Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

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The Night We Truly Met
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The Night We Truly Met
James Rider, Contributor • June 11, 2024

The Night We Truly Met

Breaking waves on a summer night in Bolinas (with accompanying podcast)
The+Night+We+Truly+Met

 

Driving with the windows down, I was unsure of what this session had in store. When I arrived I knew it was a good choice to drive the winding road to Bolinas. The air was warm but with a cool breeze. It felt nice. I suited up, waxed my board, put on my leash, and started to walk barefoot down to the beach listening to the waves and gazing at the sunset which splattered the clouds with orange and pink paint.

Only a few people were in the lineup, so I carried my surfboard down to the water, feeling the soft, cold sand under my toes. The beach was quiet, with only a few scattered seagulls and longboarders. Both animals and humans seemed entranced by the day’s end spectacle. The cold water lapped against my wetsuited legs as I waded into the ocean.

If you wear a wetsuit you can’t feel the temperature of water until you fully submerge yourself. This experience of feeling the water lapping on my legs but not feeling the cold water added to the astounding satisfaction of the moment. 

Paddling out, I could feel the power of the ocean beneath me, a strong push of swell. 

When the wind dies and the tide is high, a strong south swell creates magnificent, peeling waves. The sun continued to sink lower, shooting rays of sunlight onto the passing waves. The waves mirrored the sky. I couldn’t help but pause for a moment, sitting on my board, absorbing the sheer beauty of the scene around me. It felt special.

It was such an amazing summer. Working at the surf shop, which I somewhat stumbled upon looking for a high school job and building these real-life relationships with people I truly cared about cultivated what I remember as the best summer of my life. 101 Surf Sports has been such a great experience. The ideas taught to me are better than any unit in a school textbook. Moral lessons and a full heart I honestly appreciate my life. 

I scanned the horizon and with the glimmer of sunlight off the vast ocean I spotted a promising wave forming in the distance. I turned my board around and paddled only a few times. Suppose you’ve never felt this before it’s something somewhat indescribable. The push of water under me and the misty wind pattering on my face I stood up and looked down the line of the wave. Over my left shoulder, the wave around chest height broke, just peeling over like the feeling of running hundreds of pages of a book under your finger. I moved my board up and down the face of the wave until ahead of the white water and onto the fast-moving, glassy wave. On my tiptoes, I walked to the nose of the board and leaned back. My face towards the shore I looked at the sunsetted sky and smiled. A kind of smirk where I felt the end of my lips slightly rise above their resting place. Like the sun was lit in my chest, I smiled more.

As I surfed, I became aware of the symphony of sounds around me – the crash of the waves, the screeching calls of seagulls, and the faint whisper of the wind. This wave made a sound that I could feel in my chest. Before the wave breaks you can tell what sound it will make. Large curling waves that flop onto the water make a big boom and hit you like a truck while the peeling soft waves are gentle and sound like their treble has been turned up. Surfing this wave and seeing the world in its beauty I shouted in my head, ”I belong here.” 

Time seemed to stand still as I surfed wave after wave, the sun gradually sinking lower until it finally shrunk under the hill behind Bolinas Beach. The sky turned to a rich purple with streaks of orange and pink lingering like the last claps of a standing ovation. The stars began to twinkle above, one by one, adding to the magic of the evening.

Before paddling to shore I sat in awe and spoke to a surfer next to me. 

“Beautiful night,” I said, knowing it was. 

“The best one I’ve seen all summer,” my fellow paddler said. Everyone in the ocean appreciates its beauty. Especially on this night I could feel and see the smiles plastered onto people’s faces and into their minds.

As the sun went down even more, getting dark, I paddled back to the shore. I wrapped up my leash and walked back to my truck. Putting my board in the back, I noticed a car pull up with two locals. They got out and started playing sweet guitar and singing in harmony. I didn’t acknowledge their presence but I listened to their music.

In that moment of reflection, I felt a profound sense of gratitude and amazement. My world, which has so many problems and imperfections, felt right. That evening taught me to appreciate what I have now. Even if it’s small, like one song played by a random person, appreciate it.

Like a movie, every part leads to the end or a sequel. This specific moment encapsulated the whole story behind my summer. I’m only this young and healthy once in my life so appreciate it. 

In a place that is usually foggy and rough, full of fearsome Pacific currents and monsters that lurk under the surface, this night stood out like a girl with beautiful eyes. 

Surfing, a sport that puts me at the merciless whims of the ocean, makes me calm. Finding that little control that I can get from a certain wave is so freeing and new, that it makes me never want to leave. It’s almost like looking up at a skyscraper or jumping off a rock or a tree into a deep lake. The difference between looking up at it from the bottom, climbing it, looking at the impending water below, and jumping. It seems so easy at the bottom, so scary at the top, but so freeing in the water after you’ve jumped. This feeling is what surfing has done for me. 

For most people, the Northern Pacific is what it looks like in the movies. Huge turbulent waves offer no relent when capsizing boats or drowning swimmers. Not me though. The anger and disrespect that the ocean throws at so many, don’t seem to hit me the same way. When I am about to be hit by the biggest wave in a set I don’t curl up in fear, I accept it. I can’t change where I am but can learn to embrace the suffering. For me, surfing isn’t all about the waves, the wind, or even the ocean. It’s about each second I spend learning. Every movement that I make in the wake of scary, turning salt water. Even though I am the most vulnerable I could ever be, I embrace it. 

Look up at the rock, stare the wave in the face, face your fears. Understand your path throughout life and conquer that fear. This is what surfing and that night taught me.

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