and then the wave backed off. Still, it's a ride that I won't soon forget, even if I don't quite remember it.