Michael stroked over the first of two waves and halfway up the face of the third, then sat back on his board, grabbed the left rail, reversed his board, and pulled it under him and aimed it down the face of the wave. There was no need to paddle in this situation. The board was like a dart, and the hand of the wave propelled it toward the target.
As the wave lifted the tail of his board, he sprang to his feet and poised in a graceful, cat-like stance. He’d been through it dozens of times, and it was all performed effortlessly with the grace of a ballet dancer. It would not be an exaggeration to say that once he felt the wave beneath him, he could have come to this point with his eyes closed. That is the power of confidence.
A split second later, the bottom fell through and the wave sucked out like a sideways whirlpool. Faced with the vertical throw (to call it a drop would be an understatement), his confidence shattered. “I can’t make it!” flashed across his mind. At that moment he surrendered all thoughts of making the wave and his efforts ceased, though in fact he stuck to his board as it was hurled into the trough of the wave.
The wave swallowed his board as he went through the washing machine wipe out circuit, but spit it out on the shoulder about twenty yards inside. It glided smoothly across the surface and into the path of Varuna, who had witnessed the whole episode. Varuna paddled alongside and laid his right foot on the deck of Michael’s board; then, the board in tow, he paddled on. “Over here!” he called out as he flashed a smile to Michael, indicating that he had retrieved his board for him.
Varuna delivered the board, and as Michael slid onto it, Varuna asked matter-of-factly, “Do you think you could have made it?” Michael reflected a moment before speaking. “Well, I feel it could be done, and on some occasions I’ve done it, but never in full control, never with real confidence. I mean, it’s not like it’s an integral part of my surfing. It’s never really felt comfortable; it’s always been a one-shot deal, a stroke of luck, you might say.”
They paddled on in silence and positioned themselves in the line-up, awaiting the arrival of the next set. It was an unusual day; the waves were seven to nine feet, the water crisp but pleasant and incredibly clear, clearer than Michael could remember, and he had surfed there for many years. The reef dazzled his eyes now and again as its brilliant colors were highlighted by the autumn sun, which also sparkled on the liquid surface. The atmosphere was alive yet not tense. They were out alone, and the waves were plentiful.
As Michael paddled back out after a nice tube session on the inside, a big set approached the reef. Outside he saw Varuna paddle over the first wave just a split second before the lip curled over and perfectly peeled down the line.
Michael altered his direction and paddled for safety. As he cruised smoothly over the shoulder he saw Varuna whip around on the face of a later wave and nimbly leap to his feet. The peak seemed to leap forward as it struck the reef ledge, and its sudden surge lifted the tail of Varuna’s board high over his head. As Varuna, his board completely perpendicular by this time, plunged down like a fishing bird about to pierce the ocean’s surface in pursuit of its prey, Michael flashed, “He’s finished! He’ll never make it.”
As Michael slid over the shoulder and down the wave, his vision of Varuna was blocked by the set’s second wave. In his mind’s eye, however, he could picture Varuna getting drilled beneath the surface, exactly as he himself had been drilled on that first wave earlier in the day.
Michael scratched up the face of the second wave and reached the crest in time to see Varuna emerge from the green room and execute a particularly fluid cut-back, which brought him back to the power point where the lip was landing. “Incredible! He made it! He made that drop!” Michael let out an exuberant scream of amazement and encouragement.
Michael raced for the shoulder of the third wave and got a glimpse of Varuna passing beneath him as he played with and raced the lip down the line. He must have come out of that drop like a swooping bird, and around under the lip, like a fishing bird who pulls out of its dive inches before striking the surface, thought Michael.
Michael let the remaining waves pass beneath him so he could ask about that incredible take-off when Varuna got back out. “Unreal!” he cried to Varuna as he paddled up. “How did you make that drop? You’ve got to tell me how you pulled it off so I can learn it too!” Although Michael was jacked up, Varuna didn’t seem to think there was much concern for excitement. “Well, I don’t really know what you mean by ‘learn it.’ I just flowed through the situation without thinking about it and sort of did what was naturally called for.” He stopped for a moment and thought before speaking further. “Besides, Michael, why do you want to limit your own surfing by copying others? I mean, those days are gone. Surfing is more of a refined experience now. You can’t really progress by memorization alone because you will always be entering situations that may call for an approach that you just don’t have wired. When that happens your mind will balk, and you’ll be defeated. A wise surfer is one who applies sensitivity to his surfing. He doesn’t rely on his storehouse of past memorized moves. So if you just want to learn a new maneuver, I’m afraid I can’t really help you. I used to approach surfing like that, but found it to be too limiting. Refining your surfing doesn’t simply mean refining different isolated areas and maneuvers. In a deeper sense it means refining your very self; then everything you do will be refined. There is an old Zen saying that if you want to cook perfectly, you have to be the perfect cook outside the kitchen too. In my own life I have found this to be true. As l become more sensitive, so too does my surfing.”
Varuna fell silent. He looked at the deck of his board and dug his nails into the wax. He half looked up at Michael with a gentle smile on his face and then looked down again at his board. He could go deeper still and in a sense wanted to, but he held back as he abhorred the thought of pressing his views on others. Michael could sense Varuna’s feelings and appreciated them. Though he had known him for a short while only, at that moment he felt Varuna to be a true friend.
Written with Ted Spencer
Read more about surfing and meditation in Riding Transcendental Waves by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda.