Thursday, September 25, 2008

What do you know?

I've been surfing for a few years now, most of that time spent bobbing around on the surface of the sea, eyes cast offshore analyzing the swells moving toward me. I know the image that most of society has about surfing is more like what you see in the latest videos: a young, bleached, tanned kid dropping in, carving a cutback, and slashing off the lip; or maybe a long-bodied, baggy-shorted Wingnut (look him up; the heir of Robert August and one of the funnest [yeah?] guys ever), smilingly, soulfully-arched and cruising through a deep green barrel.

Those things happen and they look great on film and they stick best in memory, but the bulk of time spent in search of waves is a lot more pedestrian (amphibian?). Most of my time has been spent paddling around, working into position, especially on windy days, and a lot of staring into the distance. Rather than a frenetic music-video experience, I find myself drifting, floating and reflecting on my life. I've spent a lot of time studying the way water moves around near shore, the rips, currents, swells, and waves that eventually form up and break as that ocean energy pushes into shallower water.

The wind is a large part of the equation, and can quickly turn a session into something fun, when it shifts and blows offshore, holding up wave faces as they try to pitch over themselves. Alternatively, a fun session can quickly get messy and blown out when an onshore breeze kicks up and starts blowing the tops off the waves before they can form.

I've learned to spot a rip current and use it to get myself out into the lineup quickly. A spot I surf in Baja sits inside a little bay with a rocky cliff projecting out into the ocean on the North end. The waves pump into the little bay and the water that builds up in the bight has to move back out and, with the right swell, it will push along the beach to the North and then right out along the base of that cliff.

The first time I paddled out there I was nervous about how exactly it would play out, but I had scoped it pretty well and, although it was a very narrow little rip, it looked like the water was moving swift and true, right out to the back of the lineup, without exposing me to any breaking waves and the potential to get pushed onto the rough volcanic rocks. With a dozen other surfers surveying the spot, I was the first to test it out and after a half-dozen waves, followed by the express lift back out, I was quickly joined by a handful of surfers boldly riding my wake.

I know a few things about the near-shore seafloor, too. And can easily spot waves breaking over sandy bottoms, versus the more powerful and consistent reef breaks, which I love. When a surfer has surfed a spot long enough, he begins to know where to go, and when to be there. He knows what the wind and swell reports mean to his spot and he's always in the right spot out there in the water. He's got it wired.

It's pretty clear that some of my surfing skills and knowledge will fit with my sailing needs. I also have a pretty good base of experience with ships' systems, having run an engineroom on a Navy oiler. I even have some book knowledge specific to sailing, having read volumes of marine-related material including sailing blogs, novels, circumnavigation reports, maps and charts, technical manuals, ad infinitum. However, what really appeals to me about this adventure that Kris and I are embarking on is the things I don't know. And that's a lot.

I could spend every day of the rest of my life sailing and studying sailing and I'll never learn all there it to know, nor will I go all the places there are to go. I may get one or two things wired, but all I have to do is pull up the anchor, make sail, and I'm on a new course to something I don't know.

So, here's to not knowing. I hope I know enough to stay safe. I think I know enough to take risks that I can afford to take. I want to know enough to challenge myself to learn more. Most importantly, I know that I'll never know it all and that makes life look more interesting.

Here's somebody who is certain that she knows a lot more than me and you, including what's best for us.

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