From elephant ears to apple doll heads.
I went to the beach twice yesterday. Once I had a surfboard and all my gear, once without. Which trip was more fun?
The first trip was early. That was the surf trip with all of the usual things: a couple of boards, leashes, wax and enough neoprene to make the usually frigid North Atlantic ocean something less than hellish.
It was a good day to have picked this beach. There was a surfing competition1 on. Most of the other people where at another beach. When it comes to surfing, fewer people mean more fun.
The waves were small and mushy. They lacked push. they were about as trilling to surf as getting into an elevator.
Oh boy did I ever love elevators as a kid. We’d get in one and my mom would instantly tense up. And that little dip they used to make when beginning or arriving at a floor? I used to love to do little jumps to make the feeling even more exaggerated.
But as an adult, the only thrill I get from elevators is pretending to hit the ‘hold the door open’ button as I frantically pound the ‘door close’ button so that I can ride elevators alone.
This surfing session was less like childhood elevators and more like adult ones. The mood in the water was a lot like that in an elevator. We were going about our business, doing the polite things and going through the motions of having fun.
It was like fun, only without the novelty, discovery and joy and passion of play. It was a Wonderbread surf session: plain, playless, flawless and without any wonder at all. Quality people doing quality things.
Daily beach goers doing ordinary things in a routine way.
I was just waiting to hear someone drone / shout ‘time to make the doughnuts’ when they dropped in on a wave. Eventually, I surfed the requisite number of hours and waves for a weekend surf session and got out of the water.
It was fine. Not fun. Not good. Not bad. Fine. Functional wonderbread surfing.
The second trip was different.
On the second trip, I left my board and all of my gear behind. All that I had with me were a set of swimming trunks that threatened to leave my body due to looseness.
Wearing only shorts, I began to wade into the ocean. Ankle deep was fine. The wash from the broken waves topped my knees. In knee deep water things became more of a problem for me.
In knee deep water, the waves were just breaking. That meant they would get steep and stand up to be well above my waist. They made the icy water well beyond ‘the point of no return.’
I kept walking. A wave came in. My testicles ran as fast as they could. They went from looking like elephant ears to apple doll heads in an instant. As a man, I always find it alarming experiencing the strategic withdrawal of my nutsack.
When my balls got wet I let out an involuntary, high pitched screak. This attracted the attention of a bunch of people around me. These people were not in their wetsuits.
These people were not every day beach goers they way a surfer is.
These people were in the ocean, playing, laughing and discovering it’s power and the fun it offers. They, unlike the wonderbread surf crowd were excited, delighted and full of joy.
Inspired by their lack of wetsuit and ability to stay in the water, I dove in. The water was bracing, refreshing and all over my skin. No wetsuit. No protection. Just me and the ocean in a saggy swimsuit - a saggy swimsuit that kept slipping…
Knowing that an indecent exposure charge would be highly problematic, I found a way to secure my trunks.
I threw myself into every wave. I laughed, bodysurfed and did standing front flips into the surf. I felt like a little kid again.
Bodysurfing was particularly fun. I found a little wedge, a corner where I knew that the wave would stay open enough to drive me along for forty or fifty feet before slamming my likely bare ass into the sand.2
Oh wow, I thought, I’m riding small waves in new ways.
Actually, I did it before - bodysurfing. It wasn’t a regular thing. Body surfing was special. it took place on holiday, in a wave pool, or, on one of those amazing, unique, special days where the ocean was warm enough to go in and stay in and actually enjoy.
I was in the water for almost forty five minutes - less than half the time I spent surfing earlier that day. The experience? Ten times more fun.
In the morning, I was surrounded by ordinary people doing their ordinary thing on a disappointingly small ocean.
In the afternoon, I was surrounded by ordinary people doing an extraordinary, novel, limited thing on a vast, powerful and only slightly welcoming ocean.
The people in the morning were consistent with their ocean time. They were dedicated year round, surfers who worked consistently to improve.
In the afternoon, I enjoyed delighted people who do not get in the North Atlantic in January.
Improving requires consistency and commitment. Improving can lead to contentment. When we do, and we’re too consistent, novelty seems to disappear and with it, delight.
How can we reconcile our drive, need and desire for novelty and delight with the simple joys of ordinary committed contentment?
What happens when the extraordinary becomes ordinary?
I think that surfing competitions completely miss the point of surfing. People who get ‘competitive’ about the number of waves they get ruin it for everyone. With this in mind, I am opposed to surfing competitions. This is an important stance that I must take in order to ensure that human suffering is decreased in the world.
I developed a technique of pulling my pants up before standing up to prevent mooning the entire beach. Although I do miss ‘mooning’. Kids don’t seem to moon each other anymore. Too many smartphones, not enough bums.