Reaching Land

by Liz Clark
Summer 2008

“Perfect,” I scoffed bitterly after bubbling up through the whitewash with another bleeding gash. “What am I doing wrong?” I muttered while navigating the surge among partly exposed fingers of reef.

I refused to get out, determined to practice my backside tuberiding. I would make the drop, angle, stall, and the next thing I knew I’d be bracing myself for an inevitable coral collision. Despite the warmth of this remote Polynesian paradise, this was no place for a bikini. I’d ripped the back out of my favorite surf shorts on impact the previous day.

Another clean line rose and shifted. “It’s yours, Lizzy. You’ve got this one,” Tyler encouraged. I judged the approaching wall, put my head down, and stroked hard to get under the lip.

The wave and I stood up in sync. My arm dug into the face to slow my speed as a clear sheet of water cascaded into my right peripherals. The foamball roared, and the rainbow of reef warped into a coral kaleidoscope around me. But when the wave bent in on itself, I couldn’t timely match its move. The face sucked me from the tube’s safe “eye.” We went up, out, and down together. Coral snagged my bare back while the water pushed shoreward. I sputtered to the surface to see that my hands and feet and knee were bleeding, too. Tears welled up in my eyes – not from the pain, but because I was trying so hard and couldn’t get it right. “I sailed 8,000 miles to get here and I can’t even surf these waves!?” I whimpered into the offshore wind.

“You can’t expect to be able to ride waves like this right away!” Tyler pleaded as Bryan scrubbed my cuts clean.

My friends paddled back out, and I fell into a deep sleep in the shade, letting go of all my self-imposed pressure and frustration. I awoke in a peaceful state. After some consideration, I stroked back into the line-up.

A set gathered outside. I studied the way each swell rose over the shelf and then pitched horizontally. The afternoon light turned the droplets left behind into hovering golden beads. As I watched the flawless water tunnels spin toward shore, I knew that just like the other things I had learned to make this dream voyage a reality, I would figure this out too. It couldn’t be forced on the first swell. I had to slow down, put in my time, observe, think through my mistakes, and make conscious corrections. Ignoring the fierce burn of the saltwater in my wounds, I sat on the shoulder and celebrated each wave’s arrival, knowing well the glory of reaching land after a journey across the open sea.

About the Author

Liz Clark is a surfer, writer and adventurer traveling the world as the captain of her 40-foot sailboat, seeking remote waves, experiencing different cultures, and spreading goodwill and environmental awareness wherever she goes. She is currently exploring the Central Pacific.