In the slosh of the past few months I've developed a newfound appreciation for rituals. I've always appreciated habit, but near the end of college many of my structured patterns dissolved, and it's only now, a year and a half later, that I'm rebuilding.
The two new consistencies are daily meditation and regular surfing. Both have been emotional stabilizers as I've navigated the stresses of not having consistent places to sleep, jobs to work, or people to connect with. The only bad habit I've lapsed back into is abundant stress-eating. Alas.
(I now, finally, have an apartment.)
Surfing is truly wonderful. I've been a swimmer for as long as I can remember and grew to love the consistency of a chlorinated pool. Now the dynamics of the ocean are appreciated and I'm trying to tune in to the philosophy of the sport.
There's some nasty machismo and territorialism out there, but largely surfing is an easy-going sport. (The defensiveness over beaches can be justified by a more and more crowded scene, but is discouraging as a beginner.) This New Yorker Piece on Surfing with 'Doc' Mark Renneker goes deep and conveys well the patience necessary for surfing. Unless you're surfing on quick, small waves, much of the sport is patience. Patience in the weather and swell, patience in paddling out, in positioning, in timing.
On a beach break especially (the less-predictable type of break), your position is never ideal. It's a neverending case of grass-is-greener. The folks on either side of you are catching better waves and the moment you get one, well, you aren't thinking about it, you're just riding it. There's a certain passivity the surfer has to nurture so as to not tire themselves out, chasing the best wave up-and-down the beach. The best wave is just the next one you catch.
If you conceptualize surfing as a kind of wave-based dancing, then it is just as ephemeral a medium. (It's always been interesting to me that dancing has defied attempts at standardized archival notation systems.) Either you got the wave or you didn't, and this breeds an easy-going nature. I routinely feel guilty as I flail around and get in the path of more experienced surfers, but they rarely get angry.
Attention to the other surfers is important, but more is to keep your eyes on the waves. Too often do I get distracted trying to see others, or watch the beach, only to miss a great wave or get eaten up by one that snuck up on me. Distraction yields immediate repercussions.
A few years ago I read this FvF interview with Azuma Mokoto and his reasoning for why he worked with flowers alone has stuck with me profoundly.
I guess I am not interested in things that will leave something behind. Flowers are not forever, they last for a certain amount of time and that thought feeds my creativity. It’s very different from, for example, catching a moment in a photograph. It is more about meeting this particular flower with this particular feeling and the fact that I meet this flower in a particular moment, that is what fascinates me and that is why I think I use flowers as my medium of choice.
In a time of exploitating the art object as capital investment and mass consumerism, I joyously get behind ephemeral work. Surfing is an art that exists in the moment and memory alone—surf photography only flirts with what it actually looks and feels like on the waves. (Acid Surfing has some lovely creative photo work, though, cutting through the ranks of the established publications).
And, ultimately, you are in the ocean. This morning, sitting on my board, two dolphins swam past, maybe only 30 feet away. I've seen fish, rays, and various oceanic birds. These animals, the ebb-and-flow of Angelinos, alongside the fog, winds, and tides all build towards a broader appreciation of the patterns of this planet.
On the worst possible day, surfing gives me some exercise and sunshine. On the ideal day, there's a mix of adrenaline and relaxation; a meditative celebration of whatever fleeting waves I can find; and a oneness with all others in the ocean with me.
Let me know if you are in Southern California, and we can give it a go.
Postscript: Learning Gardens got a feature on the Are.na blog. Big honor and impetus to reinvest in building momentum and resources.