<–This post has music: Seaside by Kultiration. Press play if the song didn’t autoplay.
The Beach / My Church
This weekend, the factory owner took me to his hometown in coastal China. As part of my tour he and his friends took me to a small island outside of town. We walked narrow winding streets where vendors sold fresh fish, seafood, pearls, and other ocean fairing goods. As dusk began to approach, we found ourselves walking the boardwalk of a small tourist beach. I told them I wanted to check the water temperature and walked down to the shoreline. This would be the first time I felt seawater since I moved home form Malta. I went past the high-water mark and dug a small hole in the sand. Soon thereafter, a small double-up wave pushed ashore and filled the hole with salt water. The water was cool and dirty. Nonetheless, I wiped some of it across my brow and spent a moment with our mother ocean.
I stood up and approached my new group of friends, who I didn’t realize had followed me onto the beach. Cissy (pronounced sea-sea) smiled at me and said, “you could write a book called The Young Man and The Sea.” She, like most people I have met in China, carefully observes my actions as the culture gap makes for good entertainment. By the way she had said it, I could tell she knew I was doing more than just checking water temperature. I chuckled at her statement, and we continued as a group back to the boardwalk.
What Cissy observed was a ritual I have developed during my surfing career. This ritual is something in-between a communion and baptism that I usually perform before or during every surf session. I find it relaxes me and brings me to the present moment, which is especially important when the waves are big or I’m surfing a more dangerous break. The ritual begins with me splashing water on my face or submerging it in the water. As I do this, I go through a thought process thinking something along the lines of:
“The earth is composed of approximately 70% water, and so is the human body. My blood, sweat, and tears are no different than the liquid that surrounds me. The ocean pumps through my heart and veins. Water, you and I are one in the same. My body is more you than anything else on earth, so take me kindly and let me experience your awesome power. When I am done, return me safely to the shore, for you are the essential life giver and keeper.”
Instantly, I feel connected to the fluid which surrounds me, and any fear turns to understanding. It’s really amazing how relaxing this practice can be when paddling out into larger surf where controlling heart rate, breathing, and oxygen consumption can mean the difference between life and death. “I am the ocean, and the ocean is….” I have written that phrase on the stringer of every ocean surfboard I have ever shaped for myself. I also put a little “70%” near the nose, so if I’m paddling head-down from exhaustion, I see it and remember to stay calm, connected, and in the present moment.
From the small island we went back to mainland and had dinner, then did Asian-style karaoke (private room with just our friends), and went on to one of the coolest nightclubs I have ever been to. It was certainly an eventful and fun weekend.
The bus ride back to the factory town made for good sight-seeing. It was a double-decker bus, and we had front seats on the upper deck. Minus a slight hangover, I was enjoying the long ride home, but things took a somber turn as we reached our town. Up the road, I could see an accident had just occurred. Debris was scattered for about 35 feet in the right lane of the four-lane highway, and people were getting out of crashed cars as we approached. Then ahead, a sinking feeling, a motorcycle lay on its side in pieces. Next to it, an old woman and young boy sat bloodied, but upright and conscious. The woman was crying hysterically, while the boy, no older than five, stared blankly into the street. In front of the motorcycle, a man laid on his belly, his face lay sideways as we passed. I will never forget his face. One would expect the tragically deceased to bare an expression of terror or pain, but his face looked peaceful like he was gently dozing while dreaming pleasant dreams. I looked again to the old woman. I have never seen such agony – today was surely the worst day of her life.
Judging by the situation and their relative ages, the old woman, her son, and her grandson were all aboard the motorcycle when a vehicle struck it (riding on motorcycles and scooters with up to 5 passengers is common practice in developing countries). We reached the scene no more than a minute after the tragedy occurred, so the man must have died on impact. Today, that old woman lost her son, and that boy lost his father.
Those of us on the bus who witnessed the scene looked at each other and shook our heads – there are no words to be said in a moment like this. For the short remainder of the ride, we all gazed silently ahead at the beautiful sunset before us. It’s amazing how all your thoughts and perceptions can change in an instant when confronted by the reality of life and death. I reflected on how fortunate I am to be alive leading this dream life. But at that moment, I was most grateful for the blessing of a healthy family, whom has always been there with smiles and hugs when I return home from my adventures.
Traveling not only brings me places physically, but I often reach distant mental and emotional destinations. It’s amazing how traveling far away will teach you the true value of the things you left behind. To those of you who are at home right now with family and life-long friends – let me remind you, as today has reminded me, that there is no greater thing in this world than the good fortune of loving and being loved. So if you are fortunate enough to be in the presence of loved ones today, I encourage you to take a moment and share your love and gratitude with them however you feel is appropriate.