The wave was fast and the water shallow—I could clearly see the reef flying by just under my board. Strong offshore wind produced a surface that felt like groomed snow while a big southern ocean swell delivered 15-footplus faces. I was in over my head. And I was there because I sold a pig.
I grew up more than 150 miles from the ocean in a small town where my brothers and I raised animals to show at the Shasta County Fair every summer. My interactions with the ocean were rare until my aunt and uncle invited me to learn to sail on the San Francisco Bay. Not sure of what I was getting into but eager to get away from home, I took them up on their offer.
Learning to sail a small boat in the San Francisco Bay was hard. High winds, strong currents, and a complete lack of skill on my part meant I spent more time in the water than sailing on it. At first, sailing seemed like a series of mishaps interrupted with periods of swimming. Accidental jibes were followed with capsizes. Capsizes were followed with more capsizes. I managed to get my boat completely upside down with the mast hopelessly stuck in the mud.
Then something clicked. I kept the boat upright. The freedom and independence of being able to harness the wind and go wherever I wanted was immediately addicting. With my uncle’s help, I used the $400 from selling my pig to buy my own 14-foot sailboat.
Two decades later, I am kitesurfing halfway around the world in Mauritius, where I’ve found a little more than I bargained for. With one of the largest sets of the day behind me, I fall trying to get one more late turn on a smaller wave.
The next wave barrels toward me, and I take a deep breath and hope there is enough power in the kite to pull me through the back—there isn’t. It breaks on me, drives me down and then violently forces me back up. I feel like a dirty sock in a washing machine—the one that mysteriously disappears never to be seen again. I see a flash of reef below me, close my eyes and hope for the best.
I barely scrape the reef while tumbling uncontrollably. The next two waves are just as brutal. I struggle to separate from my kite, but something keeps pulling me back into the white water. It takes two more wash cycles to realize my control bar is caught on my board leash. I ditch it and duck-dive through the rest of the set before paddling in over the reef. In the lagoon, I accept a boat ride back to the beach from photographers who had seen and captured the whole thing. Nobody says much as we collect my broken and tangled gear. Scraped, bruised and deflated, I ride to the beach on the back of the boat so I don’t track blood everywhere. The wind keeps blowing and the waves keep coming. All I think about is how quickly I can get back on the water. My wind-powered journey continues. All because I sold a pig.