“Give. Give more. Give what you didn’t get.” ~ Garry Shandling, comedian
Garry set his elbows on his knees and leaned toward the T.V., pointing. “See that? He’s totally in the moment. That look, you see it?” He paused the fight. We examined the look in Floyd Mayweather’s right eye: something beyond focused, beyond determined, just so… “He’s so fucking present,” said Garry. “He’s not in his head. Like you,” he added. “I’m just kidding. I’ll leave now. Wait, it’s my house…”
The break… The ring… The wave… The fight.
It’s an ecstasy that bleeds you. It’s the stigmata of the dance. There is no love that doesn’t pierce you through. Get over that shit.
I love certain words. Hullaballoo. Phantom. Sanctuary. That word to me expands into circles of redwoods in the cold mist, into swirls of glittering pyrite in the water column offshore as the waves pulse toward the beach.
But this year, with the pandemic, sanctuary has been stripped of its wilderness and thrown into a glowing box that tells me stories. So, that’s where the lie begins, because ask any monk or nun or indigenous elder through the ages and a sanctuary is never a square.
I notice it faster now — when my head closes in on me — and I need more than a shot of whiskey to set me straight. Through the dark in the early morning I fumble for my phone and my reading glasses, to open the surf report and see if the light has hit the water yet on my little stretch of California coast.
My first wave is usually my worst.
“You’re like a boxer that has to get hit in the face before you start to fight back,” said my coach, Christian, with a shrug. That brought the memory of the Mayweather fight that day, some fifteen years ago, sitting on Garry’s sofa.
You’re in your head…
With the wind-swell in the water this morning, the waves came fast and tight, one after the other, mixed swell, changing every second, tidal swing, and the wind changing direction. Paddling back out, I nose my board at an opening on the shoulder of the next wave, and the one behind it provides a slot on the opposite side, a crumbling peak unsure of the high tide, ripping a center line at my board. I turtle roll.
There’s nothing elegant about the way I fail, board ripped out of my hands. Hair in my face, a tangle of seaweed across my nose. Whatever. That’s all age does to you: you cease to fucking care.
Christian ahead of me calls out, “You got this, trust me!” and we pierce the outside.
Trust me… his words echo in my skull.
I do trust him. But in that moment, my head flashes me through twenty years of therapy. “You can only ever trust people to be who they are,” says Elise, my therapist. “You can trust a drug addict to rob you. You can trust a teacher to grade you. Everyone has trust issues at the party. Figure out who is who.”
Christian has kept me safe on the reef, in the rain, out with the men, when I do stupid shit and bail in exactly the wrong moments. I trust him more than I trust myself out there. It’s his turf. That’s why I call him The Boss.
No time for thought. Even thinking is too slow. Get up. Go.
A peaky right flies toward us and Christian pivots on his twin fin and shoots the pocket. Warm up. He’s also fleecing the men to the north of us who are watching, checking to see if he’s any good. I’m fifteen yards away but I watch them watch him land his arial, then they look away, intensely aware of his performance. It has its intended effect, and satisfied with his edge, The Boss returns to our lesson.
I hook a right and find my feet. This is flying. This.
I’ve been focusing on my pop-up, the rhythm, the way to throw my arms into the turns for agility. Some of these moves have purpose now that I didn’t understand last year. Now I can use my weight.
Two waves in and the awkwardness of my morning trepidation is replaced with the sheer ecstasy of a full-throttle entry into a backside face that opens out into a cutback, and then provides a connection through to the inside over what looks like a ski jump off one wave and into the peeling section of the next.
I land that shit, hook back, make the wave and paddle out, triumphant. My face splits into a grin. When was the last time I smiled like this?
The Boss greets me with praise. “That was awesome. Nice job!” I bask. You better believe I do.
For a flash as I untangle my leash looking at the shifting horizon, I think about Garry Shandling, and the boxing gym he owned, and his relationship with the ring, and what the ritual of putting on the gloves meant to him, how reverently he talked about it. How that line between the profane and the sacred is where all the nectar of life is. How much I loved that about him.
I don’t even trust myself most days. But the shoulder of the wave? I can trust it to roll, bend, hollow out, and to smash itself into bits. I trust that beauty with an intimacy deeper than my deepest breath.
Behind the flare of my rage, my incompetence, my frustration, there’s something deeper that I lean on for stability. Trust in the universe? Or at least in my dog.
“We’re all just walking each other home,” said Ram Dass.
Maybe that’s the beauty of it. We’re all the fragmented, broken pieces, that when you put us together in a certain light, look like the mosaic of love.
We all have trust issues. And together, there’s something beautiful about enduring those sharp edges we all hate that we have — I know I do — and staying above the waves in the sunlight, where even the biggest whales surface to breathe…
… stoked and free :)
~ Kaia Alexander
Surf Cowgirl Chronicles is proudly brought to you by filmmaker, novelist, entrepreneur Kaia Alexander.
You can find Kaia at www.kaiaalexander.com
Watch the trailer of my upcoming documentary, Chalice: Wise Women Rise here: www.chalicemovie.com