Surfing Excerpt from Memoir

1 Nov

With tides, swell, wind and location all having to come together for good surf, it’s impossible not to feel fortunate when you catch it right. And who doesn’t like feeling fortunate?

Lonna and I at sunrise in Takou Bay before a surf session.

Lonna(my van) and I checkin' it at sunrise on the North Island.

From Chapter 13

On the way home I notice long lines of waves stacked to the horizon. In surf lingo, it’s “pumping.” As I pull up to a beach to check the conditions, the gales rock Lonna from side to side. Balls of sea foam roll along the windswept sand, disappearing as fast as the crashing waves can replenish them. The grass on the adjacent hills lies flat from the wind, swirling and swaying like strings of algae in a river. Clouds race along the sky, chasing their shadows across the ocean. As Big Head and I step out of Lonna, a strong gust rips the door out of my hand, and the door narrowly misses his tail. Unaware of the close call, he charges head-on into the rushing air, biting at one stick then another, and pawing at every log within reach. I lean into the wind, watching the sloppy waves crash against the steeply angled beach. The conditions are too raw for surfable waves today, but tomorrow could be the day I’ve been waiting for. Often, the same storm that created the waves makes for unfavorable conditions at the beach. Tomorrow, the storm will have moved on but its energy (as seen in the waves) will live. Maybe, just maybe, they will roll over the right sandbar at the right angle during the right tide. And I’ll be there to ride them. For months, I’ve been watching a long curving sandbar build steadily at the mouth of the Mohaka River.  Mohaka beach is situated deep inside Hawke’s Bay so it needs a large swell and the perfect angle. If the sandbar isn’t washed away, it could produce surfable waves. My mind is filled with anticipation, of what could be, of what can be, and of how things mostly aren’t but occasionally are. So I will get up at 5:30 the next morning to check on the waves at Mohaka, a place I’ve visited daily for almost a year. What a shame if I’m not there when the ocean wants to dance.

Speaking of “being there,” I notice a wall of rain in the eastern sky, and the sun striving to find a hole in the clouds. I scream for Big Head to follow me up a steep hill. Seizing the moment and catching it just right consumes me in many different ways. Sometimes a good hatch of insects on a stream lasts only ten minutes, during which time the trout feed ravenously and often selectively. Not only do you have to be there with the right fly but you also have to make the right casts. And, of course, there’s the fresh powder I seek on my snowboard, the untracked, chest-deep fluff. I’ve also started trying to “catch” rainbows. After studying the clouds’ movements, the location of the sun and the size of the raindrops, I try to position myself in the right place to watch the rainbow materialize. When I hit it just right, the clouds part, a rainbow pastes itself to the center of my vision, and I’m reminded all over again of the brevity of things. Not quite as exhilarating as tucking myself inside the tube of a wave, but I’ll take it. The rainbow eludes me today, as a formidable bank of dark storm clouds obstructs the sun just when the wall of rain is in the perfect place. Perhaps I’ll fare better with the waves tomorrow.

* * *

There’s still a faint glow on the horizon as we leave the house. The trees, leaves, and every blade of grass sit idle in the morning chill. Just as I predicted, the wind will not affect the waves this morning. I have no idea what tide works best for surfing the Mohaka river mouth and no idea if the sandbar survived the storm. All I can do is go check it. Big Head paces back and forth, seemingly in disbelief that we are going to the beach so early. Once he feels the washboard rumble from the dirt road, he stands to attention, ready to burst through the doors.

Sharks lurk in the shallows of my mind. There isn’t a soul in sight. Even the hills, normally dotted with sheep, are bare. No one would hear my screams. At the river mouth, a plume of silty fresh water cuts into the ocean’s deep blue. Sharks, I know, often use the transition from clear to murky water as ambush points. My heart rises to my throat. I hate crowded surf spots, but this morning I wouldn’t mind sharing the odds and giving the shark a choice.  Only thing on the menu this morning is Chinese food. A set of waves appears and the glassy ocean leaps to attention. A decent wave breaks over the sandbar. The ocean has sent me gifts to ride; besides that, I could use a shower.

“Listen, boy, I’m going surfing. You stay with the van. Let someone know what happened to Mr. Chin if he gets eaten,.” I say with a laugh, only half-kidding. Big Head cocks his head, unused to the length of my instructions: “Hey, Pops,” he might as well be saying, “if it’s anything besides come here, sit down, or good boy, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

I quickly slip on my dank wetsuit, giddy as a kid on his birthday, and splash into the river, letting the heavy current to push me out to sea. Even if I wanted to turn around I couldn’t. With miles of beach on either side of the river, though, I know I can eventually make my way back to shore. The first rays of the sun blast over the horizon, covering the hills in gold and making the water glimmer. I’m out past the swirling currents, paddling effortlessly, my board slicing through the mirrored surface. A set of waves approaches, the biggest I’ve seen, and I stroke hard, getting in position to drop into the wave. The drop is the crucial point in time in which a surfer stands and slides down the face of the cresting wave. I execute the drop and experience Mohaka like never before, weaving up and down a perfectly peeling head-high wave. The wave has traveled many miles and here, at the end of its life, we share some time. All worries of sharks are gone now; I paddle harder and catch one more wave of equal quality before calling it quits. I will have the patience of an angel at school today.

In the classroom, even the children can sense something different in me.
“Mr. Chin, why are you smiling so much?” Jordan asks.
“I surfed Mohaka beach this morning. It was awesome!”
“I didn’t know you could surf there.”
“Sometimes it just comes together, Jordan”
“Did anyone see you? I want to watch you surf. That’d be mean!”

In some ways I would have loved a witness, but some things are meant to be yours and yours only. Any memory other than the one in my head might take away from the sacredness of what transpired this morning.
“No, Jordan it was just me,” I answer. “But maybe I’ll let you know next time.”

Mohaha River Mouth

I caught Mohaka firing twice in the year I lived there.  The river moves a lot of sediment and the beach’s sand is very coarse so the bars changed daily.  I secured a plywood box in the side of the hill so I could slip my camera in for the same shot time after time.  Maybe it’ll still be there when I go back.

Left Point at Mahia Peninsula

This was a fortunate day. Check out the bomb at about 19 seconds.  That footage is played in real time.  I’d never seen a wave like that up close. It unnerved me for a second but once I jumped in, it was all good.  Apparently you need a REALLY big swell to safely surf the outside reef.  A good tow-team could have pulled it off with a rocket assisted board. The tide started to kill it a little when I got in but I stayed in so long that it started throwing again on the inside.  Mahia Penisula is very small so if it’s onshore on one side, you drive fifteen minutes to the other side and it’s offshore.


3 Responses to “Surfing Excerpt from Memoir”

  1. Chi Baker November 17, 2009 at 11:29 pm #

    Love the excerpt. Makes me want to go paddle out. Beautiful description and you capture the essence of the SEARCH. One sentence confused me, you throw in something about snowboarding…..Lets paddle out soon its been too long!

  2. gypemycle December 12, 2009 at 1:10 am #

    Wow enjoyed reading your article. I submitted your rss to my blogreader!

  3. Scotty April 6, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    It seems the best waves we ride are the ones no one watches, can photograph or film. They are captured in our minds eye only and maybe thats what makes them so special. Like your bit about sharing the last moment of a waves existence after it has travelled so far. Its like the physical energy is somehow converted into stoke (if you ‘make it’). Guess thats what makes surfing so spiritual….

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