Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Kayak Surfer

Sunset splendor at Moonlight Beach, EncinitasOnce October arrives and Labor Day is behind us, most of the tourists are gone. The beach once again becomes ours and it's time to reclaim it. Early morning or late day, low tide or disappearing beach, the beach is a playground for fishing, surfing, walking, or running.

So here I am. The clouds are blocking the setting sun, leaving an antique finish across the sky and the darkened sand. The sea is muted, absorbing the fading light. Even the waves are quiet, relentlessly depositing their gifts upon the beach. The water carries bits of shells and lonely strands of seaweed which remain strewn upon the wet sand. The tide is receding and ravenous gulls scrounge for morsels amid low-tide deposits.

I have just finished my run, some thirty minutes of rhythmic pounding, and I raise my arms to help open up gasping lungs. A breeze full of the smells of the sea fills my nostrils, mixing with the dried sweat and salt on my skin and sweat-moistened hair. I welcome this invasion.

I notice a lone kayak, empty of its driver, patiently waiting in the wet sand. I suck more air and turn my back on the kayak. Coming down the beach is its owner, identified by his paddle, full wet suit and helmet. I continue gasping for air and briskly walk for my cool-down. The kayaker and I pass each other, but he doesn’t see me or notice me. His focus is his craft, his intentions are honed in on the melding of his body with this unassuming little floatation device. He looks west to the ocean.

I turn around so I can face the kayaker now reunited with his craft. With the paddle in one hand, he drags the boat towards the water, choosing a position not quite in the water, but within the waves’ reach. He positions the boat carefully and climbs in. He busies himself with some attachments or fittings and then uses the paddle as a lever to push himself towards the water. He strains as sandy goop sucks his craft and tries to prevent his leaving. He stops and waits for a wave to arrive.

I chuckle. The man reminds me of a small child sitting in a wagon, waiting for someone to come by and give him a pull. The kayaker turns impatient and once again begins to push against the sand to inch his way seaward.

At last, the sea relents and a wave lifts the little craft made heavy with its cargo, ever so slightly. He is working furiously now to paddle through the inch or two of liquid before the wave can take back its gift. One side, then the other, the paddle dips into the water, and the little kayak takes on a new wave. After each wave the kayaker responds by paddling with a burst of energy. He is fighting the incoming surf and working to get through the onslaught. The deeper he goes, the bigger the waves become that battle against him.

I am now completely drawn into his playful mastery of the sea. While I had expected the kayaker to work through the waves and reach outside, I now realize that this struggle is but the setup. The real goal is catching an incoming wave, controlling the kayak through the surf. Agile, sharp turns allow him to move up and down the wave.

I continue watching him as he once again battles the incoming waves and struggles to reach outside. He squirrels around a bit, looking for a promising swell. He sees a wave that he likes and attacks it, paddling with the surge to catch his ride. Once caught, the kayak becomes an extension of his body. He works the wave, using paddle, body, and kayak. He rides the shoulder and twirls in the surf.

He is the kayak surfer. He releases the wave and manuvers free to fight the battle once again. He is as relentless as the sea itself.

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