Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You Are Here

It was rainy at the coast on June 1st, but I was having an intense week and really needed a surf. Jules and I started our session with a beach talk up in the lot while I was suiting up, and we kept going as we made our way down to the rocks by the water. We spent almost an hour catching up and our time was honest, emotional, and raw. Our beach talks are all over the map - philosophical, theoretical, personal. Sometimes they're about surfing techniques. Sometimes they're about Russell Crowe. But this one was different from most and when we finished up, grabbed my board and waded into the water, I felt more connected to Jules than ever, and more connected to myself than I had been for weeks. At least.

My goal that session was to be gentle with myself - my progress, my abilities, my judgments. I always go into a lesson with a goal, and that day I knew it would be important to just take it easy on myself no matter how I did in the water.

Conditions were choppy and there was a bit of wind, and while the north end is usually better for days like that, we found a great spot at the south end of the little cove. The rain made the day dark, and the hills and trees around the cove were misty - it was different than I'd ever seen it before, and it actually reminded me so much of where I lived in Japan. The more I looked around and noticed how the weather was affecting our surroundings, the more I started remembering places and scenes from Japan. It was a little hypnotizing. And very calming. I can't really explain it, but I was transported that session and wouldn't have been surprised at all if Jules had started speaking Japanese to me. Since that day, I've been remembering little details of my life in Japan that I haven't thought of since I left Nihon-koku in 2006.

Jules and I had an awesome time together. Some days the motion of the water around me just feels even better than usual, and that day it was massaging me, gently grabbing my attention and saying, like a dot on a map, "You are here." I felt especially in tune with my board - I could feel it cradle my belly as I slid on top to get ready for a wave. And I felt so in tune with Jules. I can usually process very little of the feedback she gives me - I'm just excited and on sensory overload and it's all I can do to briefly listen to what she says and then forget it all and go slide on another wave. But this time I took in every little comment and tried to incorporate each adjustment into my next ride. She noticed I was holding my weight unevenly between my feet when standing, and after hearing that, I was able to settle myself differently and really feel the board under my front foot more. And Jules was crazy in tune with me, too, that day; at one point I took a sweet ride and I don't know why, but the wave was so loud and so clear - I felt like there was nothing on earth besides me and the water that was carrying me. That wave was whispering in my ear the whole ride. Afterwards when I got back out to Jules she said, "Your timing was perfect - you were really listening to the wave on that one." I still have no idea how she knew that. By the time I'm doing my thing, I think she's too far away to see my movements that specifically. And I'm not aware of her being able to read my mind . . . but you never know with Jules.

I felt so fluid that session. Not on every ride, but for most of them. I felt so gentle on my feet. My flow from belly to paddling to charging to rising to standing was one movement, slow and rhythmic. A long time ago when I would jump on the board and wobble, Jules would calmly say, "Find your center" and have me pause for just a moment before taking the wave. I thought of that every time I got on the board that day, even though I don't really wobble anymore. (I often think of that when I hop on, actually.) Find your center. And then when the wave comes, I go from that place.

I had several super-sweet rides that day, but a couple in particular that were long, smooth and steady, and just felt right. However, I continued to fall off the board in a back-flop in almost the exact same way, and the same side, every time I'm done with a ride, and Jules was getting over it. She said that as soon as I'm up, she can see that I'm preparing myself to fall and putting myself in position to fall that specific way. I knew what she meant, and I know it steals a lot from the ride. I can tell. But it's become a habit, and it's also a way of falling in a controlled manner in pretty shallow water, and falling in shallow water freaks me out. After another great ride ending in yet another back-flop, Jules told me to try a ride not preparing for how I would end it, but only focusing on the ride itself. Good idea. The very next wave I rode in, I stood up, pivoted, and thought of nothing but the wind on my face. And then god knows what happened because I did a head-first flip off the front of the board and somersaulted in the water several times before coming up to my feet. Total washing machine. Before I could even figure out where my board went I thought, Damn. Jules is going to love that one. And she did. I saw her smiling and cheering out in the water, and when I got back to where she was, I said, "I know you loved that one." And she said, "I did! Do you know why?" Yeah, Jules. I know why. I let go. (Did I ever.)

Jules has been telling me for months that I need to keep my hands out in front of me ("Like ka-ra-te" she says) after I pop up, instead of using my right hand to plug my nose. That's been confusing me because I never plug my nose with my hands. I've always been a swimmer and I've never in my life done that. But I knew she was right that I was doing something strange because my hands aren't free immediately after standing. So for one ride I specifically focused on my right hand - just trying to be aware of what the hell I was doing with it - and sure enough, I've got a little tic where I quickly wipe the water away from my nose the second I rise up. Quirky. And unnecessary. It feels great to be a tiny bit more aware of my body on the board - I guess just because so much of the whole thing is about awareness of my body with the board - and now I'd like to figure out how to change that habit.

The whole session was a dream. It was my best one yet skill-wise, we both agreed, and I just expressed my appreciation for all that Jules brings to our time together. Or is it what she doesn't bring? We talked about my comfort level of going out alone and how it's increasing as the softer summer waves come, and (this session and the next) we talked about the surf shop owner's enthusiasm for me to get out and meet other people and not rely so much on lessons. But I tried to explain - I don't rely on Jules' instruction like a crutch. At least I don't think I do. Jules is a very good surf teacher, and she has great feedback. But for me, she is more. She does more.

This is what Jules does: She helps me unzip my armor so I am ready to be affected - acted upon, influenced, changed. She helps me prepare my heart so that it's ready for all the ocean has to give. She helps me put my racing mind to rest so that I am there. She reminds me that my body is strong and capable, and then helps me remember to work with the water instead of against it. Jules helps me feel the currents and notice the tides inside myself so that I'm not a foreigner standing in an ocean, but a small part of a larger body. And I think more than anything she does, it's something about who she is: Jules is grounded. And that allows me to be myself. This is no small thing. Being able to be myself and bring my whole self to something so totally risky and that requires such letting go -- it's about the most fulfilling experience I've ever had.

I know you're not really supposed to talk about surfing because it doesn't translate well and you end up sounding goofy. But that was a great day surfing.


  1. Amazing.

    It's so wonderful that you've found something that helps so much physically and spiritually. It's just awesome.

  2. That didn't sound goofy. That was pure poetry. Beautiful.

    And, the new blog design is lovely!

  3. Love this new design!

    And I love this post! I am totally jealous of your ability to let go like this. I struggle so much with letting go of . . . well everything and I can only imagine how freeing it is. It sounds like an amazing day.

  4. Midway through this, I was thinking "there's a book to be written here" and by the end I was certain. Your surf stories leave me feeling like my soul has been massaged.

    There was a sentence where I read two meanings at once: "Jules helps me... notice the tides within myself". I know what you intended to convey, but I also read it as you connecting with yourself on a deeper level. So many of us tread water, floating on the surface of our lives, only dimly aware that we are "up" or "down" and unsure exactly why. I get the sense that you are also learning to stand up and ride the waves within yourself and to let go internally as well. It's not just Jules who is "grounded" (there should be an aquatic equivalent).

    I love the picture at the bottom. It sums up so much about your blog: learning to stand on water, letting go, a sense of play. I'm sensing a new profile picture.

  5. What a great post. You make me want to take up surfing with Jules.

  6. Nice post, much to chew on there. Yay for awesome days of surfing too. And who chose this template first? I swear I didn't copy.

  7. I don't even think I can express how much this post pierced me. I know I am not a surfer but what you are discovering through surfing is the very thing I want to figure out for myself. Now to find my surfing equivalent.

    That whole part about letting go? Jesus. Right here. (points to heart)

  8. Ohhhhh... you are so rich! And you share so freely. I love everything about this post.

    Wonderful. Inspiring.

    The only regret I have is that we have not been able to talk more when we met - cannot believe we lived close for so long without sharing more time.

    Anyways... regrets, schmegrets! Love to be present this way with you.

    Big hug from Sweden!!

  9. Sounds like you had a great time that day. I wish I could learn to surf...which I lived where I could learn to surf..LOL.

    Explaining the experience of surfing is just like explaining my skiing experience. It may sound goofy or weird but it makes since if you stop and in your mind try to experience what is being written.

    I've alway wanted to try to surf but reading you blogs make me want to take a long trip to the coast and learn.

  10. Nothing remotely goofy sounding to me. I love your surfing posts; I feel like I'm there, on the board, learning to be better. This time I even recognized some of my own fears related to trying surfing, but from the safety of home, so it was just useful info to take in.

    Congrats on the awesome day of surfing!