Surfing with Friends

Liz Clark
Summer 2010

The late sun threw deep oranges and pinks across the plump westbound clouds. Twelve- to 14-foot lumps of sea lifted, shifted and morphed in crimson hues. The colors faded into grays, and I went below to see what could be salvaged from the bottom of the icebox for dinner.

Partway through the nauseating scavenge I poked my head out of the hatch to scan the horizon. For the first time in eight days, the movement of something other than water caught my attention. As I fixed my eyes where I’d thought I’d seen it, a school of bottlenose dolphins suddenly leapt from a swell face in unison. Over and over they breached the glowing surface, leaping toward Swell in a manner that rivaled the glee of a room full of fifth graders on their last day of school.

They came upon us in extended, airborne bounds with exaggerated trajectories that seemed to produce a liberating burst of forward progress over the wrinkled sea. Simultaneously, Swell’s fiberglass hull surfed down the following seas at 9-10 knots with the momentum of a locomotive. The dolphins seemed utterly thrilled at their newfound company. They bounded again and again from the sea in high arcs, squealing, twisting, spinning and crisscrossing up to the bow, then circled back to ride the next ocean swell alongside us. In rows like line dancers, they’d torpedo out of the swell face together, their robust bodies shimmering in the evening’s pink, then charge up to the bow for more flips and speed jukes.

A crash below startled me from the visual bliss. The mildewed head of cabbage, knife and cutting board had tumbled to the galley floor below. I jumped to my feet but left the mess for later, unhooked the helm from the self-steering vane, and took the wheel to better maneuver my 40-foot surfboard alongside my new surf buddies. Bracing my feet against the sides of the cockpit floor, I gripped the wheel and trimmed into the pockets of the endless open-ocean waves.

Swell and I glided as one. I leaned into the turns and grinned at my leaping comrades. Despite being 1,300 miles from the nearest coast, we delighted together in the joy of wave-riding at that moment. As night stole the remaining color from the scene, the dolphins turned and continued north out of sight. I bid them safe travels, gave the steering duties back to my faithful windvane, and met that busted head of cabbage on the floor flushed with newfound optimism.

About the Author

Liz Clark is a surfer, sailor, writer, adventurer and ocean lover traveling in the South Pacific aboard her 40-foot sailboat, Swell.