My local break going off thanks to 2005’s Tropical Storm Eugene.
Today is the first day of the Eastern North Pacific Hurricane Season.  If that sounds ominous, that’s because it is. The experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting that this region will have 14 tropical storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes between today and the 30th of November. Each day between now and then I will receive an email from NOAA’s National Weather Service entitled Eastern Pacific Tropical Weather Outlook. Most of these emails will be the same. They will read:


But as we approach the end of August, there will be an increasing frequency of warnings that describe the potential in terms of percentages for “areas of disturbance” to develop into a tropical storm. As ocean temperatures between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator increase, so do the number of storms. Historically, most major storms have hit the Baja Peninsula in the first half of September. Right when it’s hotter than Hades on the East Cape, and therefore when I’d prefer not to be there. But someone’s got to take care of the dogs and Felipe, mop up any rain that is blown under doors, report damage to people less stupid and safely tucked in homes located somewhere North of the danger.
I regard this hurricane season with a sense of foreboding. Not only did we not have any storms last year, which the law of averages dictates has upped the chances of at least one storm hitting us this year, but as I scanned down the list of names for this year’s storms, a sense of intuitive premonition descended upon me as I noted that 14 out of 24 of the names on the list are those of people I know. Many of them are not ordinary names and owing to my decade of living in isolation, I probably know a lot less people than the average Jova. I might not know any Xinahs or Zeldas, but I do know, in more than just a passing fashion, people with the names starting with the letters A, C, D, E, G, H, I, K though R, T, V and W. That sends my intuition a flutter. I think it’s time to buy hurricane insurance.
Here is the list of names storms will be given in 2011:

NAME                               PRONUNCIATION
ADRIAN                            AY- DREE UHN
BEATRIZ                           BEE- A TRIZ
CALVIN                             KAL- VIN
DORA                               DOR- RUH
EUGENE                          YOU- JEEN
FERNANDA                      FER NAN- DAH
GREG                               GREG
HILARY                             HIH- LUH REE
IRWIN                               UR- WIN
JOVA                                 HO- VAH
KENNETH                         KEH- NETH
LIDIA                                 LIH- DYAH
MAX                                  MAKS
NORMA                             NOOR- MUH
OTIS                                  OH- TIS
PILAR                                PEE LAHR-
RAMON                             RAH MOHN-
SELMA                              SELL- MAH
TODD                                TAHD
VERONICA                       VUR RAHN- IH KUH
WILEY                               WY- LEE
XINA                                  ZEE- NAH
YORK                                YORK
ZELDA                               ZEL- DAH
Looking on the bright side I remind myself that tropical storms and hurricanes produce waves. The bigger, more powerful the storm, the bigger and more exciting the waves. If luck is on our side, the edge of a storm stays out at sea and far enough away to keep local ocean surface conditions smooth and clean, sending only the swell that surfers love to ride. When this happens the East coast of Baja wakes up with a start. Waves appear where 99% of the time there are none. Bays nicknamed Babybeach for their calm waters most of the year turn into a maelstrom of kinetic energy where water rears up, crashing with forces that erode rocks and beaches moving vast quantities of sand and occasionally send hale and hearty surfers to the beach exhausted, sometimes beaten, with leashes and boards broken. Currents develop along the shoreline that are so strong only the experienced and the lucky manage to get out to the take-off spot without being washed hundreds of yards down the coast. It’s always exciting. And sometimes scary. Just like the storms themselves.

Zen and the Art of Surfing

For a deed to be totally pure, it must be done without any thought of reward, whether worldly or divine. It is this kind of deed which is called a “deed of merit.” And because no merit is sought, it is a deed of immeasurable merit, of infinite merit.

Thich Thien-An

It is not without irony that this quote was read immediately after penning the previous day’s blog.

The blog entitled “The Reward.”

This was read in the book by Jaimal Yogis called Saltwater Buddha: A surfer’s quest to find Zen on the sea. Read while sitting on the toilet, truth be told.

Juxtaposed next to yesterday’s blog, this Zen saying suggests that the manner in which I have been undertaking surfing lacks purity. Because clearly from the blogs title, it has as its end the reward of the wave ridden. Possibly also the men or women impressed, the stories of great adventure and big waves conquered. The stroking of the ego.

So how do we approach surfing in a more Zen way? With a purity of intent?

The answer, presumably is contained in Jaimal’s book. But I have not finished it yet.

So in the meantime, let us ponder the notion here on this blog. It has been discussed in a previous blog that surfing has an aspect of meditation in it. That in moments of pure concentration the mind stops its normally incessant chatter and we simply “are.” We are “in the moment,” “one with the wave,” “in the zone.” It is like meditation on a candle or flower, combined with walking meditation where the goal is to be completely concentrated on the act of walking, thereby losing the “self” in the act.

What is most bizarre and a bit disconcerting about these moments as they occur while surfing is how fleeting they are. The feeling that comes with moments of no-mind seems to be forgotten before it can be savored. And the lasting feeling of peace that comes from surfing, I believe, has more to do with the exhaustion it induces than with anything to do with Zen.

But maybe that’s because there is often another wave to be paddled over, the impact zone to be hurriedly exited and more waves on their way. The activity itself does not ordinarily promote savoring the moment after the fact. But that again contains aspects of Zen…no dwelling on the past. You must remain focused on the present or risk having a big wave dump on your head, or a fellow surfer run you over as you linger on the inside.

One of my favorite books Peace is Every Step was written by a Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh. In a less than surprising bit of synchronicity, in his book about Zen and surfing, Jaimal goes to the French village begun by Thay (as he is known). Thay’s book is very much about how we can practice Zen in every day moments. How a stop light can act as a bell of mindfulness. To remind us to be present in this very moment. To discard the incessant and often negative thoughts bombarding our psyche day in and day out.

The Zen in surfing can similarly be attained in the way by which it is approached. Are we entering the water with an open heart, wishing blessings on everyone we encounter – the wave, the fish, the turtles and even the sharks (human and cartilagenous alike).

I mentioned my mantra “surf your surf” in my previous post – this too becomes an act of Zen – to remain focused and concentrated on the activity at hand instead of distracted by the crowd, especially the chest-thumping, testosterone-exuding surfistas. The mood remains elevated and genuine smiles and greetings are exchanged creating a vibe that is open, friendly.

The result is pure magic, pure Zen. The act of surfing becomes a dance with no feet trod upon. The rides full of grace.


Check out Jaimal Jogis’ Video about his new book HERE.

For more about Zen, click HERE.

Click here to order Peace is Every Step.

The Reward

Recently, the first swell of the new surf season arrived. A storm that was spinning off the coast of New Zealand created the energy that created the disturbance that created the swell that arrived here on the south coast of the Baja California Peninsula.

As though a big rock was thrown into the biggest of ponds.

The storm’s winds hit the ripples to make them grow and the swell fanned out bigger and bigger. And we knew they were coming.

A phenomenon that has arisen over the past few years is internet-based wave tracking. It tells surfers where the waves will be born. Storms in one hemisphere are tracked and the swell they create measured and wave sizes, location and period predicted. It has changed the face of surfing. Removed the chance and challenge of being in the right place at the right time.

It has filled once unknown waves with crowds.

It used to be unusual for there to be more than five people out at one of the heavier local surf spots. And more often than not all five were your friends. At a more popular and well-known spot, crowds of 15 and up only happened when there was a surf school in town and that only happened but twice a year.

This last swell there were crowds everywhere. Twenty people out at the “secret” spot. And all very good surfers. People flying in from California just to catch the swell. More tents and campers on the beach than could be counted.

And the vibe changed. No more was it a group of friends in the waves together sharing the stoke. Now it was strangers competing for the best waves, jockeying for position. Giving and receiving the stink-eye. Dropping in.

The challenge of course is to maintain the stoke in the face of such changing and challenging circumstances. And for a relative new-comer to the sport, to maintain confidence while surrounded by very experienced and even professional surfers. Making it a mind game.

“Surf your surf” is the mantra. Focus and concentration are friends, insecurity and distraction enemies and potential killers (of the stoke at least).

There are risks that accumulate in bigger surf and bigger crowds. Getting caught inside in double overhead surf is scary at least, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, fatal at worst. Exhausting for sure. But it happens. And it’s part of the challenge.

After getting caught inside twice on big sets, the temptation could be to go back to the beach. There is an eccentric surfer camped there that likes to yell “Go to the beach if you’re tired!!” There is wisdom in his annoying words.

It is a test of the metal. But with determination, the white water and currents are fought and the break resought. Breath regained. Center reestablished.

The lines on the horizon tell of a new set arriving. Energy traveling across time and space. Come half-way around the globe to rise up and kiss the shores of my home.

The author’s reward.


For more information on surf forecasting:

Link to local surf forecast:
Los Cabos Surf Forecast

The Art of Surfing

I did not post anything yesterday, as some of you may have noticed. Instead I went surfing. It was suggested by a friend, who noticed the omission, that surfing was a waste of my time. That I would be better off writing.

“But you run!” I countered. He replied “Yes, but that does not take much time.”

And so the question was posed by myself to myself:

Is surfing worthy of the large chunks of time spent in its pursuit? Would I be better off doing something else with my time? If the downside to surfing is the amount of time it takes to do it, what are the positive aspects of surfing that non-surfers might not appreciate? And in the pursuit of one passion (writing), must you give up others (surfing)?

My friend is right. Surfing is a very time-consuming activity. Particularly if you, like me, want to make the most of it every time you go out. Typically I surf for three hours straight. Then I might come in, go home to eat something and watch to see what happens over the course of the day. If conditions are good in the afternoon, there is a good chance a second session will be undertaken. The second session is often shorter, but can be as long as two or two and a half hours. On REALLY good days, I’ve been known to surf three times.

The end result is that entire days can be spent in the pursuit of waves. That is a lot of time to spend doing a sport. Some would go so far as to call it decadent. But is surfing just a sport? or is there more to it than meets the uninitated eye?

The label “surf bum” is often applied to surfers who spend a lot of time surfing and less time working or taking care of the things that other people feel they must do in the course of their daily lives. And certainly, the perception is that the surfers are “wasting” their time.

An older surfer I know has been quoted as saying:

In my life, I’ve had a wonderful time wasting my time surfing. And the most important word in that statement is “wonderful.”

Hedonistic? Maybe, but I submit that this notion of surfing as a waste of time is completely subjective. Who are we to say that anything one does is a waste of time?

You are right now exactly where you should be.

The spiritual nature of surfing must not be dismissed. Between sets, sitting atop his board, surfer becomes meditator. The only sounds he hears is the roar of the waves and sea birds’ calls. She bears witness as whales breach and cavort outside the break. Sunrise and sunset are greeted partially submerged in the pulsing, breathing, life-giving Ocean. Immersed in nature, surrounded by beauty, the surfer is transformed.

The metaphorical becomes reality when the surfer literally walks on water. Unlike a mountainside or other solid surface, the wave is ever changing and dynamic, requiring of the surfer so much focus and concentration that the mind is released from the craze-inducing endless stream of thoughts. The surfer realizes a Zen-like state. Surfing offers release and the surfer returns from the adventure calmer, more centered, content.

The end result is EXACTLY the same as meditation!

So you tell me, is meditation a waste of time?

Yesterday’s surf at Nine Palms, Baja, Mexico.