By Jaimal Yogis
In a recent meeting with my editors, I found myself doodling tubes and A-frames on a napkin. In the pool during our family reunion, I had to stop myself from practically going into a trance making little swells with my hands and tracking them to the cement wall. I’m obsessed with waves. I’ve got waves hanging on the wall, waves on my screensaver, and so many photos of waves they won’t even fit in my computer anymore. I’ve arranged everything in my life so I can live across the street from the waves. And, of course, I obsess about riding waves, tracking their every movement from first ripple out in the Pacific to their arrival in California.
It’s a fun obsession, but I’ve often quietly wondered (and a few girlfriends have confirmed) if this obsession might be a little unhealthy. Why don’t I know much about other natural phenomena: photosynthesis, tornados, I don’t know – bird migration?
But recently I had an epiphany that conveniently releases me of this guilt: obsessing about waves actually gives me (and all surfers) special insight into, well, everything. Let me explain.
Scientifically defined, a wave is “a disturbance moving through a medium”. With surface ocean waves this “disturbance” is air moving from high pressure to low, wind. The “medium” is the sea. Wind disturbs the water by making ripples that act like sails for more wind. Those sails catch more of the wind’s force until the ripples become swells, which then travel across entire oceans until they grind against a hard surface and become our playgrounds. You know that already. You’re like me. But what’s cool about the scientific definition of a wave is that it describes the craziest thing about their true identity, something you may not know: waves are illusions. Watching waves bend into a cove, for example, it appears that the wind has pushed this water across the ocean, but the seawater is actually not moving much at all. The disturbance is moving. The force of wind is being transferred from ocean molecule to molecule, atom to atom in a kind of domino effect that reaches all the way across the ocean, surging through the salty blue until it disperses in a crash (preferably with one of us in the tube). In other words, a wave appears to be a fixed entity moving through space, but it is really, as Steven Kotler (author of West of Jesus … ) once wrote, “the memory” of wind energy transmuting through the sea.
How does this help us understand anything? Because – and remember back to your crusty old physics professors – virtually everything is made of waves. We are literally surrounded in waves, composed of waves, floating on waves, and drowning in waves. Light and sound move in waves. Electrons, the smallest pieces of matter, also act as waves. Heat is a wave. Our cell phones, radios and computers communicate with each other in waves. The list goes on. And though these waves’ movements are not identical to ocean waves, they share the same basic principles of movement, especially the fact that they’re, in some sense, illusory – “a disturbance moving through a medium”, not solid. A surfboard, for example, may appear solid, but it is actually made up of countless tiny electrons, waves of energy, with space between them.
I think surfers, from playing so much on the waves, already know what this implies for life. It means that life isn’t as serious as the boardroom executives and our school principals told us.
Life is more like a wave. After all, just like that domino effect of energy from wind to sea to beach, our bodies are constantly taking on and leaving new material, new molecules, as we move across the sea of birth and death. The ocean water that gets drilled into our noses, ears, and throats, becomes part of our bodies. Just like every wave is part of the ocean, we are literally inseparable from our surroundings.
So don’t feel guilty about being too obsessed with surfing. Next time someone tells you to be more well-rounded, explain to them that you already are: you’re exploring the nature of all phenomena.
Then go play in the waves.
Jaimal Yogis lives and surfs in San Francisco. His first book, Saltwater Buddha, a memoir of surf travels, will be released this May. More at http://www.jaimalyogis.com.