Recently I found myself staring South at a favorite beach break just before dawn. A winter’s dawn. A slight offshore wind was fanning a brittle 4-5ft swell. Having lived in the desert for the past 3 years, any waves, or wind would do. I was getting wet no matter what. But still I staggered, hesitated. The sun had barely begun to perforate through the clouds, and the air was brisk, a balmy 9C / 42F. I had resolved not to put my wetsuit on until the first ray of sunshine hit my face and my board. Stubborn like a flat earth society member. “After me the flood”
Once that first quantum packet of Vitamin D hit me, I dropped my jeans, sat my butt on the front of my car, and pulled up my wetsuit up past my ankles. It was still wet from yesterdays surf. A very grommet mistake. Beratingly (%^$^%!!!) and stoically I pulled the rest of my suit up. Anointed my board with Dr. Zoggs sexwax. I locked the car, and hid the key under the front wheel. Time for the walk. Wished I had booties on.
As my toes hit the water, Doubt and Qualm stirred. But with no time for distractions, I ran in as far as I could. Felt like Housain Bolt doing the hurdles, but looked like John Candy. Eventually dived onto my board and started paddling. Should’ve warmed up my shoulders first. Just like the first 25 yards of any swim, the first couple paddles were pristine, made for TV, the rest like a pelican in a blender. I went over the first couple of waves, until a set rolled in and I had to utilize all my duck diving skills.
Eventually I made it to the backline. Time for some much needed rest for my shoulders and to let some blood race through to my fingers and toes to keep them warm. This is the fare surfers pay the Hades ferry keeper. The first ice cream headache kicks in just as that one obscure and lonely cloud conceals the Sun. Blindly oblivious and ignorant of this toll, I expectantly scan the horizon for my first wave, while I lie on my stomach with my feet and hands out the water for warmth. Non-surfers often mistake this as a sign surfers are worried about sharks.
Then a set approaches. My heart races. I start paddling towards it. Picking my line. Following the Law of 3, I skip the first and second wave, while I get a feel for the rhythm and prep for the third. Setting my line, I contort my body, swivel around and start paddling on a trajectory towards the shore. As I feel the wave picking up behind me, I increase paddling and adjust my weight forward. Guestimating my speed and body position, I’m unsure if the wave has got me. But then I feel it. I intrinsically know I’m riding the wave. I push myself up. Bottom turn. Paint the canvas. Stoke. Paddle back. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I stay out in the water for a while, until my shoulders cant take it no more, until my fingers and toes turn royal blue, until my stomach rumbles loud enough to echo off the mountains (and scare the great whites). I climb out the water, my teeth chattering, my eyes and soul aglow. I clamber out my suit quicker than Clark Kent, jump into the car and Andretti it home. A power shower fit for Big Brother. A warm shower after a cold winters surf feels like Chinese drip torture – each hot drip tearing at your skin, until you reach equilibrium. Breakfast never tasted so good.
My daily dawn patrol is now inherently routine. A mindless retreat from the worries of tomorrow.