Biting It

If you surf or are a fan of the sport then you’ve undoubtedly seen this:

If you don’t surf then let me explain. That encounter occurred while 3x ASP World Surf League champion Mick Fanning from Australia was waiting for a wave in the final heat of the competition at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. This is the closest a professional surfer has ever come to being eaten by a shark during a WSL event, in front of hundreds of live spectators and thousands watching televised coverage on TV or online. Fortunately for Mick and the sport of surfing, Mr. Shark was distracted from his mission to see what Auzzie surfer tastes like when he got caught in Mick’s leash (“leg rope” to Auzzies and South Africans). The thrashing you see in the video, including a good whack to Mick’s face, was the shark freaking out because it was trying to free itself from the leash. Mick handled the situation incredibly well and dealt the creature several blows on the back with his fist, leading surf legend Derek Hynd to compare him to the Flintstone’s Bamm Bamm.* It seems that the shark was as panicked as Mick and got the hell out of there. If the tangling and thrashing weren’t enough to scare him off, rescue boats quickly responding to the emergency very likely had him questioning who was in greater peril.

In the wake of the “attack,” there was a lot of talk about shark attacks and sharks in general in the media and among surfers. Social media was rife with stories of close calls and scary encounters with sharks. And those of us who spend a lot of time in the water felt compelled to share our own experiences concerning “the man in the grey suit.”

The reality is that if you spend time in the water, the likelihood that you’ll encounter one of these apex predators is considerable. And as a surfer originating in a place few surfers hail from, I’m often asked by family, friends, and acquaintances, “What about sharks?”

My reply, “If it is my destiny to be killed by a shark while doing something I love more than anything, then so be it. I would hope that you will be happy I died doing something I loved,” may come off sounding cavalier, but it’s sincere.

In my thirteen plus years of surfing and kitesurfing regularly, to date I’ve had three close encounters with sharks. I described the second one, which occurred while I was kitesurfing right out in front of my house in an earlier blog post. My first encounter was really just a sighting, but there were only two of us out at Nine Palms that evening and when the shark swam through the face of a wave, my buddy Fernando, son of a local rancher, caught the next wave in, leaving me to consider my fate. I was still a beginner and my lack of skills pressed me to praying to whatever deity might be listening that I would catch and ride the next wave in, rather than flail and fail. Plagued by a mental image of being up to my neck in the dark blue surrounding me, I nevertheless did catch a wave and made it to shore without incident. Neither of us saw the shark again after that initial glimpse of him cutting through the wave face.

My most recent encounter affected me a bit more profoundly than the other two. Like my second encounter, this time I was kiting. I’m at the stage in kite surfing where I’m still learning how to maintain control of my kite while I ride a wave. With the energy of the wave pressing you on, it’s easy to outrun the kite, which makes the lines go slack and the kite to fall out of the sky right into the impact zone of breaking waves. It’s tough, but not impossible, to relaunch a kite once it’s been smacked around by the white water on the inside and that’s exactly what happened on this particular day. My kite was lying in the water, the wind gently pulling it and me towards the beach while low tide exposed the sharp lines of rocks along the way.

I’m pretty stubborn. Often to my own detriment. There comes a time when you gotta say enough is enough and give up, but I usually push myself beyond those rational limits. This day was no different. In exchange for my persistence trying to get the kite relaunched, I got dragged across those rocks on the inside. This is when I lamented my choice of bikini over wetsuit. Had I been wearing my spring suit, my thighs would have been protected from the sharp rocks. Thanks to my vanity (I wanted to work on my tan), I instead got a long gash along my left upper thigh. The scar remains an indelible reminder of my bull-headedness and the following incident it likely precipitated.

I got back to the beach and inspected the wound. It was bleeding, but not heavily and the gash was not as deep as I thought it would be. I decided that if it stopped bleeding, I’d relaunch and try my luck at riding waves again. I’d caught that wave without reminding myself of the intricacies of wave-riding with a kite. All my hard-learned lessons came flooding back to me as I watched the kite fall out of the sky. I knew could do this!

I dragged my kite and board back up the beach to the take off spot, rinsed the blood from my wound and patted it dry. I reran the lines to the kite, making sure everything was in order, and reinspected the cut. The bleeding had stopped and I rationalized it was really just a scratch, nothing to worry about. Certainly nothing that would get the attention of a grey suit.

I had a relatively good session from there on out and managed to catch some waves without dropping the kite. An hour or so into the session, I checked in with my thigh muscles. They were fatigued, indicating t was time to start tacking North to the one sandy spot where I could get to the beach without crawling over rocks. It was just as I began to tack upwind when out of my peripheral vision I saw something grey leap partially out of the water. A small black grebe that seconds earlier paddled along the water’s surface had disappeared.

My heart clenched as adrenaline surged through my body and my head spun.

A walrus. It had to be a walrus, I thought fully entering denial.

And then another voice spoke up, an annoyingly intelligent voice. Walrus don’t eat grebes, Dawn. And there are no walruses here.

My mind buzzed like a pinball machine on full tilt and I drew a blank despite attempts to rationalize what I’d just seen as something else, anything but a shark. It turned next to the cut on my leg. I had to accept that it was possible that the small amount of blood I was likely leaving in the water had brought one in.

Just get in. Just focus on what you’re doing and get in. Don’t fall.

But of course I fell.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck!” I hurled the epithets as I grabbed my board and hurried to get back up and moving after blowing the turn back towards shore.

“Fuck!” I swore again when I got closer to shore and realized that it would take at least three tacks to get up wind enough to where the beach was sandy.

I gritted my teeth and managed to turn and head back out to deeper water without falling. I focused everything on the task at hand, working my way upwind and eventually making it back to shore. I breathed a sigh of relief as I prepared to step off my board onto sand and brought the kite high overhead to the neutral position. That’s when I discovered that the wind had turned offshore near the beach and by bringing the kite overhead it was met with the force of a wind that pushed it back out to sea. It arced and plummeted into the sea behind me where the opposing onshore wind pushed it gently back towards shore. The lines went slack and I was powerless to do anything as it slowly floated into an area full of rocks just South of where I stood. The next thing I heard was a loud “pop!” followed by the hiss of air escaping. The kite had run into the sharp edge of a rock, much like my leg had earlier, which cut through the leading edge, an air-filled tube-like bladder that gives it structure.

Maybe it was the stress of seeing a shark consume a helpless little bird right in front of me, the prospect of similar treatment or maybe it was just frustration with the vagaries of kiting, but I lost it at that point. I totally lost my shit and screamed (to no one in particular as there was no one there to hear me anyway), “I hate this fucking sport! This is the dumbest fucking sport ever!!! I’m over it!!”

And in that moment, I felt alone…terribly fucking alone and I came close to crying. I felt the tears knocking at the door and I very nearly let them come. I came damned close to walking away from that kite bobbing gently among the jagged rocks with it’s fucked up lines and torn leading edge too. Very very nearly.

But I took a deep breath.

Considered the options.

Then put my head down and carefully picked my way over those goddamned motherfucking rocks and pulled my kite off them without doing further damage to me or the kite. The lines were caught in the rocks and it was all I could do to keep from having a total melt down every time I pulled on one of them and realized I had to disconnect it from the kite before I could extricate the mess from the grip of those tenacious rugged rocks.

It was almost dark when I finally had the whole maddening mess packed up and was driving along the beach towards home on my ATV, jaw clenched in anger.

That was six months ago and I haven’t kited since. The kite is still in its bag, torn, sandy, and neglected. And after watching Mick’s experience with the shark, I asked myself whether that was a function of the hassle that is learning to kite surf or if it is more about the shark.

Compared to surfing, kiting is definitely a higher risk activity where sharks are concerned. You go into deeper waters where sharks like to travel and you have the considerable potential of breaking down out there. Even experienced kiters have kitemares and end up losing entire kites or boards out at sea. The boards are too small to paddle back in on and the kites are a serious liability once they are disabled. Once when my kite failed I had to swim a good half mile to get back into shore, dragging the kite as the leading edge took on water. Getting to shore was a Herculean effort accompanied by nerve-wracking thoughts of what could be lurking deep below me.

Despite these experiences my passion for surfing keeps me returning to the water. I wonder though, if I had a serious close encounter with a shark the likes of Mick Fanning’s, how soon would I get back in the water? Would I even be able to?

It’s a crossroads I hope never to confront.

******

*After Fanning’s run in, Hynd was the first person to paddle out to the empty line up to catch a few overhead waves, further proving accurate my assessment that he is the Nutty Professor of Surfing. When I questioned his sanity by internet chat, he suggested, knowing we share a similar level of passion for the pursuit, that I would have done the same. “No one out…swell was building.” ‘Nuf said.

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

Rumi do no seek loveIf you read this blog regularly, then you know that I’ve struggled over the last couple of years with living on my own. The loneliness tends to creep in around dinner time and sticks around until I fall asleep or numb it out with one of my three go-to additions (TV, food, booze). I’ve tried to remedy this unpleasant feeling in other, more productive ways – meditation, working and playing hard (basically keeping busy), and working with two wonderful Huichol shamans (more on that soon) – but I remain susceptible to its pangs more often than I care to admit. Nevertheless, I think it’s a basic human necessity to share your life with someone with whom you share a special intimate bond.

However, a recent sojourn into that tricky realm brought to my attention that, more often than not, there is a barrier between me and the rest of you that makes having a healthy relationship difficult, if not impossible. It’s nothing unique. I’m pretty sure there are others who have constructed, knowingly or not, a wall between them and the rest of us too. I picture mine as constructed of red brick, old clay bricks, crumbling to create a substantial pile of red rubble on the ground near its base. Large chunks of mortar are missing and the corners of the walls are uneven and lower than the rest of the wall. It’s old and failing, but it still separates me from you. Sometimes I can’t even see or hear you on the other side.

Your wall might be made of stone, concrete, straw bails, or maybe it’s just a sheet of plastic that you can pull down in one fell swoop, but it’s there, separating us, keeping us from connecting. You say I’m just writing in metaphor, but I say it may as well be real because there is nothing more powerful in keeping you from what you want than FEAR.

Fear keeps me bottled up too often. I don’t write more because I’m paralyzed by fear. I don’t reach out to more people because I’m afraid. And fear keeps me from expressing who I really am, in so many ways, far too often.

The blessing is that whereas I’ve been oblivious to its influence on my behavior for most of my life, I see the fear now, recognize it and my attempts at subverting it. I see now how I’ve hurt myself, lost sleep, and a lot of hair trying to outrun the fear. A lot of my actions – like surfing hard, stressing over my body image, and needing to know all the answers – are just me trying to cover up my intense fear that you’ll discover I’m imperfect and therefore unacceptable and unlovable. I’m so afraid of rejection that I do back flips in an attempt to prove to you that I deserve your love and attention.

The funny thing is that I had to be rejected to see how much my actions are motivated by my keen desire to avoid that very rejection.

I fell for someone recently, and as is typical for me, I fell hard, fully, unabashedly, and, it turns out, foolhardily. At first he seemed to be falling too – we were two people falling into the fuzzy abyss of love with big smiles on our faces, holding hands on the way down. We seemed to read each others minds and synchronicities abounded when we were together. For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t walk down the beach without finding heart-shaped rocks. Not just “a” heart-shaped rock, but rock after rock. One of them, about an inch across and pink, was almost perfect. My interpretation? Our love was divinely orchestrated.

But then he let go of my hand and I kept falling.

I fell for a while before I realized that I was on my own in feeling the way I wanted so badly to feel and to be felt about. I was pretty deep down in that hole when I finally  accepted I was alone down there with a goofy grin on my face, holding on to nothing.

That was hard. It felt a lot like someone kicked me in the stomach with steel-toed boots. I guess it was the impact of hitting the hard reality waiting for me at the bottom of my free-fall into unrequited love that knocked the wind out of me. What really happened was over the course of several weeks the other person’s actions (like his reaction when I gave him that pink heart-shaped rock) and what those actions said about how he felt sank in, and I had to admit to myself, “He’s just not that into you.” Yeah, no one wants to hear that, even if it’s your very own heart gently sitting you down and telling you like it is for your own good.

I cried a lot that evening. I took a walk down the beach as the sun was setting and felt the hurt and the anger bubbling up to the surface despite my attempts to keep them down. It all came out in a big blubbering, tear- and regret-filled emotional waterfall. I was angry with myself for being such a fool, for jumping into the deep end of a relationship once again, for wanting it to be what I’ve waited for so badly that I rushed in without giving things time to cure, without giving either of us time to discern whether this was the path forward or not. As the anger dissipated, it was replaced by sadness as I felt, once again, the hole in my heart where loneliness lives.

“Oh, it’s you again,” I said with resignation. “So, tell me, when are you going to leave for good?”

“As soon as you learn to look for love within.”

“I’m working on it,” I said, looking up at a sky filled with so much beauty I knew my thoughts were heard elsewhere.

This experience taught me something that I’ve been unaware of until now. It turns out I’m scared a lot. I’m running scared shitless of what other people think, afraid of people’s judgment, and especially their rejection. My whole life story is driven by avoiding rejection. I’ve said it before, and someone wiser probably said it long before, fear is a poor motivator. It’s a lot like running from your own shadow. You can never outrun it. And I’ve tired of running.

The good news is that somehow during this experience, I realized that this heart of mine is full of love. As I ran over in my mind what happened and how things had fizzled so fast, I considered my actions in both romantic and other relationships and saw that they are more often than not caring, giving, and kind – all demonstrations of love. Gratitude, appreciation, and empathy are all rooted in love as well and these are emotions I experience daily. This made me realize that the fear that has driven me so often is not so much solid like a wall, but merely a smokescreen hiding the love that has always been right here inside me. To transform it and pass to the other side where we can all connect, I just need to turn that love inwards and recognize that I deserve my own loving embrace as much as anyone else does. So far, I mostly know this intellectually, but little by little I’m beginning to feel it in my soul.

thinklessfeelmore“Think less, feel more” was one of the many wise things my lover-turned-friend-and-teacher said to me during our courtship.

I can feel it right here in my heart, that unconditional love that I keep looking for elsewhere…I’m getting close, so very close.

IMG_0519

One of the miraculous sunsets we’ve been treated to lately.

 

 

Into the Eye of Odile

Odile Up Close

Hurricane Odile making landfall.

During the second week of September, 2014, a Category 3 hurricane by the name of Odile had the tip of the Baja Peninsula in her sights. On the 14th, at approximately 11:30PM, she moved ashore and wreaked havoc. She was one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall on the peninsula and easily the strongest storm in recorded history ever to make a direct hit on Los Cabos. (The only storm comparable was Hurricane John, which in 2006, hit a much less populous area here in the East Cape where, in comparison, only a small number of people were affected). In her wake, Odile left two cites, Cabo San Lucas and especially San Jose del Cabo and their quarter of a million citizens without power, communications or running water. Because I live off-the-grid, I had power, running water, and even an Internet connection. Between here and town though, power poles and major electrical towers were downed everywhere, making it difficult or impossible to drive the local roads. Most homes had serious damage, especially those on the beachfront, which were inundated by a storm surge created by massive waves unheard of in the region. In the panic after the storm the stores were quickly emptied of any and all of their contents. With no way to resupply – the airport and roads were impassable – people who hadn’t prepared for the storm, or who lost everything, were left completely destitute. To quote six year old Lucas Nobili, Odile was “quite a bitch.”

Lucas Letter to Odile

English writing exercise by Lucas Nobili Photo: Pablo Nobili

The good news is that ten days after the storm hit, the citizenry of Los Cabos have restored order, begun a massive cleanup effort, and with the help of the federal electrical commission, power is being reconnected little by little, allowing stores to reopen.

My account of going through the storm, alone, has been published on an online magazine called The Scuttlefish. Check it out by clicking on the link below and let me know what you think.

Into the Eye of Odile on The Scuttlefish

Windy Day in Paradise

Satellite imagery 24July2014

Satellite image of the storm’s intensity.

The weather in Baja is gorgeous about 95% of the time. There are more blue-sky days here on average than most places on Earth. We get our fair share of wind in the winter, which is why this is such a great wind and kite surfing locale, but those are nice constant winds of between 15 and 25 miles per hour. Summer winds whipped up by warm tropical disturbances are different – they are meaner, stronger, and can wreak serious havoc when they exceed the 60mph mark. They are typically preceded by skies heavy with grey clouds and sometimes thunder and lightning. Fortunately, thanks to modern weather predicting technologies, we usually know when they are coming and can prepare our homes by putting up window-protecting storm shutters, removing delicate window screens, and packing all the patio furniture and garden decorations away in garages and bodegas for safe keeping.

There is an energy of expectation and suspense that surrounds preparing for a storm. Perhaps that’s what I get off on, same as the adrenaline rush from surfing, that makes me embrace inclement weather. When I was a kid in Ontario, Canada and a big snowstorm blew up, I used to wrap myself in my father’s parka and walk through the streets of my small hometown buffeted by the wind. His coat reached mid-way down my calves and I had to wrap my arms around myself to pull it in and keep the frigid wind out. I think I felt more invincible in his coat than I would in my own snow gear, it was like he was there with me, his arms wrapped about me to fend off the weather. Icy snow flakes bit into the skin of my face and blew into the small space between my neck and the woolen scarf tightly cinched there. The sounds of the storm – the wind whipping along those otherwise quiet streets, through the trees so that their branches clicked and scratched out a dissonant beat, my boots crunching on the gathering snow drifts, the creak of icy power lines swaying overhead – accompanied me on my trek past small houses nestled into deep snow drifts. I relished the cold biting my nose, the sensation of ice crystals growing from the tips of my eyelashes, of cold air rushing into my mouth and down into my lungs. I’d walk the perimeter of our town in the dark of an early winter evening, the streetlights catching the flash of so many snowflakes flying about wildly in blasts of a northeast wind.

I approached rainy days in summer similarly – I would walk the streets of my town or the dirt round that defined the circumference of the lake where we had a cottage, getting soaked to the skin, shoes squishing, my socks falling from the added weight of the water they’d absorbed, gathering around my ankles. If it was windy, those rainy days almost made me feel as alive as a stormy winter night did. I embraced the power of the wind.

But…

Living at the tropical end of the Baja Peninsula could challenge the most ardent lover of wind not to forsake their love for calmer locales. The other day we had an unexpected chubasco (storm) come through in the early, soft lit hours of the morning. Aside from some thunder and lightning that woke me at 4:30am, the storm front hit with little warning at 6:40am. The sound of the wind wailing through window screens and the patter of large rain drops hitting the tiled patio outside my bedroom door roused me out of a sound, dream-filled sleep. In the time it took me to haul my still sleep-drenched body out of bed and wrap myself in a sarong, a howling gale had blown up out of nowhere. As I hurried down the stairs to gather patio furniture cushions, the wind grabbed my sarong, yanking it off with surprising force. I pulled it back around my chest in vain, the wind lashing out and ripping it off once again. I threw it on the dining table and ran naked about the house battening down the hatches.

The dogs, spooked by what were now 60 to 70 mile per hour winds, did their best to trip me up as I went from door to door to window, closing and latching them against the onslaught of wind and rain. The interior of the house looked like a wind tunnel experiment – papers and magazines were flying everywhere, window blinds flapped madly. Relief washed over me when Doobie, the senior member of the dog pack, padded up as quickly as her arthritic legs could carry her while I collected the cushions from the patio furniture. There was no time to get the patio furniture inside. I knew I had to pull the three sliders leading to the ocean-side patio closed NOW. But the largest one refused to latch – the force of the wind bent it so the two sides could not make contact. I left it and ran to close the windows upstairs.

When I returned to the living room, the wind had picked up another notch and ungodly sounds were coming from the unlatched door. It groaned and creaked in protest as I watched it bend and bow in response to the force of the wind. I pictured it exploding in a cloud of dagger-like shards and, in response, retreated to the garage, herding the dogs along with me. From the garage I heard a plaintiff meowing, a distress call from the bushes just outside the leeward side of the house. Responding to my encouragement Mochi the cat shot across the driveway and into the garage, managing somehow to escape getting soaked despite the huge rain drops that now pummeled the driveway. Even Mochi seemed to understand that the living room was a high risk zone and remained in the garage with the rest of us.

The wind slammed and shook the garage doors in a cacophony of metal on metal and the rain began to pour from the gutters in a torrent. Ungodly sounds were emanating from the house – moaning and groaning and howling her protests against the force of the wind.

I’m not sure how long we waited, but the wind soon weakened enough that I felt safe returning to the living room to try to close the slider once again. With a great deal of effort and several tries I managed to latch it, relief washing over me. A large puddle of water had gathered inside the three sliding glass doors – the rain forced through the tiny space between the doors and their tracks. As I mopped up the water, I felt the sting of wind-blown sand hitting my leg and discovered that the wind had also unseated one of the sliders and opened a quarter-inch space between the frame and the door. Amazing! Those doors are heavy!

Fortunately, the storm only lasted a couple of hours, but she managed to wreak some serious havoc all along the coast nevertheless. Here three screens were bent and torn off windows, several others tweaked out of shape, the screens stretched and pulled from their frames. The cover for the barbecue is MIA. It was weighed down with three heavy clay floor tiles, but the wind must have got under it, threw the tiles to one side and launched that heavy cover like it was a plastic grocery bag. It’s out there somewhere in the desert. My neighbors had palapas torn apart or knocked over, roof tiles ripped off, gates and unlatched doors pulled from their hinges. Coconuts and fronds turned to ballistics, felled from palms in a frightening volley. It’s amazing no one was hurt.

In the cleanup afterwards, we found sand everywhere. Sand blew into every crack and crevice, collected in large volumes all over the patios and as high as the second story. It blew so hard, it blasted the paint right off the metal gate to the beach.

In my twelve years living here at the southern tip of Baja, I’ve never before experienced a storm of this magnitude come up so quickly. So while I do love inclement weather, I prefer the kind that comes up slowly, with warning, and time to prepare. And the feelings I have towards hurricanes lie somewhere other than in the “love” spectrum. We’re in the thick of hurricane season now and with sea and air temperatures higher than we’ve experienced in several years, it bodes to be an active one with storms continuing to form well into October. I beseech Mother Nature, keep those Category 4 hurricanes well out to sea this year.

The Real Dawn Revealed

Be free be yourselfNot until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
  Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve been struggling just to show up here and tell you what is going on in my life because it’s not been an adventure and it’s about as far from “cool” as the Baja desert in August. I’ve been struggling with whether to share what is happening or whether to struggle and suffer in silence, which is, after all, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way. I am slowly realizing, however that struggle is what makes me, makes us all, human. Despite trying to wear her mask, I am not Super Woman, I’m not perfect, and I’m definitely not always together and smiling, skipping down the beach without a care in the world. And along those lines, I think that in many ways this blog has been a front, a pretense, a misrepresentation of who I am.

In an attempt to be honest and real, I gave voice to my struggle last August and you responded positively. With words of encouragement and understanding. I was astounded that a blog that I had considered not publishing because it revealed too much got more comments than any other I’d written. Nevertheless, I figured that once was enough and I’d best tuck the “I’m not happy” line of discussion back into the cave in my heart where I thought it belonged. Hence the silence. It’s hard to maintain the party line about your adventurous life when it’s actually filled with chronic sadness bordering on depression, illness probably brought on by a weakened immune system the result of such sadness, and the literally mind-numbing sensation that you are all alone in that sadness.

If I’m to be honest, I’ve felt like I’m knee deep in liquid cow manure for the last year or so and then in the last few months, the levels rose to somewhere just south of my nose. Sure I’m still breathing, but from where I’m standing, life stinks.

I was literally sick for most of November and all of December, culminating in a serious sinus infection and bronchitis while visiting Canada during the coldest December and early January they’ve experienced in over 30 years. There’s a reason I moved to the tropics and it has a lot to do with those winters. Even if I hadn’t moved here to learn to surf, I would have moved somewhere warm. I was over being cold, catching cold, feeling miserable for so many months out of the year. Did I ever mention on here that I once frost bit all ten of my toes? They were black. Coal black. I gasped when I saw them. But that’s another story for another blog. So you aren’t left in suspense though, I will say I still have all ten of my little piggies. Miraculously.

Canadians who stick it out for the often six months of frigid weather are a tough lot. They grin and bear what for me has become unbearable. The warmth of Baja has made me thin-skinned, a wussy by Canadian standards, but that’s okay. Admitting I’m a wuss is a fair price to pay for sun kissed skin and wearing flip flops 12 months out of the year. But I digress.

My point is this – I was already feeling down and then I got sick with a mild illness that dragged me down another notch and it lasted for what seemed like forever.

I know, this is a bummer post…but I’m not going to apologize for that. I cannot and will no longer try to minimize and cover up what it is that I’m feeling in the deepest recesses of my soul. And I need to show up, I need to share what I’m feeling because I know that I am not alone and that there are countless people the world over feeling isolated, alone, and depressed. Why do you think Philip Seymour Hoffman shot tainted heroin into his veins on Sunday? Many people, like me, are beating themselves up for not being more thankful for what they do have. And I am thankful. I’m so very thankful for the many blessings that my life abounds with. But the reality is that at the end of the day there are some fundamental things that this life of mine needs in order for me to be truly and unabashedly joyful – yeah, that skipping-down-the-beach-singing-a-jaunty-tune kind of joy that I constantly try to convince everyone out there I’m steeped in. I’ve been operating under the premise that if you believe it, I will too. But it’s just another front like the Super Woman mask I put on when I’m feeling insecure and vulnerable, which, to be honest, is most of the time.

I’m doing the work, I’m reading the self-help books that I hope will unearth the demons that plague me, meditating, doing yoga, eating right, getting in the water now that I’m no longer hacking up a lung. Admittedly, while visiting a friend on the west coast recently to get some surf and much needed social interaction, I probably had more tequila than was wise for someone balancing so precariously on the shadowy line between sadness and clinical depression, but the friendship was invaluable, the waves challenging, but fun. I believe it was Thoreau who said that when we are feeling down we must surround ourselves with positive people. So I went and visited one of the most positive people I know, who it just happened was going through his own health crisis and is dry docked for a month in the middle of surf season on his side of the peninsula. Then he got a message about his cousin being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer – two types no less. Nothing like a little perspective to make you see the silver lining around your own cloud.

So I don’t know if it was the perspective adjustment, time in the water, or just time, but I feel better now than I did when I began writing this post a few days ago. Nevertheless, I need to put this out there: sometimes my life sucks. To be more specific, often times, despite how together and happy we appear from the outside looking in, people are often suffering. I think that in North America we’ve lost our tolerance for suffering. The images of perfection we’re fed by The Media tell us to “Fake it ‘til you make it!” Tell us it’s not acceptable to admit our frailties, our fears, our weaknesses. Tell us to put the Super Man or Super Woman mask on and smile. But that’s a lie, one that hurts the liar and the deceived alike because it’s not who we really are, it’s not how we’re really feeling. If people knew how we were really feeling, they might reach out and offer us a hand – encouragement, a compassionate ear, a hug.

I haven’t shown up here for three months because I couldn’t muster the strength to dawn the mask. As I write these last sentences though, I’m feeling better, more honest, truer to myself. Ironically, it seems I’m made stronger by losing the mask.

Fear and Kiting in Los Cabos

DSCN0401Parental Advisory: Dear Mom and Dad, please don’t read this. I know how you feel about me kiting and this isn’t going to help. Love, Dawn

I don’t kitesurf in the summer heat. I consciously decided that kiting is a fall and winter sport for me because it’s hell getting the gear rigged on the hot sand. I’ve come close to heat stroke a couple of times. But on my first foray out this autumn, I came close having a stroke for a very different reason.

It’s always difficult to motivate to go out the first time after my summer break; I know from experience that half my equipment is going to fail because it’s been sitting around for months in the summer heat. The glue that they use to seal the valves in particular is degraded by high temps so when you try to blow the kite up, one or more valves go “pop!” and you’re S.O.L unless you know how to do repairs, which apparently I don’t. I tried to replace a valve last year, followed the instructions carefully, watched YouTube videos on how to do it, but failed terribly. I can’t even tell you where I went wrong.

My neighbor Walker, who’s a kiter, was here this week and convinced me it was time to get the kites out. The wind was blowing a good 25 to 30 miles an hour, the water was crystal clear, and it seemed as good a time as any to get out there. And I was glad to have some company for the first foray in many months.

Walker is an enthusiastic kiter. He’s been doing it since the sport was in its infancy and went through the hell of using kites that didn’t have all the built-in safety features that those of us starting up much later benefit from. He’s got some great tales of harrowing near-death experiences that I’m glad I got to miss out on. His enthusiasm means he was down on the beach at the first sign of whitecaps. I dragged my feet, experiencing the resistance borne of the knowledge that it was probably going to be a bit of a nightmare figuring out which of my well-used kites was flight worthy. Sure enough, after I got down there and helped Walker launch his brand new 7M Sling Shot, I tried three different kites, including one of Walkers that he’d offered up, and none of them were operable. Walker had forgotten to bring the bar (essentially the “steering wheel”) down for his 6M that I was hoping to use and before launching he suggested I jerry-rig it with my own bar. I knew this was a bad idea and did it anyway. The kite is different than any of mine and sure enough, when I launched it, it immediately dove to the beach and crashed, flew back up and dove, over and over again as the lines twisted on themselves. Frustrating!! Not to mention not so good for the kite. Before I could get it under control, it nose dived into a sundried porcupine fish, which penetrated the heavy nylon of the leading edge, but thankfully not the bladder and a foot long hole tore through the canopy. That kite was out of commission until it could be repaired.

Meanwhile, as I struggled to get the next kite (any kite!) rigged, Walker was out there flying back and forth across the water, intermittently crashing the kite into the water’s hard surface and then struggling to relaunch because he was under-powered. It was apparent from the tangled mess of the lines on the bar I was trying to rig that I didn’t deal with that issue before putting them away for the season. My bad. Untangling lines requires the patience of Job and after trying to get two other setups rigged, mine was waning. Walker came in while I was deep in the tangles.

When I explained what the hold up was, he offered me his brand new kite. Although he’d been underpowered, we reasoned it would be perfect for me because I weigh considerably less than he does. After a half-hearted protest that the kite was new! I thanked him profusely and got out there.  Employing what patience remained, I timed it right to get out through the heavy shorebreak without mishap and was up and whizzing out to sea trying to remember the subtleties of the sport.

Fifteen minutes into my session, I’d just tacked, heading back out to sea, when I leaned back and took a look down to marvel at the crystal clarity of the water backed by the white sand bottom and contrasting black and mottled brown rocks. The water was so clear it looked like it was only a few feet deep. I’d begun to turn my attention back to the surface and the kite, when I sailed over the outline of something that resembled a shark.

BigMouthWait…WHAT?!

At first I didn’t believe my eyes, and started looking around at the white caps, hoping one would resemble a shark and I could laugh at my paranoia, but that was denial at work. I considered further what I’d seen: it’s shape was distinct–a wide body, tapering to a long tail with an upright caudal fin that only one type of fish in the sea possesses, light grey on top and white underneath at the tips of its fins and a as I passed overhead, it flicked that tail once to impel itself forward, an unmistakable motion. As the reality that I had indeed seen a shark, a rather large shark, slowly sank in, I felt the vice grip of anxiety rise and take hold of my chest. I began debating what to do. I was still on a course that took me out to sea, to deeper darker waters, but away from where I’d seen the shark. I needed to give him time to continue on his way North. Unfortunately, my mind then had him pulling a U-turn and coming to see what that “thing” was that flew overhead. I wondered Are sharks curious? The darkness of the deeper water was frightening because of all that it could conceal. I decided it was time to tack and head back to shore, but with all that anxious thinking I was distracted and blew my turn. I sank into that deep, dark blue water up to my neck, and anxiety turned to panic.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” I said as much at myself as to myself. Get up and get going! I silently commanded.

And so I did, saying a little “Thank you God,” as I got up to speed without the kite crashing and exploding on impact (not an uncommon occurrence where I am concerned). I was headed to shore.

This is where the way my brain works frightens me a little; on my way back to shore, it occurred to me that I’d only been out kiting a short time and I began rationalizing that the shark was long gone. He’d obviously just been cruising, there was no evidence of him being in hunter mode. When the time came, I did not go to shore, I turned that kite and me strapped to my board and headed back out to sea. True or not, I’d convinced myself I was safe above water and blocked out the possibility of kite failure, major wipe outs, the wind dying, and several other instances where I’d be back in the water up to my neck only minutes after seeing what I estimated to be an eight-foot shark.

It’s amazing what the human mind is capable of blocking out when it wants to ignore the facts. I’d almost forgotten all about that shark, when on my next tack, I lost control of the kite and it shot right to left, yanking me out of my board straps and flinging me a good ten feet downwind, before crashing into the water with a resounding WHUMP! Suddenly, I remembered Mr. Shark. Pushing the question of where my board was aside, I concentrated all my attention on the kite and after a few nail-biting failed attempts got it relaunched. I looked back hoping to see my board bobbing on the surface nearby. It was nowhere to be seen. Shit! Where is it? I could feel the anxiety putting its stranglehold on me again. Desperation wrapping its suffocating arms about me, I began to body drag upwind in search of my board. I recalled thankfully that it has red footstraps, unlike the two boards I’d previously lost in scenarios similar to this one – white, I’d concluded, is a STUPID color for a kiteboard; they just disappear among the white caps. The recollection of losing those two boards at sea taunted me now. Would I find the board or have to body drag all the way back in? Please God, no. A couple of drags of about 30 feet, first one way and then the other and I could see the board bobbing in the wind chop. I relaxed a tiny bit. Quickly, I regained the board, slipped my feet into the straps, and power-stroked myself up and out of the water. I could breathe again.

A few more tacks and I wiped out again, this time though I didn’t crash the kite and remained close enough to the board that it was visible. I decided I’d tempted fate enough and it was time to go in. I couldn’t relax out there except when within easy reach of the beach. But there was a big swell in the water that day, so every time I got close to the beach, a huge wall of water would loom up behind me threatening to send me into shore ass over tea-kettle like a big piece of flotsam wrapped up in my lines. I imagined myself riding those waves and pulling out gracefully by launching myself like a bird, as I’d seen advanced riders do on Maui. As I approached the shore, I got my opportunity as a wave began to grow behind me. I rode it partway in before pulling the kite up to stop my forward momentum and skidding to a remarkably graceful halt before I crashed on the sand. Using the kite’s pull, I exited the water in a series of small hops. The sand never felt so solid, so secure under my feet.

Walker was no longer on the beach, so I did a controlled crash to land the kite. When I ran over to deflate it, what I saw made my breath catch in my throat. The plug for main intake valve was open, probably popping under the pressure of one of Walker’s more dramatic crashes. The only thing keeping the kite from deflating was the stopper, a little plastic ball that plugs the hole under back pressure. I was reminded of one of the earliest lessons we were taught by the instructor at Action Sports Maui: Always rig your own kite and if you don’t for some reason, double check the rigging before launch. I’d been in such a rush to get out there, I’d forgotten an essential lesson. I was lucky the kite hadn’t deflated when I crashed it way out at sea.

The next day when I related this experience to my buddy Meisy, he laughed and pointed out that when I body drag using the kite to move upwind to retrieve my board, I essentially turn myself into big fishing lure. Thanks Meisy, the image of a shark clamping down on me like a baited line will haunt me every time I lose my board from this day forward.

Stuck in a Moment?

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.I’m feeling that prickly sensation of mild sunburn on my forehead and the backs of my legs. After two weeks out of the water and away from Baja, it’s good to be home. I wasn’t so sure that I’d be feeling this way though. I wasn’t sure I was going to want to come home.

I’ve not only been MIA from this blog for a while, but I’ve been feeling MIA from life a fair bit too. I’ve been struggling, depressed and lonely. I’ve been fighting with the realities of my lifestyle.

I’m pretty sure I can hear you thinking where do I get off feeling this way? Believe me, I’ve been told many times and am usually very aware that I have every reason to be content, that I live a life most people would give a few fingers for. My ex, in his eloquence, is fond of saying I’ve “got it dicked.” And I usually can convince myself that’s true and find a reason to be content, if not outright happy. But there’s something missing and so much of what is obvious from the outside looking in just masks the difficult realities of my lifestyle. To compound the problem, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt any time I feel dissatisfied. Feeling guilty about how I’m feeling does nothing to help the situation.

When I find myself in this place, I do my best not to wallow or let it drag me down into a pit of self-pity. What I do instead is gratefully acknowledge everything I have, eat right, drink less and try to figure out what fundamentally is making me feel like crap so I can fix it. The fix is always one of two things – an attitude adjustment or something external I can change. Typically the former approach is enough to turn things around, but when the depression is the result of too much partying and surfing, and not enough sleep, changing my external circumstances can work wonders. This time though the only cause I could come up with was that I had been living in isolation for eight months and needed to get out. Getting out, however, requires funds, which are in short supply (for now, she optimistically writes), so I turned to my ex who’d been asking me to come help him with a landscaping project on Maui. He’d fly me to Hawaii in exchange for help with his project, some baking and home cooked meals.

The remarkable thing is that as soon as I booked my tickets, I felt better. Instantly. Days before my scheduled departure. I woke up early, enthusiastic for what the day would bring and looking forward to what lay ahead. I thought, “!s that all it takes? Something different to look forward to?”

As the plane took off and banked North in the direction of San Francisco, I felt a elephantine weight lift and my mood shifted skyward with the plane. Less than 24 hours in San Francisco and I started to think, “Maybe I should move to California and get a real job, get involved in some kind of community work…rejoin civilization.” Yeah, I can barely believe it either.

And then, rather than laugh at myself, leave it at that unbelievable thought, and return to my unreal life, I said out loud to three well-connected people, “So if you know anyone who’s looking for someone to house sit, a writer or editor, or anything really, let me know.”

On Maui, I began the process of formulating a plan that would make my new dream come true. I even came up with a way I could have my cake and eat it too. “I’ll get a writing job that only requires that I be in the office periodically.” And there were thoughts of landing a regular house- and animal-sitting gig.

The time on the island went fast. Too fast. I kept thinking up reasons why I should stay longer. “We didn’t accomplish enough on the project.” “I should go to this writing workshop that’s scheduled on the Sunday after I’m supposed leave.” “I didn’t get to have good pizza.” “I really should go see friend X.” But I had responsibilities back home that couldn’t wait and some disturbed weather off the coast of southern Mexico suggested a tropical storm might form sooner rather than later. I kept to the original plan and promised myself I’d return to the City by the Bay this fall or winter.

The flight from Maui to San Francisco, via Portland is not short. I had plenty of time to get caught up on my reading. I’d packed my Kindle in my checked baggage by mistake, so I read the only thing I had handy – Volume 24.3 of The Surfers Journal. And as I read from front to back cover, three quotes in three separate articles resonated with me, revealing a theme that shed light on the source of my dissatisfaction.

It’s easy to feel isolated when you’re no longer part of mainstream life.”

Day after day, no matter how perfect the waves get, there is a feeling of remoteness here, a sense that the rest of the world is moving along, more engaged, more connected, and more interesting.”

I felt a pang of recognition delivered with the pointier end of a stick as I read the last one:

If every day is a holiday, there are no more holidays.”

There they were, hard, sharp, and undeniable on the page – the three main reasons I was feeling down, along with their remedies:

Isolation, remoteness, and monotony versus engaged, connected, and interesting.

I feel, often, like I am on another planet or could be, for all the interaction I have with people. The little bit I have is limited in scope and time. What I’m struggling with, bumping up against, is the need to feel connected, deeply connected, to other members of the human race and to feel engaged in some cause that benefits others. But I’m scared by what that means. Really scared. That ache-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach scared. It’s the changes I’d have to make implied by this realization that scare the living shit out of me. And then I think, “What if this feeling is something that will pass and I end up regretting it for the rest of my life?” After all, we’re talking about walking away from what, for the most part, is a pretty amazing lifestyle. Then I worry that I’m looking in the wrong place for a solution to my dissatisfaction – external conditions. Maybe I just need to “do the work” and everything will turn rosy again. Maybe, just maybe, I’m “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it.” But the memory of the epiphany I had on that plane tells me that’s just wishful thinking. The prospect of leaving this surfers’ paradise is daunting. But if at the other end I find meaning and fulfillment, the choice seems pretty obvious. Nevertheless, I don’t know. I just don’t know. Do you?