The Next Wave


As a boy growing up in Rhode Island I came to love body surfing. I’d wade out into the water, the last of the rolling waves lapping at my ankles and calves until I was up to my waist in ocean. It was important not to go out too far. I had to able to jump or the waves would just wash by me; I also had to find that spot where the wave raised up and revealed itself, pulling out of its heavy, deep sea roots in its last lurch toward land.

Once I’d found the spot I waited. If it was a good day the waiting was as fun as the surfing. I’d stand with the tide rising and sinking around me, my eyes trained on the undulating horizon. There were always waves coming, the question was which was worth riding. If it were small it wouldn’t have the energy to carry me, and riding it felt too much like swimming. So I’d wait, trying to read the ocean’s shrugs and swells, knowing the eyes could tell you stories if you wanted to hear them, stories of perfects waves that dissolved into nothing as they washed uselessly by. 

It was the body that never lied. I’d feel a good wave before I truly saw it, the water rushing out toward sea, and my legs and hips feeling the energy of what was coming. Then all at once, there it was, and there was no doubting what I was seeing, the oncoming mass both menacing and inviting. I’d see that wave and think, “This is why you’re here. You asked for this.” If I was scared I could always dive under it, feel it roll over me like some great sea creature, but I believed there was no such thing as a wave too big to ride. So I’d crouch, poised to spring, and just as the water sucked out between my legs, I’d close my eyes and leap.

I knew immediately whether I’d caught it. If I’d gone too late or too soon it was as if the wave had disappeared, and I’d open my eyes and there I’d be, a few feet from where I’d jumped watching it run away from me. But if I timed it right, the wave actually caught me, and I’d feel myself suspended in it and above it. My only job was to stay still and straight; the wave did everything else. For a short, forward-rushing moment I felt a part of something bigger than me but not beyond me.

Until what had begun with such force and urgency rolled gently to its conclusion. I’d find myself at the water’s edge, and I’d stand up, and take a moment before returning. I knew there were waves that were so massive and violent that they’d just crash into the beach as if hitting a wall. You couldn’t actually catch those. Every single wave had its own touch of that, a drive that could kill or carry you. That was what made them worth riding, though you couldn’t think about dying if you wanted to go back out. All your attention had to remain on the next wave, the next opportunity, the next idea, which came toward you as endlessly as the ocean.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.