The Odyssey, Part 2
This surfing life where travel is built into the deal. We pursue great waves, and discover new cultures, new ways of living, new selves.
“Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going.”
“It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.”
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
It’s hard to describe Carnival in Brazil without lapsing into cliché. Let me say this: In Bahia, where this picture was taken, a cavalcade of busses topped with blaring bands wound through the streets. Behind them danced hundreds of revelers, a kind of pied-piper routine. On the beach, at 3 am, thousands gathered in rapturous joy. There was a lot of dancing—samba and forró. Moms sold beer from coolers. Dads cooked mystery meats on porta-BBQs. A gaggle of kids suddenly bolted through the crowd. Shouting men chased after them—a theft of some sort. My indelible image: floating around the shorebreak at dawn with about a hundred fellow bodysurfers, a hint of pink breaking through the sky, an entire city still awake and still thumping and ready to do it all over again.
When Waimea gets really big a thick mist shrouds the entire bay. It’s a strange sensation; standing on dry land, salt water beading on your arms. The big sets feel and sound like an earthquake. The ocean literally thrusts up your nose. It’s an island-wide spectacle. Every car that drives by stops to check it out.
In a little corner of Jamaica not far from one of Bob Marley’s favorite waterfalls, a prodigious kid named Chama carved around a shaded bowl with authority and panache. He tucked low in the kinky bits, extended long legs in the flats, ollied seamlessly over the hips. I got the sense that he’d done this a thousand times, that he could do it blindfolded.
Backdoor and Pipeline. In the last forty years there have been few moments in which waves of this quality are met with so few surfers. This one didn’t last. Five minutes later, the first heat of the morning paddled out for the Pipe Masters.
At Pipeline a surfer I did not recognize dropped in late, disappeared behind a thick curtain, and emerged three or four seconds later in a mist of spit. He did not raise his arms in triumph. But the entire beach let out a collective hoot.
I was reminded of a pair of bulls let loose in a ring, the way these guys stormed the waist-high waves. Which reminds me: Years ago I heard a story about a matador who lived in the Spanish Basque Country. In the off-season, to stay sharp, he’d go down to the beach at night with his capote (cape) and pretend like the waves crashing on shore were charging bulls. I always loved this image.
Leblon on New Year’s Eve was an orgy of spirited Brazilians. Shirtless kids kicked soccer balls. Lovers made out in the shorebreak. There was a lot of beer and coconut water drinking. As the light went low a certain camaraderie set in. Rarely is nature applauded for its majesty, but in Rio de Janeiro, on this 31st day of December, the last day of the 20th century, the last day of the second millennium, the sun dissolved on the horizon and the entire beach gave it a standing ovation.