Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Body Surfing

I just spent a week in the Dominican Republic with my family. I reveled in the glorious sand, sun, water and frozen rum drinks. Thanks to Tropical Storm Emily, we spent more time body surfing than snorkeling, but I'm not complainin.  I wrote this between swims, sitting on the beach in our little sea grape hideout.

This morning the sky was partly cloudy and the sea breeze a bit more forceful than it has been. The water was rough, too. Waist high waves were crashing on the beach, stirring up sand and foam and seaweed. A few yards out, the swimmers bobbed up and down like ocean bouies. I stood at the edge of the surf and thought I might just get my feet wet, rather than be tossed around Ike that. It was only 10 AM after all and I was still full from eating too much fried banana on waffles drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. And sausage. And cafe con leche. All right, AND a croissant with Nutella.

But I waded in a little further and realized I was in the midst of the best body surfing conditions we've seen all week, so I dunked under and caught the next big wave that came along. It carried me with it's curling momentum for a few feet and then I was up and heading back out, seeking the next ride.

I can completely understand why surfing and surfers are such an extreme and dedicated culture. It's kind of a quintiscentially addictive activity, because when it works just right, it's a transcendent experience. A nice big wave comes along and you jump just at the right time, sucked for a second back into it's undertow, then propelled forward in that sweet spot right under the crest, riding toward the beach for 20, 25, 30 feet, feeling like you are an integral part of the ocean, just being pulled around by the moon like every other molecule of water. Not this separate, intrusive being, fighting to control nature like almost every other moment of our lives.

But it rarely works just right. For every perfect wave you catch, there are 20 that disappoint. Lots are too small to bother with. Some look like they'll break, but just dissolve into nothing under your body. Some crash too soon, right over your head, leaving you a salty tangled mess, disoriented for a few seconds, just long enough to miss the next wave, but still see as it passes that it would have been the one to wait for.

Some people find the ratio of success to "failure" too low to bother with and give up quickly. I find myself saying "I'll just ride one more wave and then get out." I wait and jump and dunk and swim and glide and finally get one that carries me all the way to a sand-filled bathing suit and then I go back for 1 more again and again and again until 45 minutes have gone by along with my window for reapplying sunscreen. I'm pink and exhausted and still it's an effort to will myself away from the water, because look, that next wave could be the best one yet. I'm like a gambling addict playing the slots, sure that with this next quarter, I'll hit the jackpot. But this is vacation and I've got time and calories to burn, so as long as I keep the SPF high, I can indulge my addiction.