Surfing Kerala

Sunlight glitters like a thousand salty tears in the spray that erupts and showers over you, each drop a translucent bubble of cascading light. The board thuds as you dip into the downside of a wave and then begin to rise up as a wall of water, crystal blue rolls; climbing higher than a door-frame towards you, breath taking, board holding, you brace.

A thousand miles away and several hours before you woke, a summer storm swept the sea. Like a child blowing on the surface of a pond the force of it has generated waves that rippled across the Ocean in all directions, traversing the grids of an atlas, gathering speed in great lines of grey blue – The water is not the wave, rather like a lion tamers rope, flicked from one end the energy runs the length of it to crash and smash on this shore, River Temple beach, Kerala.

Your head was down, now lifted with the force and slap of the blue, your spine straight along the length of the surfboard, curls inside the cusp of the wave as your life-raft lifts almost vertical. Even before your pointing toes have entered the rolling rush of water your nose, face, head and neck bust through the energy which has travelled miles to pass through you, your hair flies back in parody of a Mohican as you inhale the sweet salty air as your feet disappear inside. You are at once outside, inside and outside again.

Like life it seems, a struggle and a challenge. The white water tests your strength, smashes your resolve, pounds your willpower, the sheer power and size of the water mocks you and the little bit of plastic and wood you cling to.

You paddle like a drunken man crawls into the open Ocean. All is light blue above, deep beneath, after the rush and roar of foam and crash of waves, all is quiet, you have made it to the place of peace and you are free, alive and happy.

This spot is where the river meets the sea, and where the Indian and Arabian Ocean collide and complete, warm and cold currents dance and swirl. The world famous Kerala backwaters, after months of being cut off from the open water by the drought of hot months have breed a colony of jellyfish, which now with the rising river meeting the Ocean for the first time in a season has spilt its spawn into the currents. Five of us, bobbing beyond the break point watch the white and blue patterned spectral bodies slip us by.

Small fish flirt with the surface; some leaping to escape prey unseen is not uncommon. Today a 2-meter manta ray leaps 10 feet above the water not 20 yards from us in an unexpected display of acrobatics – on my mind is what is chasing that… Yesterday there was a turtle for company, the week before the true masters of the air and water, dolphins. What must they make of us, these creatures of the land, becoming of the sea?

Over the last month I have morphed from a large and long creature of florescent yellow and blue, unwieldy but stable, changing, becoming smaller, faster, more manoeuvrable, changing to a smaller animal, today my fish-tail board cut through the jagged waves, yet left me riding lower in the water and feeling more vulnerable in it’s murky depths.

A yellow bit of rubbish, bobs then washes into my face, a nestle packet… “Milky bars are on me.” Runs through my head as disgust rushes through my being. The thoughts of turtles and Rays swallowing this rubbish, mistaking it for a jellyfish and dying for carelessness is revolting. Advertising and marketing become accountability as Nestle just left their mark at the scene of a crime against nature. The absurdity that we use a material that takes 200,000 years to biodegrade to preserve a throw away item hits me, as more rubbish floats out to sea… the future of airbrushing will be on postcards of paradise it seems.

I see something struggling on the surface of the water. A flying beetle the size of a penny. I scoop it up; let it dry on my finger. It’s face that of a Disney character smiles back at me. Its wings shake off the water, tiny details, so intricate, so beautiful shimmer along it’s span. After a couple of attempts it takes off into the air and away into the sky…

In the vastness of the ocean I am reminded of this quote.

Wisdom tells me I am nothing, Love tells me I am everything… through these two truths my life does flow…

When the peace and quiet of the open water and the singing of distant fisherman, hauling in their nets becomes tiresome, I face the seashore, with its palm trees waving me home I paddle, one two three. I choose a wave to ride not by it’s height, but by whether it scares me or not. The best way to know it’s fast enough to ride on the small board. Such a wave lifts me up, faster and higher. Shouts of encouragement from my companions, all strong surfers prevent me from pulling back as my body wants to do.

Paddle. Paddle. Paddle, hearing the rush and roar, feeling the fear, the wave sucks you into itself like a gaping mouth, you press the board down the face of the wave, push up, knees draw into chest, left foot forward where your hands just were, left foot back over the fins – A serial moment of almost slow motion, hanging in space, flying even. A bump, left hand pointing where eyes wish to go, race and skim along the wave, leaning forward as the power dies off, the land rushes by happily, palms cheer and wave, your stomach catches up with you as adrenaline rushes to your face and pulls your cheeks apart into a grin. Bang! Your off the board and into the churning white water, spinning in the dark with only your imagination to tell you what you look like, flaying in the underbelly of cloud like water, still, silent, vulnerable, holding breath, one, two, three, four, five… six. You spin upside down, kick to the floor where no floor is, begin to swim, feel the board still riding the forceful water above dragging you at speed, feel the leash wrap around your ankles, pull and bite.

Burst out of the water, breathe, grab the board. You look around like a mole in a world of white and light. Climb onto the board and smile, lean your head back and laugh even, but only for a moment… Sunlight glitters like a thousand salty tears in the spray that erupts and showers over you, each drop a translucent bubble of cascading light. The board thuds as you dip into the downside of a wave and then begin to rise up as a wall of water, crystal blue rolls; climbing higher than a door-frame towards you, breath taking, board holding, you brace…

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