PHOTOS: Taro Tamai
Over time, the water gets under your skin. It holds you down and beats you up and bit by bit, it breaks you open. Gasping for breath, starving for air, you rise up to the surface changed. There are monsters down there in the shadows. Folds in the rhythm of waves that distend time. Contact with the water shapes and moulds your body. Even after the drips from your nose have stop flowing, what is left behind are the impressions of waves. You are harnessed to another beat entirely.
Quantum mechanics suggest that even particles don’t really exist. We are all just collections of waves. Us, the space between us and the beach, the moving bands of energy we call waves. Even on a more sanguine level, our blood is saltwater. There is no surprise that it feels good to bask in saline fluid. It’s like going home to what we are. I feel like this sometimes equips sea-faring people to better understand the value of their home and to care about what happens to it.
The water is an equalizer. It shuts us up and shuts us down. Just when we think we have no comfort zone it clamps hard, splintering board or bone, pushing the lungs to bursting point over jagged rocks. Though the cocksure gait of many young surfers belies it, the water teaches us humility. All of our desires and ambitions are irrelevant. It’s good to be taught by something bigger than all seven billion of us.
Folds in the rhythm of waves that distend time. Contact with the water shapes and moulds your body.
Surfing has bent me. My left shoulder is pinched, the bones crack when I lift my arm. My right foot bulges awkwardly where I roll it when taking off. My left leg is compressed, my right overextended. The feedback of the water on my body is physical. My ears are growing closed, the left one so bad I can’t hear people talking in the pub anymore. Anyone that has spent years immersed in the water wears their personal conversation with the elements.
I look at scars with fondness, they bring places flooding back; Morocco on one of the first modern Simmons, backlit green and wild sand at Cathedral through the high tide, over to the point for endless walls and a fin chop in the ankle. Lennox with heart in mouth, doing the rock dance as the backwash drops out, full foot gore. A scrape on the temple in Sligo, across a lembongan reef, up an Orcadian slab. They are proud things these records of lines traced, sacrifices made, skin split. With them comes the memory of flying.
What interests me more is the way that exposure to the water changes us mentally. As a group of friends, we once called it the reset button. For a while it was escape, but I really don’t see it that way anymore. I never saw it as a sport, that just doesn’t make sense. If football took place on a gigantic moving pitch that was different every single match and created by storms, with sharks and dolphins and salmon liable to appear at any second, a pitch that could kill you in any number of ways, that was physically almost indistinguishable from your own blood, would we call it a sport? When the teams could appear at random or you might be the only player for a whole season.
I look at the ways surfing has physically changed me and know that is just a part of it. I’m grateful for the richness it has brought to my life and that it has always been there as a constant, no matter how far away I’ve wandered from it. What it boils down to, and I come back to again and again, is simply the otherworld of the water. By osmosis, a little of that finds its way into our pores.
A version of ‘Osmosis’ for online only, along with a few selected photos from Terasu Vol 02 | Connective Tissue.