The Lonely Swim

In a different time, I had the good fortune to live on the bountiful coast of the Central Americas. The shoreline only dotted with mild human interventions, breathed with lush vegetation and its ecological counterparts. I would often wake to the guttural howler monkey and sleep to the torrential rains. Just prior to leaving I had the fortunate experience of bodysurfing, so in addition to buying a second-hand board I had brought a pair of V-5s with me.

In front of the house there was a fine beach break. I would walk down the path to the Ocean being careful not to step on debris which had washed ashore from some other town up current. The water would always greet me with warm embrace and beyond the meeting of scruffy dog-packs I would enter unnoticed. In the water I could turn and look back at a wild coast that would swallow the pitiful buildings to disrepair without so much a decade’s hesitation should we leave them to their own path. In this place I was alone. Forced to battle with my own short comings and lose my ego in each passing wave.

Through the intense feelings of happiness my mind would be tugged back to the alarms of my past. Growing up on the east coast, my mother held the Ocean in high esteem for beauty, but just below her awe lay a well of fear. “Not so far out!” she would call as we waded into the cold water. She did her best to mask the tinge of panic from seeing her babies swept out to sea in her mind’s eye, but you could hear the bone-deep concern in her voice. In these forgiving, warm waters I had no need to fear a watery conveyor belt to Japan. Instead my programmed alarm could indeed find dark shapes and sharp tips of fins everywhere. The few local surfers I had met were fond of telling me the times they’ve swam with the local, ill-tempered croc. The fresh water estuary would surge to meet the sea not 100 yards away from my wave. They also knew which sharks were patrolling and which of those would feed on human. After all, I was alone.

Regular feuds with my insecurities, Of course there are sharks, there’s always been sharks. Why did I care now? If there was another surfer here, I’d not so much as wander into that dizzying reality. In truth, another surfer would very likely be an insignificant element in a shark attack story. The rational mind is my only defense to the aggressive emotional reactive. These beautiful vulnerabilities push me to a deeper acceptance. To be alone is to be alive. If the tiburón comes, it would have always come and it is always answered alone.

There are a numbered, few trials which challenge the mind and gut of a bodysurfer like swimming absolutely alone. We very often pod together, being that we have to fight for waves among crowded line-ups with surf-craft dominating the wave count. However joyous our swims together may be, it is the lonesome encounters with the Ocean that leave a lasting imprint on our nature.