BEHIND THE PHOTO - "SLIDE"
“The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen
I will never forget this day in my life, starting with the dawn skies echoing the last light from the previous night’s stars. As I hopped on my motorcycle, I remember hearing the distant ocean roaring – a slow churning rumble. After thirty-five days in Bali, Indonesia, this was the first time I could hear the ocean from my dwelling. Instantly, my emotions drifted out of control – anxiety, excitement, fear, and relief all swirled in my head. Hearing the sound of sea from this far away could only mean one thing: the waves were larger than yesterday’s fifteen-foot swell. With my surfboard strapped on my side, I drove into dawn’s first light, headed toward the ocean.
When I arrived to the cliff overlooking the water, I had trouble believing my eyes – it felt like a dream. I had been waiting for this day for twenty-one years. Fittingly, the waves were around twenty-one feet in height. Should I paddle out? What If I hit the reef? Will I die? Will I drown? What if I don’t go? Will I regret it? I stood on the cliff for fifteen minutes before I saw the first surfer in the water. As fears and doubts poured into my mind, I watched this man ride the longest, heaviest, and largest wave I’ve ever seen to this day.
That was the catalyst for near disaster. I recall standing on the reef, about to paddle out thinking that these could be my last few breaths on this earth. Yet with all this uncertainty, I felt like I making the right choice. So, after timing the waves, I jumped off the reef into the sea: into a place where I am at the mercy of the elements. After ten minutes of duck diving underneath the rollers, I finally made it past the breakers.
I waited patiently for thirty minutes before making the choice to go for a wave. I’ll never forget it. As they stacked behind each other like stairs, I chose the sixth wave. When my time came, I turned towards shore, put my head down, and dug my hands into the water. Yet, I didn’t dig deep enough… because I failed to catch the wave… As I turned around back toward the sea, a twenty-foot wall was curling, about to break… on top of me. SHIT.
I attempted to swim under it, but the force was all encompassing. My body folded against itself, and then was torn like a ragdoll with my limbs rushing in every direction. Yet, I remained calm and begin counting in my head as my legs scraped the razor sharp reef…1…2…3…5…10…15…20 seconds pass by. When I finally reached the surface for a breath, I was greeted with another wave, and another. Light headed, I pulled my leash, only to find my foot strapped to half-a-board. There other half was nowhere in sight. I was at the verge of panic. To this day, I still don’t know how I kept my calm focus after breaking my board. Somehow, I swam back to shore without touching the reef.
Humble by sea, I collapsed on my back and my eyes began to tear. I was thankful to be alive. Oddly, I felt a strange sense of freedom. With one of my grandest fears behind me, the rest of the day was utopian. Borrowing a surfboard from a friend I met the day prior, I surfed twenty-foot waves by myself for seven hours. As the sun began to set, I managed to snap this photo – an iconic representation of overcoming my deepest doubts.