Friday, January 11, 2013

My photography lesson

The Great Wave of Kanangawa by Hokusai, Circa 1830t

A week ago today I was standing on a warm beach getting a surf lesson from a young Hawaiian named Kyle. He'd been surfing for over twenty years, since the age of 4, and he knew his business inside and out. He ate it. He breathed it. He even spoke surf, a sort of Valley-Girl-Yo-Bra lilt which took some thought to decode. Straight out of central casting.
According to Kyle surfing is the best thing in the world. But paddling is a drag. This means that position in the water is very important. If you're in the wrong place you will paddle like crazy and never catch a wave and wear yourself out quickly. But in the right place waves come to you. 

Kyle explained that his father, who'd taught him how to surf long ago, was a "wave magnet". He had developed a sixth sense about exactly where to be. It was like hanging out at a bus stop. At a certain time his wave came along, he took a few strokes, and Bang! He was sliding down the face. Kyle's father hates paddling. Which is good because he doesn't need to do it much.

Kyle explained that you don't just hop on the first wave to come along. Waves come in sets. You have to be patient and wait for yours. In twenty years of surfing Kyle had never seen the same wave twice. Each one had its own story and demanded a unique approach. And all of them required patience. And feeling. Kyle said you can't learn surfing by looking it up on Google. The only way to develop that feeling for position and timing and patience is to do it.

Then I went out in the water. At first catching waves was easy! I simply paddled up to Kyle who was standing waste deep in the break. He held my board and surveyed the waves coming in behind me. When my wave came he said "Yo, Bra, Pa-a-a-ddle...Now!" 

I paddled, picked up speed, and pretty soon I was sliding down the face of a small wave. Maybe double overhead for a large housecat. Standing up was a bit harder, but even that was doable after a few tries. Our boards were big slow surf tanks, good for learning. I was stoked!

After an hour of this, Kyle went ashore and I was left to find my own waves. That's roughly about the time when catching waves became harder. Sort of impossible actually. I paddled here and there but I couldn't seem to find the right spot. I aimed for where I thought Kyle had been standing but it wasn't quite right. And I couldn't get my board turned correctly. And I wasn't sure which wave to catch. I paddled after the wrong ones, and didn't pursue the ones I should've. And meanwhile I got pummeled in the break ana caught in the sideways rip and crashed into other students and paddled my arms off.

I managed to catch one wave on my own. I'm not really sure how it happened. Somehow I found myself waiting at the right bus stop when my wave pulled up. I sort of went for it but I think it was more a matter of fate. Like the wave was meant for me, and so that's the one I caught. The only one possible. 

Now that I'm back in cold wet Oregon, I don't know if I'll ever surf again. Probably not. It would take years to develop to the point where it would be enjoyable, and there's a bit of an old-dog-new-tricks thing. But I think I understand the basic dynamic. Waves roll up all the time all over the planet, but only certain ones are within reach. If you're patient and properly positioned, they will give you the ride of your life. But paddling after the rest will only cause exhaustion. 


nare parker said...

Damn that's a sweet analogy- nicely done.

Hernan Zenteno said...

I am waiting since long ago a good wave. This left me thinking if I am burned and can't see the waves. Thanks for the analogy.

Dung tien Pham said...