can’t remember my first wave; my dad taught me to surf at the age of two and I was hooked before I could read or write. Surfing is a part of me and being without it for the past three and a half months has created a bigger sense of disconnection than anything else has in lockdown.
For me, surfing is more than a sport, it’s a meditative flow akin to yoga, each move and turn conducted with focus and precision. Other activities come close in some respects (I can capture a similar adrenaline rush on a bike ride but the feeling is fleeting, existing briefly between dodging oncoming cars and dicing with potholes) but none compares to the feeling of complete peace, oneness and immersion in nature that surfing delivers.
In the ocean I feel safe. If I fall, the landing is soft – the water will catch me, and I’m confident enough in my own abilities to feel completely free. It’s the only part of my life where this is truly the case, far from digital interference and worry; in the ocean I am the same responsibility and stress-free person I was at 14.
When you’re gliding on top of the water, it feels how I imagine it must feel like to fly. When you pop up onto your board and look down the peeling face of a wave, nothing else enters your head except the vision of the wall of water before you. There is no space for anything other than a state of forced mindfulness as your brain reads the way the wave is breaking to allow you to decide how to move. Riding a wave gives me an off switch I can’t seem to access in any other way. Being without that escape for months has somewhat broken me.
I am to blame for my current unsalted state; I chose to leave my home village on the North Devon coast and move to London the best part of a decade ago. The distance to the coast wasn’t really an issue before lockdown, though. The way surf forecasting works now means I have always been able to plan going home and getting in the frothing water, so while I no longer get to hit the surf after a day in the office, I have always been able to reach the sea before things get too much.
Many people did flood to the coast to surf before lockdown eased. But I couldn’t face the idea of going home and not being able to see my family and friends. I also didn’t think it was responsible to do a seven-hour round trip in a day, or risk taking the virus to North Devon, where ICU beds are scarce.
But now, finally, restrictions have lifted, and I can go home. Home to my parents’ house and home to the sea. I cannot wait to pull on my wetsuit with its distinct smell of surfs gone by, wax my board and run down the beach. I’ll feel the sand and rocks on my bare feet, the crunch of the shells, and the salty, cold hit of that first duck dive under a wave as I paddle out. I don’t even care if it’s a howling onshore wind, raining cats and dogs and the surf is terrible; as long as I get that free-falling feeling – if only for a few seconds – I can be wholly me.