Surfing: A dangerous yet rewarding experience

Conveniently enough, I live two blocks shy from the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. On any typical day, especially during the summer weekends, just about every square inch of the beach is covered by beach towels, umbrellas, overhangs, dogs, children, sunbathers, and sandcastles of every shape and size. A fraction of those beach goers can be seen half submerged swimming, wading, or surfing in the standstill water a few yards from the dunes and beach access parking lots. Further yet, one may catch a glimpse of a bobbing pelican or two or perhaps the emerging fins of a playful porpoise or hunting shark. Human interaction with the ocean itself generally occurs on a sporadic and infrequent basis, that is, until incoming swells attract hordes of wave starved surfers.

                The following weekend, during hurricane Irene’s travel along the coast, the typical view of Jacksonville’s beaches were reversed with the majority of people braving the thrashing waters and with a diminished crowd left on the beach to spectate. Hurricane swells provide the opportunity for bigger, more powerful and more dangerously exciting waves.  The months of August through November are greatly anticipated by those seeking to test their abilities against crashing breaks of upwards of ten feet. The season becomes the topic of conversation amongst various local surf websites, magazines, and shops. Grey skies, looming rain, and unavoidable offshore winds generally thins out the sunbathers and casual beachgoers on the shoreline, but the usual scene of a few casual surfers loitering every quarter mile or so, turns into an entire fleet of restless enthusiasts stretched from Hannah Park to Mickler’s Landing.

                The tale of fishermen awaiting the run of the shad in Carson’s work, Under the Sea Wind comes to mind when I think of these surfers and their preparation, dedication, and the occasional arguments that ensue over favorable surfing spots during a specific time of year. As a surfer myself, I sympathize with the irritation felt when securing a relatively open spot in the water, only to encounter others encroaching on prime territory.  Man’s delusion of environmental ownership has resulted in everything from bloody territorial battles of the past to the cursing matches amongst surfers here in Jax Beach today. Garrard’s sixth chapter in Ecocriticism on dwelling discuses the positions held by those who view man’s sense of “dominion” over nature, derived from a strict scriptural interpretation, as opposed to the philosophy of man’s stewardship of nature. Within the text, a quote from Jeanne Kay illustrates the point of the latter argument in that “Nature is God’s tool of reward and punishment, and its benefice depends on human morality”. For those taking advantage of the enjoyable weekend swell, the reward of harnessing nature’s power for pleasure came at the cost of its possible dangers. An instance of macho bickering or domineering behavior in the face of an incoming eight or ten foot crest seems comical when the person below can never hope to be equal to its destructive force. Gargantuan breaks, deadly undercurrents, and the capricious violence of the sea cannot be tamed by a simple plank of fiberglass and Styrofoam. Ambitions to conquer the sea certainly seem futile. However, its rewards may be garnered through skill, courage, and reverence for the sea’s power.

                Waves of this magnitude have an uncanny effect of gradually building to their peak, lifting the thrill seeker slowly to its crest, giving ample time to evaluate its height and potential force. The drop down on the other hand, comes with frightening speed and offers an adrenaline rush akin to free falling from an airplane.

-Nicholas Siebels

Professor Welling

Ecocriticism: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 11-11:50am

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