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Surfing the brainwaves


I’ve accrued a lot of unearned privileges simply by being born in my time and place.

Being Australian means I received free secondary education and being a child of the 60s gave me access to free tertiary education too. In fact the government paid me to go to university.

I’m old enough to have watched Neil Armstrong take a small step yet young enough to have become a native of cyberspace.

I had enough access to early computers to teach myself programming in my teens but that was still so rare when I entered the fulltime workforce I could almost name my price as a twenty year old analyst/programmer.

I have been able to take advantage of many of the goods and services offered by our hypertrophied industrial civilisation but will probably complete my life before that civilisation destroys itself with its own excess.

I live in a country that is wealthy and advanced enough to provide the benefits of industry but still lightly populated and young enough to offer myriad vistas of relatively unspoiled wilderness.

In my teens and early twenties I was (and remain) a devoted fan of hard, live rock music at a time when the Australian music scene was undergoing a renaissance.

I’ve seen the Saints, Radio Birdman, the Birthday Party and the Divinyls at their peaks. I’ve heard Bon Scott blast the bagpipes in a tiny suburban pub and watched Midnight Oil perform while Peter Garrett still had some hair.

Celibate Rifles, the Laughing Clowns, X, the Hard Ons, Jimmy and the Boys, Beasts of Bourbon, Spy vs Spy, the Scientists, Lipstick Killers, Cold Chisel, Lime Spiders, Wet Taxis, the Eastern Dark, Hunters and Collectors – I was there when the legends were born.

If you’re not one of my contemporaries and you’re not jealous you’re either immune to jealousy or immune to rock’n’roll.

But best of all, I was raised within walking distance of an Australian beach.

So I surf.

To those of you who don’t surf, please accept my heartfelt commiserations. You are missing out on what must surely be the most wonderful physical activity available to human beings, with the possible exception of sex. And like good sex, good surfing has a spiritual dimension that lifts it beyond the physical into the realm of transcendental unification.

Unification with the ultimate Mother that still resides in every cell of our bodies.

The Ocean.

I was only ever a mediocre board surfer and it has been many years since I owned a surfboard, but that’s OK because what I really love is bodysurfing.

If you ever see someone sliding down the face of a wave, arms back, head forward, shoulders hunched, with nothing but swimming trunks between him and the blue infinity you are probably looking at an Australian. Though once in Kerala, India, I found myself sharing some three metre waves with a Japanese man who bodysurfed in the same style as I, while Indians and tourists alike lined the shore staring in astonishment.

I like body surfing in BIG surf. Even when its too big to ride I’ll be out there just to be smashed about by a force I love that is beyond my control.

One reason I became a surf lifesaver was so that people wouldn’t keep coming out to ‘rescue’ me and call me an idiot. After I became one of them, the other lifesavers still called me an idiot but they generally let me be, with my stupidity and the Ocean.

And that’s the way I like it.

Sure I’ve nearly drowned. Too many times to count. But the only time I lost consciousness in the Ocean it was the result of a boating accident on still water.

The secret to staying alive in huge seas is to be a good swimmer, to be sensitive to the suck and surge and most importantly, don’t fight it.

You’ve got to feel how the water moves and go with it, not against it. Dive deep below the crashing crests, ride high over the unbrokens and take a look around. Inflate to ride up the waves, deflate to slide down them.

As a childhood asthmatic I’m blessed with extra big lungs.

Learn the rhythm and time yourself to it. You can’t control it but you can learn to be one with it.

Even in the wildest surf there will be brief periods in which you can rest and recuperate. Use them.

Be ready for the right wave at the right time that will take you where you want to go. Maybe.

Perhaps the Ocean will still take you as her due. She is not a benevolent Goddess and cannot be appeased. You belong to her, body and soul. She is the source of your life and she will reclaim it if she pleases.

She is not Kala pani. She is Kali.

The Ocean respects neither authority nor multiplicity. She once devoured a Prime Minister without leaving so much as a hair. She has taken hundreds of thousands at a snatch. When my time comes I hope to join them.

We are not of the dust, we are creatures of slime.
And to slime we will return.

I love the wild chaos of the Ocean like I love the wild chaos of my own mind.
I think it was she who taught me to ride the crests and troughs of my moods.

To paraphrase Campbell, the mystic surfs while the lunatic drowns.
In psychosis and the Ocean boundaries cease to exist.

We’re not really separate beings you know.
We are one.
We are the Ocean.

One Comment
  1. Took me some time to read it, but wow. You’ve had a good life. I’ve always wondered what surfing might feel like. I live in a city which has the Arabian Sea as a border, and wonderful, thrashing waves. And yet, I don’t go there often… And even if I did, nobody here surfs. The concept of surfing is very alien for us.


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