the summer of catching waves

'When you're actually on a giant wave, they told me, you don't get the full measure of the animal. The experience is more like a collage of sensory impressions. There may be a flash of white spray, a sudden jolt, a feeling of energy surging beneath your feet, the suspension of time so that ten seconds stretch like taffy across a violent blue universe. Inside the barrel, a place that surfers regard with reverence, light and water and motion add up to something transcendent. It's an exquisite suspension of all things mundane, in which nothing matters but living in that particular instant.'

i have ever only tried surfing once. it was in the summer of 2009, on the coast of a small beach-town in southern taiwan. i came to remember the experience as being sublime, even though the only waves i caught were laughably small ones.

my surfing instructor was a 20-year-old boy with a gorgeous tan. he had lived in the same small town his entire life. surfing was a way of life to him, something as natural as breathing, but i suspect it also formed his mental life. there was definitely something different about him and our other new friends in that town. they seemed unburdened, free. they walked with a relaxed gait, not rushing, and never anxious to get anywhere quick.

my friend and i had spent about $60 for almost 3 hours of surfing tuition. at 9 in the morning we were woken up, served breakfast and then brought downstairs to pick out our surfing gear.

very quickly we were in the sea. the early morning light cast a glint over the surface of the water, making it sparkle. the sun beat down warmly, gently. there was the blue, and then the yellow. caught in these colors, we learned to surf.

the basics of surfing goes like this: you lie down on your board, chest-first, facing the direction of the shoreline. your hands start to paddle, pushing yourself forward, and when you feel the slight current of an impending wave, you paddle hard, gaining enough speed so that you can catch the head of the wave. once you're on the wave, you stand up (actually you do a sort of gentle half-jump), balancing yourself on the board and feeling the ecstatic energy of the wave transporting you across the surface of the sea, as if by magic.

but it was not easy to catch a wave, and even harder to not fall over.

after 3 hours of catching waves and falling off our boards, we got back on shore. as we picked up our boards and headed back to the hostel, i turned and took one last look at the sea. the comforting rhythm of the waves made my heart swell. it was as if life was as good as it would ever get, here in this small southern town, and i had the feeling that if i ever left this place, i would very quickly forget these intense but gentle emotions: of feeling like i was in the right place at the right time.