The Contrast, Yin and Yang, Karma, and Lost Keys
“Maybe that was easier for you.” This was the comment, just sort of hanging in the air, from Carol Toyne, the retired art teacher living next to the Port Townsend house I was painting. She had a smirky/almost-condescending/quite-satisfied expression when she realized, both of us now smiling and nodding, that she had said something (else) that I had taken as clever and wise.
And I had.
Her assessment was one of many responses during a rambling conversation, as I, for forty bucks, cash (using her paint), brushed-out the siding on the purple-ish wall that formed one side of my client’s yard, though not the puke green eves. Carol, who is about my age (her daughter and my older son attended pre-pre-school together) was cleaning her VW camper van, getting ready for a week long retreat in the woods, an event that would, no doubt, include drum circles and sophisticated conversations… well, it was interesting she wasn’t taking her Prius.
“I took art,” I had said, in between telling of my latest surf trip and how I’d ripped, shredded, wailed, or, backing off a bit to not seem to be bragging quite so obviously, how I had been quite pleased with my surfing, the near-euphoria then tempered (not quite ruined) by Archie feeling sick (no doubt connected to his business trip to L.A. with side/surf sessions at Malaga Point and Malibu, AND some surfing the evening before) and sitting out the last hour of the session, sleeping in his newly-customized surf rig; and further tempered when, back at Archie’s house, I realized I’d lost my own car key back at the left and right-breaking (we’d sampled both as the tide changed) spot out on the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Yeah, the rights were working, fast and tubing, when we got there at 7am.
The key, and the surfboard-shaped combination key ring/bottle cap remover that Trish bought for me when she went to Kauai, probably fell from my pants as I got dressed just beyond the fence that marks the end of the parking area. Yes, it’s the fence that, reaching it on a left or a right, while surfing, marks a particularly long ride; as in, “I made it past the fence!”
“Oh,” a surfer might say, knowingly.
“Oh,” Carol had said, then explaining, in art terms, yin and yang, an expression I’d tried to use, then admitted I didn’t really understand it.
“Something about balance,” I had said.
“Well,” she said, in sort of the same way French people respond when you attempt any word in their language. She then made circles with the fingers and thumbs of both her hands. “You have a black dot and a white dot. You can’t see one without the other.”
“Oh, so it’s, maybe, more about, um, contrast?” “Sure.”
“It’s all a bit abstract to me,” I then said, returning to my story of how I took all the art classes I could at Palomar Junior (I always add the ‘junior’) College back in 1969, and, when we were tasked to draw a still life, one of the students, rather than try to enhance his skills at rendering, did some sort of abstraction, and, when I asked him why, he said, “because it’s easier.”
“Uh huh,” Carol said, carefully arranging a couple of Native American-inspired blankets.
“Yeah, and when I ran into him, later, at the beach (Stone Steps, for those keeping score), I found out he- he wasn’t that good (as in I was notably better) but he made it to class, like, every day- and, anyway, while I got a ‘C,’ he got a ‘B.’ I was so busy, working, surfing; I had a girlfriend and…”
“Well,” she said, adding a slight pause, “maybe that was easier for you.”
Fill in the longer pause here. Her money in my wallet, I went back to finish my real job.
But, thanks, Carol; now I’m rethinking my entire life in terms of when I’ve chosen paths, jobs, relationships, whatever, because that route is easier. None of it’s been easy, really. And I’m thinking of Karma. And I’m thinking of Love, and Philosophy (Surf Route 101), and Art, and what we deserve, or don’t, and now I’m thinking about… contrast; how we see what we see. Meanwhile, I have to go to work; another job, another story. Most of the job talk will be about the mundane, paint color and rain, and, every once in a while, I might contemplate the big old abstract picture of Life, how we’re dropping and rising, slipping and turning and, maybe, once in a while, sliding a hand across the image to see what’s real.
Oh, and if we write our own lives through our choices, as Carol had suggested, and if our wishes and dreams and our will can, in any way, influence anything in the Universe, the next time I’m up at my favorite spot, when the swell direction and size, and the tide and the wind all align, maybe the stars (not too hip on influence from the stars) perhaps I’ll find a Toyota key on a surfboard key ring hanging on the fence that marks a really long ride. “Oh,” I’ll, no doubt, say.
If we’re talking about waves not taken, I should mention that I don’t have to be on location for my next project until one pm, and, if I’d gotten up earlier, checked the buoys, seen there was a possibility for something at my favorite Straits spot… well, I’d be there now. I have to apologize for not having the realsurfer spirit. Oh, but I do. Gotta go.
Nope; sorry; I found the illustration for this story, but can’t seem to get it from there to here. And I’m out of time. Maybe tonight. Meanwhile, I’m not giving any more hints as to any more secret mysto spots, but I did surf the above-featured wave the other evening with Rico Moore and Keith. No, Adam, it wasn’t head high.
Having already told me how awesome his latest surf session had been (the waves are always, it seems, ‘head high’ when he surfs) Adam ‘Wipeout’ James called me back to say he’d missed some waves.
“What? I missed that.”
Adam usually calls from the road, his shellfish business taking him to multiple locations among the tentacles of the greater Hood Canal and Puget Sound. He has a waterproof cell phone and it usually sounds as if he’s actually underwater. It wasn’t, apparently, that he missed waves he was out of position for; too far in, too far over; it was that he could have taken off and didn’t.
Or maybe I heard that wrong.
If it was that, missed opportunities; then yeah, I understood that. There are the waves you want but someone else is on them; nothing to do about that. Slight regret, maybe; like the time this guy was sitting way outside, resting, or enjoying the ambiance, or something, positioned at exactly the (my) big set lineup spot, but, since there hadn’t been a big set for a long enough time that I abandoned even thinking about it and went for the insiders. Several. And then, the big set approached, set of the day, wave of the day, and I was scrambling out and over for it, and the guy, without adjusting his position at all, just casually turned and took off as if he’d been expecting this special delivery.
I couldn’t be angry with him for waiting; I was upset with myself for not.
Wipeout’s situation was different. He gurgled a description of head high (of course) glassy waves at a classic walling, wedging point/cove break out the Straits of Juan de Fuca near Neah Bay; the ones he caught and, specifically, the waves he could have and didn’t.
“Adam,” I said, “I didn’t take off on a wave at Warmwater Jetty in 1969 and I haven’t gotten over it yet.”
It was the only time I ever surfed there, paddling around the fence, feeling the warmer water coming from the Carlsbad power plant outflow. It was an hour or more before work would start and was the only one out. It wasn’t head high, but it was glassy, and, after several quick rights, I was poised to drop into another one. Too steep, might close out, the calculations went through my mind quickly, and, quickly, I backed off, feet splayed to slow me down, to keep me from going over the falls.
And, watching from the back, the wave peeled perfectly, perfectly, a bit of spray off the feathering top.
Instant, and lasting, regret.
Maybe it’s those regrets, maybe almost as much as perfect rides remembered, that urge us on, push us into conditions a little too big, a little too rough or out of control, talk us into attempting a late drop that we clearly can’t make, freefalling, hoping something, fin or rail, catches, somewhere, and we can speed run down, inside, and, if we make it… great. If we don’t… no better place to wipeout than inside… rolling, rolling… and, later, the memory is not one of regret.
“Next time, Adam,” I said.
“Yeah,” and I’m pretty sure this is what he said on the other end of the bubbling cellular connection, “Next time.”
This is my daughter Drucilla’s shot of super low tide Seaside Cove, using one of many filters that she got as an App on her phone. The bigger blob is me, paddling my SUP from my knees, waiting for one of those fabled hundred yard rides. We were also waiting for my sister Melissa Lynch and her son Fergus and husband, Jerome. And there was talk (actually part of Trisha’s selling of the trip) that my former daughter-in-law, Karrie, would show up with our grandsons, N8 (Nate) and Tristan, and Tristan’s girlfriend, Stormy, all of us ready to share my three boards and primed (and properly fitted in rented wetsuits) to challenge the (obviously) classic conditions.
“It was a blast!” Melissa would text me later. Fergus, who packed his dad’s wetsuit rather than something he really needed, and who had surfed before, had now doubled his experience level. Jerome, seeing his wife and son have so much fun, took back his wetsuit, borrowed my SUP (no paddle), and stood up on the very first wave he (ever) caught.
So the Lynches were all stoked. Karrie, however, got lost somewhere in the heavy Seaside traffic, and her sons, who spent most of their trip from Idaho in the pool at the place on Long Beach, didn’t want to challenge the ocean. This reticence may have been related to the tragic news that an eleven year old girl (actually from very near where Trish and I live) had drowned at Long Beach July 3rd after getting caught outside, pushing her younger brother toward shore and telling him to “swim as hard as you can.”
So, though I gave seventeen year old Tristan a certain amount of grief about it, I was fine.
Yes, I knew the surf would be small and the tide wrong for Seaside; we had a big celebration of my father’s 90th birthday to attend when the tide came back in and the surf approved. Seaside has a heated shower; quite a selling point. I had, however, somehow lost my boxers while suiting up in the nearby restrooms, and, though showered and salt free, I did have to attend the event commando.
Well, I did have socks on with my sandals in the classic northwest style, also a throwback to Fallbrook High’s dress code; Mexican sandals were allowed- with socks. It just seems civilized.
Anyway, as soon as I can find them, I’ll stick a couple more photos from the trip on the site. Worth mentioning, perhaps, is that, due to several unrepaired tears in my wetsuit, I no longer go in the water commando, though, unlike when I got my first wetsuit, I also no longer wear the trunks on the outside. Less modest, perhaps?
What I shouldn’t mention is how fortunate I feel that I don’t usually have to surf beachbreak (and the Cove was behaving like a beachbreak). My best ride was a left that didn’t close out as most had, and, when I wrapped a big cutback, the group of kids who were out on their boogie boards and rented softtops (some with their own boards and suits), all kind of cheered. Or maybe they were just being patriotically inspired.
Ever since I moved to the Pacific Northwest at the tail end of the seventies,I’ve had dreams of waves breaking, perfectly, in some secluded cove, protected from the onshore wind; wrapping around a small headland, clean while, offshore, whitecaps bump against each other.
Of course, in my dreams, the waves are rights. Maybe it was a transference from San Diego, some extension of the Mysto spot, Ralphs, at the end of Point Loma, a remembrance of working at the submarine base, imagining some big south swell finding its way into the depths of San Diego Harbor, maybe hitting at the little pier where the Navy divers hung out. Maybe the dream was based on a remembrance, fondly saved, of waves on the island offshore of Lupe’s Left Loopers in Mazatlan; a real south swell with waves wedging themselves between the main island and another one yards away, peeling past the rocks in absolutely clear little waves, wrapping, wrapping, dreamlike.
The Straits of Juan de Fuca act as that island, cleaning up Pacific storm-born swells, taking that ‘lump’ out of them, and, with the right swell, the points and headlands and hooks created by the rivers running off the Olympics groom these swells into… well, they’re mostly lefts. Still.
But, sometimes, the west wind howling from way out in the open ocean, still crazy passing Port Angeles, still out of control approaching Port Townsend…