A Cruel Mistress

For a whole host of reasons — all of them horse shit so I won’t go into them here — I haven’t been in or on the water much lately. Every time I hear that Counting Crows (remember them?) line, “Been so long since I’ve seen the ocean…I guess I should” it hits home — until I realize I live about a quarter-mile from the waterline. At which point I feel even more pathetic. It’s a wonderfully vicious cycle.

But for that same whole host of reasons — all of them still horse shit so I still won’t go into them — I’ve been making an effort to improve several aspects of my life. And that includes prioritizing water time. That should be the priority for a Pisces, shouldn’t it?

What’s been sobering is that it hasn’t been easy. Well, the actual getting out and DOING those ocean-centric things has been; I’ve been motivating fairly well (see above re: “horse shit reasons”). No, what’s been difficult are the actual acts of sailing and surfing, usually two things that are Zen-like in their mental aspects (at least for me).

Take yesterday, for instance: I went down to San Diego to watch a regatta of schooners go by on the bay as part of a race. It was cool to see these majestic boats cruising past on the breeze that was rolling over Point Loma and down San Diego Bay. Wait, what? Wind? In San Diego?! That’s right: actual freakin’ wind! After the schooners had gone past I motored over to Mission Bay where I rented a 16-foot dinghy and went out to enjoy that same wind.

And enjoy it I did…but it took a while to get there. Tacking out of the basin where the rental boats are tied up, I unfurled the headsail only to have the jib fairlead snap. Whoops. About face…back to the dock. The guys set me up on the other 16-footer and off I went again. Several quick tacks and voila! Past the rock jetties and out into Mission Bay.

I tacked my way up toward the broader, windier part of the bay. And plenty of other people had the same idea: there were tons of sailboats of all sizes, several kiteboarders (including one guy on a foiling board who kept getting yanked clear of his foot straps), a few sailboarders (didn’t know anyone still sailboarded) and the rest of San Diego’s water aficionados: SUPers (both good and beginner), jet skiers, water skiers, booze cruisers, cops…you name it. Hell, out of sight around the one island there was a rowing regatta. It was like both directions of a busy Southern California freeway with none of the lanes drawn on the pavement. Thankfully, nothing drastic happened while I was out there. More damage to the ill-maintained dinghy (topping lift broke and several of the plastic mainsail cars slipped out of the track on the mast) but nothing major.

What was really frustrating, though, was my seeming inability to read the wind. Performance? Hell, I was just trying to keep the sails trimmed not TOO horribly. I mean: there were times it felt like I couldn’t even tell what the hell point of sail I was on.

But before my rental was up and it was time to return to the marina, there were one or two instances where I actually DID get into a groove: the sails trimmed properly, the boat heeling just SO and the hull slicing through the water with a sense of purpose. In those moments it felt like the boat was smiling just as I was.

My return to surfing this weekend was painfully similar. Friday night after work I jumped into the water for a sundown session. The waves were fine: fun, big enough for a heavy guy like me to have fun, not too many people out. Could I catch a wave? Nope. My paddling was anemic and my judgment worse. It finally got so dark that I was the only person left in the water and that still didn’t help. I managed to get worked by a couple of clean-up sets and finally said “to hell with it” and just rode in, prone on my board.

Saturday morning wasn’t much better but at least I wasn’t worried about being stuck out there after it got dark. Of course, it was the weekend so not long after I got into the water, several fat guys on SUPs and even more old guys on longboards paddled out, just to make the maneuvering that much more of a challenge. I managed a couple of rides — none remotely special — and called it a day. I figured I’d go check out the schooners in San Diego…that would be awesome right? You’ve read about that already…

And this afternoon I went to the beach figuring I’d just read a bit and soak up some more sun. As I pulled into the parking lot a bomb set broke on the reef and a rider in each direction enjoyed a great ride. The chair and towel stayed in the car and I paddled out to join the half-dozen guys (a shockingly low number for this particular break) in the lineup.

The swell was solid with occasional sweeper sets that caught everyone off-guard, but other than those the tide made for funky paddling. The waves would stand up and then ledge out in front of you so there was no way to get onto the face and ride. It was a frustrating spell but after paddling for, and missing, a few waves I found myself farther inside. I paddled off to the shoulder of the reef sets and sat for a bit.

And then, what to my wondering eyes should appear (to coin a phrase)? Another of the very infrequent wide sets, perfectly lined up for yours truly with no one else around. A quick spin, a couple of quick paddles and UP! to my feet, driving for the drop-in…just in time for the wave to suck out. The sloping wave that was there a moment ago disappeared and I wound up ass-over-teakettle at the bottom of the sea.

But I’d found my spot for today. A quick paddle back and there was another wave bearing down. I got into this one quicker than the last wave and moved down the line before the section disappeared and enjoyed a high-speed, weaving sleigh ride before the wave shut down. A few more just like that and my frustration from the previous two outings was gone.

I don’t know if the ocean was making my pay dues for having been elsewhere (mentally, emotionally, physically and any other way possible) for the past few weeks, but I do know that this happens every time I’m away from the ocean for very long without a legitimate excuse (injury, illness, living in the high country, etc.). You can draw your own conclusions.

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