Words by: Eliza McKay

During my long three years away from waves, I would wake up from dreams that I was duck-diving and gliding on clear, green, vertical beauties that rose over me, through me, and under my feet.

But even though I could still surf well in my dreams, in reality, once I returned to the waves on a three-day surf trip to Cardiff Reef, California, I had reverted back to beginner status. My pop-ups were slow. My wave knowledge was confused.

On my last day of my surfing trip, a friendly guy in the parking lot asked me warmly if I had a good session. I confessed to him that my skills had regressed and the reason for it: I had moved inland to a polluted city to find work on my career path. Now, finally, after three years, I had a few days that were free of responsibility to go on a surf trip.

“Yeah” he said gravely, “sometimes you have to go where the work is.” But then his face brightened with a smile in a flash of an epiphany. “See that guy over there?” He pointed. “He and I are both about a hundred years old and we’re still surfing. You’re still young. You have decades in front of you. You’ll find yourself in waves again and again. It’s not over for you yet. You have lots of time in the waves to look forward to.” I smiled with happiness at the simple truth in his statement.

A week or so later, I surfed for two days in Neah Bay in the Pacific Northwest and caught some waves. Then I travelled further north to visit my parents, who live on a steel sailboat. While watching a surfing DVD with me, my father remarked, “I think these people are full of themselves.” I asked him why he thought that. After a long pause, my father explained, perhaps judgmentally, but at least pragmatically: “Because these people are all talking about surfing as if it was something so mystical – but it is just the act of gliding on a wave. It’s just a sport. That’d be like saying each time I head out in my boat it’s because I want to feel my soul and talk to God!”

You would think, after all my magical wave-rides found on spiritual sojourns on the surfer’s path, that I would have vehemently disagreed with my father. But I nodded gently. I think what my father was trying to tell me that if I wanted to remain humble and open to wisdom, then that meant admitting that I don’t know.

No one knows for sure. I don’t know if there is a God; many gods; a sentient creator who watches us from above; a living universal presence; a deeper spiritual meaning to gliding on a wave. I’m not certain whether surfing is a soul sport. Does the soul exist? I can only hope. The human mind is just not capable of processing the enormous sum-total of facts that will solve this great mystery.

However, there is one thing I do know with certainty: I love surfing. I will always return to the waves, for they will always taunt me in nightly dreams, reminding me that wave-riding is still present in my subconscious, even if it not in my day-to-day life. And so for this love, I will surf whenever I can, as is possible, even if I can only do it infrequently, due to the priorities and sacrifices that make up the threads of my daily life. Because, when I’m gliding on a wave, my head clears and my thoughts evaporate. For a spectacular frozen moment, I’m staring down at an eternity of whirling green and blue time. I lose my mind due to the sheer joy of it. Meanwhile, my soul is all I’ve got to guide me on the ride ahead.