Reflections on the joy of cold-water surfing.




There is pure magic when the storm winds begin to blow from that direction. The sky glows and the air smells different. I swear I hear whispers, “maybe, just maybe.” The big old firs in the park near my house start to sway as if they are limbering up for a grand performance; the birds are active with a knowing. A text arrives from my surfing buddy: “bamboo is moving,” and I know it’s time. I feel giddy with excitement; my cells are alive; gratitude flows.

I grew up in the Outback, with the blazing hot sun on my white, freckly, European Heinz-57 skin, far from the ocean and the rain. For a “bushie,” rain equals hope, prosperity, growth, nurturing. My epigenetic markers light up here in the lush green Pacific Northwest when it is pelting down … yes, even after weeks of rain in deep, dark February.

I didn’t always feel like this. The first time I saw surfers out in Tofino I thought they were crazy and/or desperate. I didn’t have to do that to myself; I could wait to get to warmer waters. Back then, I enjoyed surfing—the challenge, the schooling, and the sun-kissed, saltwater cleanse—as a fun novelty, a great way to be in nature. That was all.

But in the end, it was a pinch of desperation, born of returning to the Island after two years immersed in the sea off Taiwan’s east coast, that finally got me into local waters 12 years ago. (Oh, and a great deal on a wetsuit.) Embraced by the Salish Sea with my surfboard as my facilitator, I became entwined with the heart-opening, reconnecting, healing ways of this pacific ancestor.

My surfing intrigue grew; the novelty and the adrenaline rush of the cold-water wave began to draw me in. Then motherhood came and blew everything out of the water. The way I interacted with my world was different: there was a blossoming of beauty, expansiveness, purpose, responsibility, vulnerability. Aspects of my life that used to serve me felt out of sync, a different shade. I realized my internal operating system was calling for a rewiring.

The ocean offered that opportunity. When I sat in the waves, I began to hear her invitation to be in the moment and connect with what feels nurturing, supportive and regenerative. I found myself embracing a wildness born not from risk and adrenaline, but rather from a deep cellular remembrance of origin.

And with it, I began to find more space. Space to be instead of push. To search the softer, gentler peaks, or even just to ride white water. Space to paddle out and sit on my board, letting the wind and rain find their way into my psyche. Space to cry and howl—or giggle and play.

CVC Vol36 Surfing Gallery

My wild ocean reconnection has become a dose of sweet alchemical medicine for my everyday adulting. I love the ritual of it … the preparation, the intention, the anticipation: what will be out there to greet me today? And then the opening up to something far greater than myself; an energetic osmosis occurs out there. The seals, birds, winds, rain, seaweed, and breathtaking views become part of me as I am held by the melodic rocking of the ocean.

At these times, I feel deep gratitude for the living Earth, her original stewards, the path that led me here—and for wetsuit technology. These freaking magic cloaks are mind-blowing! Mine feels like a second skin (my selkie skin), a leotard of possibility. If you’ve ever pondered it, just go get one, along with some good boots and gloves. Then, on a calm winter day, head to the lake or ocean to paddleboard, canoe, or swim.

There have also been many not-so-mystical times, when my face aches from 35-knot lashings from howling wind and rain, and it looks and feels like I have jumped into a cold seaweed soup. My arms tire; my hands become slow, freezing and useless chunks of bone and flesh. I humbly give in: today’s session is over.

Swell surfing is beautifully unpredictable, so when the sweet, sweet golden-unicorn trifecta of swell, tide, and childcare join forces, I feel like I’ve won the lottery or scored front-row seats at the travelling-church revival that just pulled into town. It’s the closest thing to rapture—with a 5/4 wetsuit, gloves, boots, and just the centre of my face peeking out. It’s a buffet of wild remembering for my soul. We indeed are the fruit of the earth. We are related, and in relation, always. There is no separation.