Taking a long breath and closing her eyes Martha listened to the sound of the waves. She wanted to breathe in each moment of this new experience so as to allay the fear rising deep in her stomach. She wanted to be present. Like a meditation this was a way for her to reengage with her body, take in each sensation, and absorb the motion of the sea.
First, securing the black Velcro of the surfboard leash around her ankle, she stepped tentatively into the shallow water, then with a sudden urgency rushed further in until the sea enveloped her limbs. She placed the board on the surface with both hands and pushed herself up onto its top, her belly and thighs supporting her weight. With unfamiliar exertion she paddled with her arms, pushing her closed fingers through the cold water surprised at how the temperature of the water hadn’t bothered her, in fact it had felt cool, invigorating, like a shower after her morning run.
Reaching a point fifteen or twenty metres from shore Martha turned the board in the water and pushed herself up into a seated position, both legs dangling into the now deep water. She noticed another surfer about thirty metres further south nearer the headland and the castle. His board was turned to face the oncoming waves, bobbing like a seal and watching, waiting for the next big wave. Taking note of his position Martha correspondingly turned her board and waited. The swell of each wave felt like a breath emanating from deep within the earth. The rhythmic rise and fall beneath the board reminded Martha of the nights she had watched her young son sleeping. The blanket wrapped around his feverish body appeared to eb and flow with the same corporeal rhythm. Perhaps everything was connected, just as she’d read; a universal pulse.
As the next large wave approached she maneuvered the board around to face into the shore and began paddling once again with her hands; willing the board forward onto the crest of the wave. For an instant the momentum caught the board and she was carried briefly along, pushing onto her knees and lifting her upper body, routing her left foot onto the smooth surface of the board. In the next instant the wave had moved on ahead without her, but the exhilaration of that moment lifted her, a smile creeping across her face. This was why.
Once again she turned and headed back to the spot where the waves were beginning to reach their peak, hoping to catch another. The next wave to rise in front of her was slightly larger than the last. It’s frothy zenith tipping the board so that just as she began to be carried toward the beach she was tipped under, the board lurching sideways so the surge of water rushed over her head. She felt a razor sharp sting on her foot as she gasped for air and pushed herself upwards away from the swirling depths of the water. Grasping at her board she pulled herself back upright coughing out the briny fluid that had caught in her nose and throat. OK, maybe this wasn’t as easy as it looked, but she wasn’t to be discouraged, it was like riding a horse she figured, you just had to get back on. Back on the board she noticed a deep cut on her foot, blood seeping out, the cold water numbed the pain. She resolved to find a plaster when she got out.
For an hour she repeated the pattern, sitting for ten to fifteen minutes rising and falling with the currents then pushing herself into the direction of a wave towards shore. It was a pleasing cadence that allowed her time for reflection then action, a peaceful period of calm followed by satisfying vivacity. She wondered what time it might be, perhaps one more then she should head back, call David, let him know what she’d actually been up to. He’d be surprised.
Turning toward the horizon again she spotted a larger swell approaching, in a few minutes it would be beneath her so she needed to be prepared. Perhaps this time she would finally try and stand up, lift her back knee away from the board and try to hold that iconic pose long enough to say she had truly surfed. Feeling the sea begin to rise she navigated the board around and began pushing her body into the rolling line of the wave. As the peak drew nearer she could feel the board start to drive forward with a new uncontrollable urgency. With determination she held the board steady on its course, lifting her body upwards until her feet pushed against the top of the board. In the next instant the horizon lurched sideways. She was thrown back under, this time losing her balance and sense of equanimity, the board crashing over her and jerking her leg under where it was attached by the elastic rope. It was her left temple that hit the rock. A craggy shelf beneath the water exposed for the first time as the tide had slowly drawn out. It was the same spot they had rock-pooled as a family, buckets and nets in hands searching the pebbly outcrop for hidden crabs and ammonites. The cord attached to her leg suddenly snapped as the board thrashed toward the shore above the water. The surfer further down the shore glanced over his shoulder as she disappeared beneath the inky blue.
Later that afternoon the girl in the surf shop began to carry the boards and soggy wetsuits back inside. It had been a busy day, families hiring boards and suits, buying cheap souvenirs of their trip to the seaside. As she carried an armful of suits into the back of the shop her foot caught on something. Throwing the dripping mound over the top of a rail she stooped to pick up what had tripped her in the darkness. A canvas bag with the large letters printed on the side. It was stuffed with clothes and she could just make out the letters printed on the side that read, Karma.
My short story was set along the rugged North Yorkshire coastline I've been visiting this week, if you have any questions or thoughts about Martha's journey I'd love to hear from you, and don't worry normal service will resume next week with more stylish inspiration for everyday. x