View from the Back: The Ocean Giveth and the Ocean Taketh Away
Last weekend Hurricane Sandy hovered 300 miles offshore of Wilmington, NC/ Wrightsville Beach, my hometown.
Well, I was born in Indianapolis, which I guess you could say is my hometown. I lived there until college. Wilmington is my town now, though, and it would take an extreme tragedy to get me to leave. Whenever I get off the plane at ILM, the humidity is like a hug. I can smell the ocean from all the way out there and, more than anywhere I've been since I left my parents' house, I feel "home."
Because it was too windy to paddle, and I'm not a good enough surfer to tackle the wind and huge storm swells, I was free to do other things. I went to the movie and saw Chasing Mavericks. What a strange movie to see when a storm was raging along my coast and I'm getting calls and texts and Facebook messages from friends urging me NOT to go anywhere near the water and texts and Facebook messages from friends wanting to get out on the water.
ARE YOU CRAZY?
I don't know that you can understand the thrill of catching a wave (and I've caught very few compared to my friends) unless you surf. You don't know what it really means to let go. Unless you spend nearly every day in or on the water, you can't know the churn that settles inside you if you can't get out. Chasing Mavericks does a pretty good job at portraying that vibe. The movie tells the story of Santa Cruz area big wave surfer Jay Moriarity who made history and headlines as one of the youngest surfers to surf Maverick's, ending up on the cover of Surfer Magazine in May of 1995.
Big wave surfing is different than what my friends and I do. To surf waves as big as six story buildings takes a lot of specific training. You also don't go out and surf all day long. You catch a few good rides and call it a day. There are safety boats and jet skis and flotation vests. You can get "held under" monster waves for two or three minutes at a time--long enough for most people to drown. People do drown. The movie did a good job of showing the training that goes into preparing for such a feat.
ENTER THE PADDLEBOARDS
For conditioning to have strength to paddle through the suf, "Frosty" the surf mentor for Jay has Jay train to cross from Santa Cruz to Monterey on a traditional (prone) paddleboard. My board manufacturer (one of them), Bark, got started with these boards, and they were the original boards used for the Molokai to Oahu crossing. Made me want to try prone--though, that is some freaking HARD WORK. Paddleboards REPRESENT! In addition to paddling, he practices holding his breath under water in the bathtub or the pool until he can hold it for four minutes and treading water in the pool while holding a chair over his head.
One of the funniest scenes of the movie features real-life big wave surfers Greg Long, Peter Mel, and Zach Wormhoudt stand with Gerard Butler (who plays Jay's mentor) watching "Jay" tread water on the inside of the Maverick's break. "Have you EVER seen someone who can tread water for 45 minutes like that?" The Magnificent Three agree Jay's ready.
AFTER THE WAVE
The cover of Surfer Magazine might have made Jay Moriarity famous, but his legacy is from something else--his attitude. Wait? Legacy?
Jay Moriarity died at the age of 22, the day before his 23rd birthday, in a free diving accident.
The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh away.
Reading some backstory about the incident, it appears that he wasn't diving to explore, he was practicing. Practicing holding his breath. Practicing to surf the big waves he loved.
It was a terrible accident. He should have had a buddy there with him, but he didn't.
News of his death hit his Santa Cruz surf community hard. It seems that Jay was not only a good surfer, he was a great person. "Live Like Jay" is a refrain still heard out there. In the hyper local, pecking order governed surf breaks of Santa Cruz, Jay managed to be friends with everyone. He had a good attitude. He enjoyed life. There's a video of him, played somewhere at the end of the movie, where he talks about getting as much from life as he can, because it could be short. Eerie.
WEAR THIS BRACELET
A few weeks ago I read the book "The Secret Race" about blood doping and doping with illegal drugs in the international cycling circut. I've never been terribly interested in wearing any kind of charity bracelet, and even less interested in the LiveStrong bracelet or LiveStrong brand juggernaut now. There's no way around it. The cyclists all doped. They took drugs, they banked and re-transfused their own blood to gain an edge.
A bracelet I probably would wear? The "Live Like Jay" bracelet. The "Live LIke Jay" foundation was formed in his memory to promote quality of life among its recipients. I didn't know the guy. I don't know anyone who knew him (I don't think--though I have people in the Santa Cruz area). Here's a person, though, that at the age of 22-almost-23 inspired an entire community and continues to touch them. Just with his good attitude and joy. You don't need a bracelet to be a good person, though. You just need to be a good person.
Watermen don't remember bullies. They don't remember snark. They don't care about big talk. They care about action. If you're a phony, you're not going to make it in our community--the water community.
YOU CAN'T REASON WITH THE OCEAN
I love the water, particularly the ocean and the tidal marshes where I live because I don't have any control over it. I can't tell it to be calm. I can't tell it not to kill me. I can't tell it to pick me up and take me for the ride of my life. You can't bullshit the ocean. You can't call the ocean or send the ocean an email. When you're on the water, you have to let go. You have to keep your wits about you, but there's an element of surrender you can't find anywhere else. Maybe in cliff jumping.
This week we continue to get reports in from our friends up and down the east coast. Some got barreled in the waves of their lives. Others lost everything.
As soon as we are all able we'll be right back out there on our boards. In the wind. In the surf. At home.