03 January, 2009

Tears, blood and ashes

My last full day in Mexico I spent surfing the waves at Cerritos, a secluded beach about 60 kilometers north of Cabo. The spot was perfect. A rocky outcropping stretching out into the ocean channeled the currents and the waves right towards the beach. Closest to the rocks were smaller waves that anyone could ride and the further you went away from the rocks the bigger the waves got. I was a little nervous about surfing. I hadn't been on a board in three and a half years and I was worried I wouldn't be able to ride. I started off with the smaller waves and the first one I tried to catch passed right over me. I turned back towards the ocean and waited for another. A swell began to build behind me and I paddled frantically. I felt the push on the board as the wave hit the back of it and I grasped the sides, stood up and felt that familiar thrill as I realized I was riding it.

There's no way for me to describe the feeling you get when catch a wave. J. Maarten Troost had the best description in The Sex Lives of Cannibals where he compared surfing to taking mushrooms, drinking and smoking marijuana all at the same time, and said that surfing is even crazier. Even though I caught the second wave it took me a while longer to get the hang of it again. Paddling while lying on a flat surface with your head tilted up is uncomfortable at first and timing the wave and knowing when to stand up takes practice and lots of missed waves. You wipe out, a lot. I loved every second of it.

As I felt more comfortable on the board and in the waves I moved out amongst the larger waves. These were easier to catch but with even bigger wipeouts. I remember one in particular where I lost control and was jettisoned from the board. I looked down, or in the direction that I thought was down only to see nothing but the sky and my feet up in the air right before I crashed into the water. When you hit the water and are swept up in one of the bigger waves you have no choice other than to let the wave take you. It grabs hold of you and pulls you with it, tumbling you in different directions as it breaks on top of you. You're often slammed into the sand, pushed upside down and sometimes you run out of air before the ocean spits you back up into the sunlight. You have no control at all and there's nothing to do but enjoy letting the ocean play with your seemingly insignificant body.

I had been surfing for just over an hour and a half when I caught another of the larger waves. I rode it a good distance until I saw the nose of the board dip underwater. I flew head first off the board and hit the water right as the wave plowed into me. I let my body go limp and was tossed around underwater by the wave again. I remember specifically thinking at this moment how much I loved losing control during wipeouts- and then I felt the board smash into my face with the entire force of the wave behind it. Pain like I couldn't believe shot through me and struggled not to open my mouth and gasp. I was still underwater at the mercy of the wave and my second thought, after 'fuck!' was 'ok, this happens. You wipe out and sometimes the board can hit you. It hurts but it's probably not that bad and you'll get over it.' The wave finally let go and I stood up. I felt water still running down my face and tried to wipe it off with my hand. When I looked down it was covered in blood. I splashed my hand in the water and saw the red seep out and discolor the deep blue of the ocean. I touched my face again and had more blood come off onto my hand. I grabbed the surfboard which was drifting listlessly a few feet in front of me and started walking towards the beach. Blood continued to pour out of my nose, running down my face, going into my mouth, staining my rash guard and the water below. I splashed water onto my face repeatedly but the blood kept coming. A little girl stood in the shallow water towards the beach and I saw a look of horror on her face as I stumbled out of the ocean. I dropped the board on the sand and walked back into the water to wash the blood off. After several more splashes the bleeding finally seemed to have slowed.

I was still in pain but I wasn't going to let this ruin the rest of my day. I grabbed the surf board and waded back into the ocean. I caught the first wave I tried, one of the smaller ones but quickly wiped out. Immediately upon hitting the water I panicked, imagining the pain I would feel if the surfboard hit me again. I covered my face and struggled against the wave to break through to the surface. With every wipeout that panic came over me. I went back to the shore to drink some water and think. My nose was still in pain and bleeding but I didn't want to give up on surfing. After finishing the water I grabbed a medicine bottle from my backpack, made sure the lid was on tightly and went back into the waves.

The water seemed colder than before. I laid down on the board and paddled into the waves, double checking the lid of the medicine bottle. A big wave was coming right at me on the verge of breaking. I slid off the board and ducked underwater with the medicine bottle clutched tightly in my hands. I imagined it breaking free from my grip and having to frantically search the water for it but when I came up it was still in my hand. I pulled the surfboard towards me and turned towards the waves again, moving quickly to avoid the break. It was difficult to paddle with the bottle in one hand so I walked the board out to where the other surfers were before jumping back onto the board. The swells came and passed under me as I sat perched on the board. I felt myself choke up and tried to think of something meaningful for the moment. My fingers popped the lid off the bottle and I held my arm out away from the board and sprinkled some of my dad's ashes out into the water. Back in the Pacific, just like you wanted. I jerked my hand several times, letting the ashes fall out slowly. Tears and blood poured into the ocean alongside. The bottle empty, I sat there on the surf board staring into the waves for several minutes. A slow swell was building. I turned the board around and rode another wave.


  1. Well, Kevin & I both read this in separate parts of the apartment then realized we had both teared up...and then we proceeded to talk about what a good writer you are five minutes... Please keep writing Daniel!

  2. I mean really a broken nose, if your day wasn't hard enough all ready. Very well written Daniel and let me be the first to say I did not see the ending coming until the words "my dad's ashes" (and yes I see the title now, and the label). If you were going for a blubbering Kevin then you got one. I'm happy for you, I know that couldn't have been easy.