Other Wind
14 / August14 / August14 / August

On The Salty Edge of Things

I imagine I’d like surfing if I had the nerve to try and the grace to succeed. In reality, I’m daunted by the waves that break close to shore. I take my time with them. I met a guy in Panama City Beach when I was 19. He was on leave from the army base at Fort Benning, GA and I on summer vacation with my friend. We walked on the beach together one evening. His home was in California and, when at home, he was a surfer. He said he could teach me how to surf one day. I liked that idea, but I was shy of guys and of waves.

The idea of surfing resounds with me—the blend of daring and skill, the tenuous union with rushing, pounding water. I am an east coast, appalachian girl, but sometimes I think I could play a surf queen in a movie or a dream.

Here’s a passage I like from Jack London’s “Surfing: A Royal Sport:”

That is what it is, a royal sport for the natural kings of earth. The grass grows right down to the water at Waikiki Beach, and within fifty feet of the everlasting sea. The trees also grow down to the salty edge of things, and one sits in their shade and looks seaward at a majestic surf thundering in on the beach to one’s very feet. Half a mile out, where the reef is, the white-headed combers thrust suddenly skyward out of the placid turquoise-blue and come rolling in to shore. One after another they come, a mile long, with smoking crests, the white battalions of the infinite army of the sea. And one sits and listens to the perpetual roar, and watches the unending procession, and feels tiny and fragile before this tremendous force expressing itself in fury and foam and sound. Indeed, one feels microscopically small, and the thought that one may wrestle with this sea raises in one’s imagination a thrill of apprehension, almost of fear. Why, they are a mile long, these bull-mouthed monsters, and they weigh a thousand tons, and they charge in to shore faster than anyone can run. What chance? No chance at all, is the verdict of the shrinking ego; and one sits, and looks, and listens, and thinks the grass and the shade are a pretty good place in which to be.

And suddenly, out there where a big smoker lifts skyward, rising like a sea-god from out of the welter of spume and churning white, on the giddy, toppling, overhanging and downfalling, precarious crest appears the dark head of a man. Swiftly he rises through the rushing white. His black shoulders, his chest, his loins, his limbs — all is abruptly projected on one’s vision. Where but the moment before was only the wide desolation and invincible roar, is now a man, erect, full-statured, not struggling frantically in that wild movement, not buried and crushed and buffeted by those mighty monsters, but standing above them all, calm and superb, poised on the giddy summit, his feet buried in the churning foam, the salt smoke rising to his knees, and all the rest of him in the free air and flashing sunlight, and he is flying through the air, flying forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands. He is a Mercury — a brown Mercury. His heels are winged, and in them is the swiftness of the sea.

Read the whole thing here.