In Defense of Going Nowhere
Oh my. It’s Thursday, and my bowels are loose.
My wife is sick. My kids, both of them: sick. My dog: sick. I did not sleep for more than a few hours last night, partly because those same sick kids were crying and needed me, and partly because when the house was quiet, my head was not. But then, I haven’t slept for more than a few hours at a stretch in, well, months. I have an absolute shit-ton of work to do, most of which will not get done. My tasks list—I know because I keep it on a computer—houses exactly 712 action items. So yes, it is Thursday, and I have—I discovered this morning—developed a fairly severe case of diarrhea in response. Which is probably why I found myself lying supine on the floor of my office this morning, thinking that what I really needed was some warm water, some waves. What I really needed was a surf trip.
The surf trip, for so many reasons, was not going to happen. For starters, I had work commitments that required me to be in town for the next few months. Then there was the whole messy economics of it. I simply didn’t have a few grand to drop. I could probably convince the magazine to send me somewhere, but then it would be no surf trip it all, but rather work, and work that required me to share time with pro surfers at that.
What I could do, I realized, was stay right where I was, but bail on things for the day. I could write the day off, and surf. Just surf. Leave everything in my life unaccounted for. The tasks would not get done, but they’d wait a day.
I made no effort to close things out. I did not send that one e-mail that really needed sending. I merely closed the door, and left.
And then I had one of the strangest surf sessions of my life.
It was late September in San Diego county and a combination of swells were running—late-season south and early-season north—both on the fade. For some reason, lightning and thunder had been flashing and rumbling their ways through the county all morning. I paddled out at Ponto Jetty. Have you ever been to Ponto Jetty? It is unsexy and boring, but serviceable. The crowd is sometimes a bit much, and you can get a ticket trying to make that inane u-turn required to get there, but if you need a wave, Ponto is as good as anywhere.
On Monday it was 102 degrees. Yesterday it was 85 degrees, but today it was raining with thunderstorms. Today, in fact, it was glassy, and head-high. For an hour, I sat in the lineup and thought about how this was a mistake. The waves were just pushing through, and most didn’t break. There were long lulls between sets and a greyness to a degree that you couldn’t much differentiate land from sea. There were only a handful of guys out, and none of us were friendly. We didn’t talk. We stared. Splashed water. The rain picked up. Small waterspouts formed on the horizon. More thunder. More lightning. This was probably a mistake. The waves picked up, started to break on the outside sandbar. Guys went in. But the water got glassier. More guys went in. It started looking less like a mistake. More glass. More waves. Suddenly, it was me and a buddy staring down a head-high set. I cannot convey to you the quality of the glassy water. Oil wet. Sheet glass. The wave picked up and folded over as my buddy paddled in. The warm rain still falling. The ocean completely flat in two deep channels on either side of this perfect A-frame. With the warm rain and the gathering clouds and the glassy A-frame, the wave looked foreign, other. My buddy took off. I got the next one. We paddled back out. More sets. The rain still falling. The sky darkening. Things were weird, but wonderfully so. We surfed until we couldn’t, and life was good. F–king good. Bowels in check.
This seriously happened. To me. An hour ago. And if it hadn’t happened to me—if I was you, that is, reading about this in a magazine three months hence, I wouldn’t believe it, because Ponto is fairly boring and because writers generally have some axe to grind vis a vis whatever epiphany they’re trying to convey.
I have no epiphany to convey. I didn’t come to any understanding about life or my role in it. The point is that Ponto—a fairly standard, not-that-special beachbreak in Southern California—may as well have been on the moon for those two hours. And it reminded me of an essential truth. You don’t need to go anywhere to get what you’re after. As surfers we’re fairly susceptible to mythology, and no myth is more pervasive than that of the search. The narrative has been written out for us since Mike Hynson and Robert August came over a sand dune during a staged shot in Endless Summer, a shot as void of truth as the myth that it spawned.
The truth is less exciting. The truth is that the reason we love to travel for surf is because it puts us into a frame of mind. Warm water’s good, yes. And quality waves. And less crowding. But the truth is that surf trips work because they allow us to focus on surfing, just surfing, and nothing else. It’s that mindset that provides catharsis, nothing else.
Going nowhere gets a bad rap. Going nowhere is for agoraphobes, for shut-ins, for pussies. Going nowhere is what people do when they’ve given up, when they’re no longer core. Going nowhere is not something that surfers do. Not good surfers, anyway.
Going nowhere’s as good as going somewhere, just different. I love the Staycation. Your home is alive with possibility. Sometimes Ponto is Indo. Sometimes you think you need a surf trip, but what you really need is to surf. To just surf. Sometimes you just need to go nowhere, and to do it well.