April 10, 2007

Swell City

A big swell is arriving today, the product of a storm in Chile a few days ago. The timing couldn’t be better, really—a good spring cleaning is what Zicatela Beach needed after a tough week accommodating the hordes that descended upon her during Semana Santa. The powerful, vicious waves are flooding the beach, washing away the filth of a long, hard week of Spring Breakers.

More than 30 feet tall, these waves are serious. And can only be surfed by the serious. Coco Nogales, the local surf hero, cruises behind his Red Bull wave-runner, through the immense foam pile and up and over the next wave before it breaks. We lose him for a second, as the wave peaks, taller than the horizon line, hiding everything behind it. The wall moves toward shore, seemingly in slow motion, a hang time that seems in possible for such a huge quantity of water. A froth builds on top of the wave, signaling it is about to crash. Down, down, down, a thundering roar and it all spreads out as fast as it swelled, rushing inland, pushing all the water in front of it way up onto the beach, almost reaching us. We are sitting on the highest bank around, and the water is pooling 2 feet below us.

Coco reappears. He is there right behind the first wave of the set, being towed into the next monstrosity coming our way. He lets go of the reins and the wave-runner clears out, going behind the wave to shadow the surfer as he makes his way down the tube. Carving graceful but powerful turns up and down the face of the wave, Coco makes it look way too easy. Nicholas and I both have chills watching him: partly out of utter admiration, but also out of slight fear for him. But thankfully he pops up and over the crest, before it breaks, landing safely behind with the wave-runner close-by. Getting worked by one of these waves would not be fun.

Camera and video set-up, Daniel is watching, artistic eye scanning the sea. ESPN is here, right next to us, filming away, huge cameras with even huger lenses. The shots are amazing, but I feel lucky to be here on the Mexican Pipeline seeing it live rather than on TV.
We watch for awhile, now there are three of them out there, in and out they go, sometimes making it out, and sometimes getting thrashed in the pile. I always thought that big wave surfers were hard-core; seeing them in the flesh confirms that notion.

Later in the day, the waves are calmer, but the winds have picked up. White caps dance on the surface, as far out as the eye can see. The water is still far up on the beach, threatening to wipe out the restaurants lining the shore. I love the stark difference between this week and last week: Hundreds of umbrellas and beach loungers crowed the shore, a mess of beer bottles and people lounging beneath them. Today, the beach is completely vacated. Not one umbrella remains, just sand and a clean slate. The emptiness is perfect; it suits feeling in the air, of a strange calm during the storm. I take advantage of the moment to let myself be empty as well, of thoughts, worries and fears. To just be here, observing, in the moment.
I can't wait to see what remains after the Swell. How the beach has changed, what is left if it gets bigger. Daniel said last night as we were watching the beginnings of the swell how small he felt sitting here with all that power out there. I couldn't agree more: it is humbling to realize you are definitely part of the food chain, definitely always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Always knowing that in one second, a huge wave could take us all out--and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

I write this looking out over the sea, from a second story terrace. Sitting cross-legged on my yoga mat, a cool breeze steady on my face, I watch our bright orange Performance Designs flag we use as a wind sock flapping in the strong wind--a strong onshore wind. I smile to myself as I look at our landing area. We can't even land our parachutes on the beach today: there is no beach to land on. It's kind of a nice feeling really, knowing that just like that, our 'purpose' for being here is negated by a storm that happened in Chile a few days ago, a real reminder of how dynamic life really is, how interconnected we all really are: processes, people, and places. That for every action there is a reaction. Finding those connections, being malleable with them, like the water I am watching, constantly moving and changing; welcoming them, observing and appreciating the dynamic nature of our world: This is living. Nothing else really matters.

Photos: By Daniel Angulo, top to bottom:
Dangerous Beach: No Swimming!; Vacate the Beach; Through the foam pile; Coco tears it up; Camera Crews galore; Arch View; Hilary and Me; Mamasitas; Great Sunset

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