Surfing into New Years at Ruby Beach

 

            2010 has been a year of incredible adventures. I cannot think of another way to describe it. I have had more new and challenging experiences in the last 365 days than I have ever had before and these experiences have drastically changed my perspective on life. More often than not these days, I am full of passion and motivation, happiness and positivity. These emotions are obviously quite good and while I do realize my luck in feeling them, I also find myself wondering exactly why they seem more common now. Is it because I haven’t been to the hospital lately? Is it because I discovered a $5 lunch special at the Thai restaurant down the street? Or is it because I stood at the top of the world a few months ago? There are thousands of possible answers and, most likely, each one has contributed to the year’s overall awesomeness. However, a specific shift in attitude, which I have recently noticed, may be the most responsible culprit.
            Were it the final days of 2007 and someone asked me to go surfing in the frigid swells and gripping undertow off the Washington coast I would have probably insulted their intelligence. But when Freya posed this question to me a few days before the New Year, I climbed into the rafters of my garage and extracted a sawdusty old wetsuit that, over the last decade, has probably been used by mice more often than by men. Freya acquired an extra surfboard that was sufficiently long and wide to support my wobbly legs, and we decided to go surfing.
I had only surfed three times in my life up to this point and I expected that I would be swallowing a lot of salt water, but I wasn’t deterred. I felt no qualms or reservations about the suffering that I would inevitably endure. I didn’t care if I embarrassed myself. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t think of anything more adventurous than layering my body with 6mm of neoprene—basically an extra few pounds of fat—and communing with the Pacific Ocean in an effort to glide on a glassy surface while balancing improbably on a hardened piece of foam. The likelihood of me actually being successful at a sport as difficult as surfing was basically nil. Nevertheless, I was excited.
We tied the boards to the roof rack, stuffed the trunk with gear and motored west at dawn on the final day of the year. When we reached Ruby Beach the tide was ebbing and the swells were making their first wispy breaks a half mile off shore. Each white line of slush drove towards the frosty beach with what seemed like random speed and depth. There was no pattern to the frothy mounds, just a mesmerizing assortment of tumbles and pushes, like a gymnastics competition between rhythmically challenged adults. It was terrifying.
Overweight tourists wearing parkas and gloves gave Freya and I “you must be insane” looks as we stripped naked in the frozen parking lot—the temperature was 30-degrees that day, although sunny—and wriggled into our wetsuits. Then Freya realized that she had forgotten her hood. Were it not for the fact that Freya is an extremely gung-ho individual, this oversight could have ruined the entire trip. However, Freya is the type of person who didn’t wear shoes until age 9 and who started kayaking before she could walk, so when she realized that she had left her hood at home she responded by saying, “I’ll be fine,” grabbing her board from the roof and jogging down the trail towards the beach. The adventure was on.
To say that I am a poor surfer is an extreme understatement. In even the mildest waves, I can hardly stand on a board and I imagine my helpless flailing makes me look something like a cross between a breaching whale and a plastic bag being blown about by the wind. But I do have effort on my side. I will paddle and tumble and get my head smashed into the sand until I am completely exhausted. Then I will try again. And in the world of adventure, effort counts for a lot.
After an hour of being tossed around like a Caesar salad, I finally stood up and rode a wave for what seemed like seconds but was most likely only a tenth of that. The feeling was exhilarating nonetheless and I rose from the watery landing pad where I was eventually deposited with a bellow of delight. Of course, in uttering this bellow and relishing the feeling of a successful ride, I failed to notice the enormous breaker bearing down upon me. I realized my ineptitude only at the last moment and turned to face the wave. It hit me with full force in my gawking maw. I swallowed enough salt water in those few dark moments to make me feel sick to my stomach for the rest of the afternoon, but the discomfort was not powerful enough to prevent me from savoring all of the wonderful rides that came after it.
            We left Ruby Beach as the sun drooped low in the sky, like the sacks under the eyes of some sleepy politician, and headed for the cabin where hot food and strong drink awaited us. Joss was chopping vegetables for his famous venison stew when we arrived. The stove burned the chill out of the heart of the place but the corners still shivered. Eleven of us huddled together and had verbose conversations about the past year. There was whiskey, beer, wine and champagne with every word. Night was as clear as the glasses we drank from, which is to say that every star imaginable was visible from the porch. We played unmentionable games that required amazing focus, a mental and physical action that is quite difficult to perform after having ingested enough alcohol to kill a small mammal. The losers, of course, were required to ingest even more.
            Everything that happened next happened naturally, without instruction or premeditation. The evening soon approached midnight and as that apex neared we collectively exited the cabin and formed a circle on the frozen mud out front. We put our arms over each other’s shoulders, crouched low to the earth and began to Om. The deep guttural noise started tentatively, like a child testing the temperature of a pool with his toe. Then, as each member of our tribe found his or her own tonal thread within the great blanket of noise we were weaving, the sound began to gain momentum. As the noise grew in volume and intensity we all started rising from our crouched position and tilting our heads toward the sky. And at the same moment that the clock struck midnight, we stretched to our tallest length and screamed with all the force our lungs could muster. I imagine that every hibernating bear in the Olympic Mountains must have heard our bellow and wondered what it was, but for those of us present, there was no need to question where it came from. It was different for everyone. For some, it was fears, desires, ambitions, memories, insecurities, and loves being exhaled into the wilderness of space. For others, it was simply a fun moment, a release. Either way, it was something special, something that I will not easily forget. A millisecond in the blank spot between ends and beginnings when thoughts disappeared and all that remained was our voices.
            The rest of the night was a blur. I vaguely remember ending up on the beach, lying in the sand next to Freya, trying to count the stars.
            When I awoke at noon the next morning I felt deceivingly good. This deception was lost, however, the moment that I tried to stand. My brain immediately started throbbing with such intense pain that I probably would have fainted if I had not been grasping the doorframe tightly, and my stomach felt like I had eaten a whole bouquet of cotton candy and gone on a ride called the Zipper. All I could do was lurch for the bed and return to the toasty womb of my down sleeping bag, where I remained until Freya, taking pity on me, arrived with a bacon-filled scramble that insulated my body against the whiskey aftershocks.
            Certainly, there would be no surfing that day, but the sky was empty of clouds and the silver beach, exposed like a shaved poodle by the ebbing tide, begged for a walk. Crepuscular rays illuminated the backdrop of breakers and the bright orange sun poked through the horizon like a sliver drawing blood. Freya and I walked to Tunnel Island, Elephant Rock, and stopped at the tawny runnel of Raft River. It was an evening that you rarely see on the Washington coast in winter, an evening so bright and crisp that my foggy memory cannot do it justice, as if the vibrant glow that was 2010 had delayed time enough for one last shiny glint, one last hurrah, to break through into the New Year. And I knew that glint would color the world for a long time to come.
            There was more surfing to be done, more adventuring, so Freya and I left the cabin early the next morning and drove to the parking lot above Ruby Beach. Frost clung to the bushes like Alfredo to linguini. The waves were big and ugly, breaking miles off shore as their powerful legs brushed the sandy shoal and crumpled beneath themselves in a crash of noise and spray. We paddled into the fray, oblivious, hoping only to ride some slushy foam. We beat against the tide for hours before things settled down. Then we actually caught a few beautiful rides. Well, Freya’s rides were beautiful. Mine were awkward and half-assed and timid, but they were rides still. We surfed until we were filled with salt and exhausted. The worst part of all was taking off our wetsuits in the frozen parking lot and scurrying into the car.
            Then we were driving, driving, driving for hours while mellow music paced our retreat. We were on the outskirts of Port Angeles when I realized something: the Seahawks were playing their last game of the season in about half an hour. I called Mom and asked her if she knew of any good bars in Port Angeles or Sequim to watch the game. She couldn’t think of anything and neither could I, but I didn’t want to miss what could be an historic moment in Seattle sports history, the worst team to ever make the playoffs. Where could I witness such a quintessentially Northwest moment? Then it came to me. I could not imagine a more perfect place. We would go to Seven Cedars Casino.
            I was able to convince Freya by telling her it would be an adventure in itself and it most definitely would. The moment we walked in the door we were amazed by the blatant tackiness of the place. It reminded me of high school graduation night when the entire senior class boarded a cruise ship that was adorned with Black Jack tables and Roulette wheels. We played for Monopoly money and drank Shirley Temples by the gallon. This was essentially the same, only with stronger drinks and realer money.
            Freya and I toured the premises for a few minutes. We visited the bingo room where hordes of blue hairs dotted squares of paper with glittery markers. We visited the Seahawks fan club where someone with a microphone encouraged “D-Fense” cheers from a pathetically morose crowd. Finally we settled in the dining room where we ordered the “Early Bird Special.” We both complained about the food—Freya’s mashed potatoes tasted instant—while the group sitting next to us commented on the wonderful quality of the cuisine. I cheered loudly when the Seahawks scored a touchdown, which so disturbed one septuagenarian couple that they moved to a different table. After dinner, we loitered amongst the slot machines long enough to increase $2 to $9 before losing it all back. By that time, the first half of the game was over, which was our cue to leave.
              Motoring home beneath the stars, I couldn’t help but smile. Lately, all Freya has to do to persuade me to try something new is say, “C’mon. It’ll be an adventure!” I can use the same trump-card phrase on her and when those words are uttered the two of us are basically willing to do anything. 2010 has been a year full of incredible adventures, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 2011 is a year with even more. The adventures will be different, for sure, but the possibilities are every bit as grand. I can’t wait for the next time I hear those words, “C’mon. It’ll be an adventure!” I know it will be soon.


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