Words by Jessy Wills & Photos by Ryan Cheng
Learning to read the ocean is like learning a foreign language, whilst some structure and rules apply each break has its own dialect, it takes time and practice to fit in like a local.
The Big Blue monsters of the sea roll in successively with the force of a prevailing army.
But look closer, these monsters can be playful too.
A force of nature
Howling offshore winds cause fragments of the wave to get left behind in a trail blazing rainbow.
In an instant, turbulent waters are turned to glass. Black reef beneath the surface paints the ocean an emerald green the foaming edges cover the rocks like a veil. The Seaweed glistening like jewels whilst dancing refractions of light pattern the shallows.
Equally how beautiful are rain swept oceans, ripping the water to shreds. The thunder a heavy groan from the heavens, the lightning flashes like a warning, illuminating fault lines in the sky. The rains have come to top up the seas.
How alive do I feel in these moments. Just as the moon pulls on the tides we too are pulled towards the sea.
Swells birthed hundreds of kilometres away, weather systems and an orchestrated collaboration of wind, tide and ocean floor topography work in unison to create the perfect wave.
Perfect if only for a second, it would be enough!
To surf, is to engage in a dance led by the ocean. To follow the tune of the tides in symphony with the swell. How beautiful the melody.
Surfing trips mean days spent with no agenda.
There are those who are the dawn patrollers rising with the dew, who wait eagerly for the return of the light. Others prefer sunset sessions, where the sun kisses the horizon and blesses those who remain with the riches of liquid gold.
To surf is to be exposed to the elements, to be immersed in cold water, fingers unable to clench a fist, teeth chattering- drowning out the sounds of your thoughts. But yet we go. What is this strange allure? All for a moment captured in a second, replayed for a lifetime.
To surf is to flirt precariously with passion and obsession, what a beautiful head spinning blur.
A collective experience
The ocean has an uncanny ability of introducing you to people.
There is something about being washed up together that opens you to shared experience. A shared experience with the saltiest of humans. Sun-bleached hair and sunburnt faces, a zinc smeared tribe ready for battle. Wrinkles etched like channels carved by a river, running as deep as their linage with the ocean.
They wear black suits though they do not belong in an office, travel thousands of miles but always find home. The never ending pursuit of waves, those swell chasers, who share their stories and secret spots- drawn up on mud maps and passed down with the secrecy of a family recipe. Adding to the pages of my story, some stay just for a photograph, others contribute exerts or poems and some even stay to write an entire chapter.
The ocean is the greatest teacher.
It has many lessons, lessons about its nature, its dangers and about yourself. Ultimately we are all at the mercy of the ocean, what it gives can easily be taken away. It has a way of evoking fear amongst the brave and humbling the bold.
I have experienced indescribable heartache in the ocean. Forever marked by the memory of entering the oceans rage to save another, only to lose him through my fingertips – another soul claimed by the sea – a broken family left behind on the beach. Heartbroken because of my life spent dedicated to the water; lifesaving, lifeguarding and swim teaching.
I cursed its depths and vowed never to return – only to find healing here again, a burden lifting from my shoulders in its weightlessness. Left in awe and in reverence of it power. The ocean does not discriminate; age, colour, gender and race are irrelevant in this realm.
A celebration of life
The ocean has the ability to evoke one’s child-like spirit, the spirit we were all given so long ago, the one we covered up with experience, logic and reason. But here it is stirred in a beautiful awaking of imagination, discovery and play.
As a child I would boldly state that when I grew up I wanted to be a mermaid, a tough profession to get into as I now realise, though definitely one worth pursuing.
So take a breath and disappear into an underwater wonderland.
Submerge in a magnification of colour and rhythm. Be held by its hydrostatic pressure and serenaded by its silence. Witness the moving sands, not blown by wind but by current. Be denied of your breath only to become part of the oceans breathing. Defy gravity.
In this world you get to be the bird, soaring beneath the clouds of the crashing waves. For to be here is to escape time.
But regardless of how long they stay, the ocean has a funny way of connecting people, of reminding people of their humanity, the blood in their veins.