The draw of surf is not necessarily to the popularized culture that mystifies it. Sure, surf culture dwells in sunny coastlines with warm waters and perfect breaks. Yet it also exists on stormy shorelines that are nowhere near lands of palm trees and sun-kissed skin. In this installment of Some Thoughts, Skye Nacel explains that surfing is the sum of its parts: the early mornings, long drives, heavy conditions, hair-raising breaks, and deep camaraderie that make for a pervasive connection between a soul and the ocean. ‘Some Thoughts’ is a written series on KorduroyTV with thoughtful people like you.
From humble beginnings in a small mill town knowing close to nothing about surfing, let alone surfing in New England, I find myself dedicating much of my life to this sport, culture, and lifestyle. It is now part of who I am. It challenges me, it elates me, it inspires me, and, in those flat spells, it haunts me.
I started later than most but did so with a passion that fueled complete focus and complete dedication. Not much gets me up at four in the morning, getting into my van on the mountain and driving for hours through snow and snowstorms just to see if there was a wave waiting for me. It’s led me across the borders of countries and introduced me to cultures that no book could describe and get it right. It’s led me to beautiful corners of the earth on a wing and a prayer, with five bucks or less in my pocket.
What a great feeling to know that all you sacrificed to get to that one spot that one day would make the session itself so much more, in spite of the effort it took. I hike over mountains with a couple of friends to surf in peace and solitude with only seals as companions. There’s something about surfing in driving rain, ice, snow, and fog — surfing over coral, ledge, and volcanic rock — and no greater sense of being alive than being pounded to the bottom, held there to the point of drowning, only to be released, gasping and exhausted, and ready to do it all over again.
What brings a man to surf naked, surf at night, surf crazy — often to the chagrin of good friends? I’ve paddled frantically against five-plus knot currents looking up at a freighter looking down at me. When did I learn that coconut trees are statistically more dangerous than those sharks that surfed beneath me – proud, strong and clear as day – in the waters of Panama?
I’m really proud of not needing to be in a lineup. I’ve learned to explore, seek, and dedicate myself to surfing in solitude. I’ve surfed 10 different spots in three days. It’s all worth it, all the hard work to get there for time in the water in peace and connect with it in solitude. I’ve cut down full trees in a tropical storm with the tacit approval of the local police on my way. These are the things we do.
One Saturday, Meg and I headed out in the wee hours trying to stay awake to get to the coast to meet up with a friend. The coast was shrouded in a fog so thick and deep that visibility was beyond limited. The waves were short-period wind swell. You had to duck dive over and over on the way out. Waves were breaking everywhere with no rhyme or reason that first session. Meg fought and fought being pounded back to the beach, hundreds of yards from where she went in. I was still out there with our friend, and as the fog obscured seeing anything, I thought about her safety and sent out fervent wishes.
Perhaps conventional wisdom would be to call it a day, but after warming up and taking a breather, we headed out into an even thicker fog in the afternoon. Normally, the fog would have lifted with the sun by then, but not that day. I surfed one right that put me over the rocks near the cliff where I barely saw my buddy, Mike, for one minute, still inside fighting to get out. He never did make it out there that day.
But there I was in the North Atlantic, pondering the 40-year journey of my life. My thoughts took me back to not even knowing surfing existed to being completely alone and surrounded by Mother Ocean, feeling for her mood and thankful for her permission to play. A gift among the many others I have been given in my life. In the scheme of things, it may not mean anything to those who don’t understand it, don’t get it. There are no paychecks or forms of glory for this kind of dedication except the feeling within myself. There will be new journeys, and few of my friends and family will ever understand the depth of finding and feeling a passion so completely, regardless of the time it lasts.
My journey continues. There are new storms brewing. There are trips that are only dreams now but will become a reality with commitment, dedication, hard work, and the vision that comes with passion. There are new cultures to experience and, hopefully, new challenges with those harrowing escapes that keep the adrenaline pumping. New waves, new friends, part of my journey. Even if it means still being broke to keep the stoke.
Soon I will teach both my nephew and a few like souls who have in them a dedication and appreciation for our great Mother – to protect her and get her permission to borrow a few foggy waves on yet another day.