Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The best £300 I ever spent.

I made a discovery quite late in the day, but thankfully not too late.
There are things that make you completely alive. Most of the time, we are scattered, not mindful. We have a dozen processes of thought of differing levels of consciousness going on at the same time for most of our waking moments and we are not really paying attention to being alive.

I went to a lecture at work by the lovely Baroness greenfield on consciousness. It was really quite profound. Her contention was that consciousness is an emergent property of circuits of neurons working. The more neurons involved in the dominant circuit, the more conscious we feel at that moment.

She used a picture of a man leaving the platform for a bungee jump to illustrate the peak of consciousness with the comment: "this man is not worrying about his mortgage."
i concur, based on my own experience. I am very scatty by admission and reputation. Much internal dialogue happens continuosly And hence I am not really fully conscious much of the time.

And then I discovered surf.

I don't really get moved by standing-up surfing. I tried it and it was ok. You get most leverage standing and can manage tighter turns.
Body boarding is also fun and can be quite exhilarating in big seas if you go out far enough an get the right waves. Fins are a must though.

But then I bought my kayak. Well, I say kayak but that is usually an enclosed boat with a spraydeck. This one is really a "hybrid waveski" But quite a big one because I am heavy.

Sitting out beyond the break, maybe 200m out, the sea is calm with a healthy swell. Inshore, waves break every six to ten seconds. Out here, waves are more sparse, but bigger, cleaner, more enduring.
I wait, the boat bobbing languidly in the swell. Out to sea, the surface is grey-green with small-scale perturbations, I continue to wait.
Suddenly 100m away, a strip of sea changes consistency, more opaque, paler, as the angle of the water changes, reflecting the sky differently.
A Hope grows: This is MY wave and it promises much. I paddle forward until I am where I think I need to be to take off on the wave.

Neck craning behind me, excitement building, I see it growing as it approaches, calmly rolling toward me as it seems to grow to the size of a house. When it is ten metres behind me, I start to paddle furiously at an angle oblique to the travel of the wave, attempting to match its speed when it reaches me. My stomach tingles inside as I feel the back of the boat rise up and I heave myself forward.
Momentarily, I feel as if the wave will leave me behind as I lag behind its rising peak. But with every ounce of my strength, I dig in my paddle, the water hard and unyielding as I force it behind me, and I lever myself and the boat over the top onto the smooth downward face of the wave.
Now I am looking down a slope, a small water hill maybe ten feet high, but a hill that is gathering pace towards the beach, and now bearing me with it. I throw myself backwards until I am practically lying along the boat, to stop the nose digging in and the “take-off” begins.

The boat accelerates and now I am starting down its face going what feels like a hundred miles an hour.
I lean in and try a turn to my right. With a dip of the paddle, the boat responds and I am now travelling at 45 degrees to the motion of the wave. Behind me, it has started to break, curling over its peak in a point of white chaos. The point follows me just behind the boat.

And suddenly all is still. Aquaplaning on the flat hull, there is a sudden moment where everything joins in absolute perfection. There is a sound, like that of a scoop through sorbet and everything is in perfect balance. I have no thought. I just am.

The moment lasts for that odd period of time which is both instantaneous and an eternity. My mind holds nothing. All thought stops. Pure joy and euphoria suddenly fill the space where the chattering thoughts usually reside. I don't know how long this lasts but it is perfection and the moment I live for. My mind is empty of thought but saturated with sensation. I don't have to think about how to direct the boat: It's all instinct and a dip of the paddle here and touch into the face of the wave there and the ride seemingly carries on without conscious direction from me. There is calm and there is exultation, normally improbable bed-fellows. But in this instant of time, I am an empty vessel being filled with the perfection of the moment.

Another point of breaking wave is fast approaching from the other direction, squeezing the clean peak smaller and smaller. When it seems barely the length of the kayak, I dig harder into the right and hop neatly through the remnant of clean unbroken wave. The two points of turbulence close behind me, turning the wave to boiling white soup and using the clear slope of the back of the wave, I paddle furiously to get myself back to my starting point, to wait again for my wave.

Many waves and two hours later, which feels like ten minutes, I drag myself and my boat back up the beach. I lie in the foam of the margin, exhausted.
Above me, the towering hill is so green and crystal clear in my eyes that it might have been engraved upon my cornea. The gorse is so yellow that I can almost taste it. The clarity is like I have never had eyes before. It is like life up to this point, except for similar such moments, was lived with a dirty windscreen and suddenly the screenwash has been filled and the screen cleaned properly at last. It is so VIVID!

In my mind, there is no sound. The voices have all silenced for a while. Like the cacophony on the shortwave bands has suddenly been silenced by a worldwide power cut. There is just a gentle "shushing" inside, like small waves lapping the beach on a windless, surfless day.
I float on the untroubled surface of my mind.
That is enlightenment. The clamour has gone and I am properly calm.

© Pete Earlam 2007

1 comment:

Lady of Serendip said...

Thanks for that Pete. It may be the closest to surfing/kayaking I shall ever get! I can almost feel the waves.