Lucask’s post “A View From the Top” got me thinking of another similar Sublime sort of experience reminiscent of Shelley’s “Mont Blanc.” Surfing also fills a person with simultaneous contradictory emotions. You can be peacefully bobbing up and down in gently rolling waves waiting for the next set to come. Suddenly, a massive wall seems to rise out of nowhere, with its water changing from a dull grey or light blue into a much deeper, darker shade of colour, towering over you as you look up in a state of both terror and absolute awe. There seems to be a momentary pause in time as your eyes widen with simultaneous fear and reverence.
Following that moment of suspension, you must make a quick decision…but only if the approaching wave shows enough mercy to give you a choice. There are three possible outcomes as this wall of terror stands before you. The first possible outcome is that you paddle towards it, in an attempt to reach the outside of the break, duck-dive into it and punch out the other side as the wave collapses just feet behind with a thunderous roar. The second possible outcome is that you manage you ride the wave in a sort of union, in which you dance with the sublime object, knowing all the while that this object has ultimate power over you. The third possible outcome happens when you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or misread the wave. In this case, you have no option but to surrender to the ultimate power of wave as it rips your board from your grasp, sucks you into its washing machine-like turbulence, and tosses you around like a limp noodle, reminding you of your powerlessness.
Surfing is often described as a spiritual experience; it is a unifying relationship between the surfer and nature that requires much respect for the merciless power of the ocean. Without proper understanding or respect for the power and behaviours of the ocean, you may find yourself in a lot of trouble. According to Shelley, “The wilderness has a mysterious tongue…not understood/ By all, but which the wise, and great, and good/ Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel” (3.28-35). Perhaps, in the case of surfing, the ocean has a mysterious tongue, which only an experienced “soul surfer” can truly comprehend or sense.
Here is a mesmerizing, high-def, slow-mo video of people surfing some of the most powerful waves I’ve ever seen. It perfectly captures the majesty, magnitude, and power of the waves.