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The Passion of the Surfer

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Perspective on Holy Water by Eugenio Volpe

Last week’s swell felt damn good. I surfed four days in a row, four good days. On Saturday, I pulled my hood down for a few waves and kept it down while ducking through some punchy sets. The water hadn’t warmed much north of the Cape. Maybe I was getting ahead of myself, but I wanted that ice-cold sacramental flush. After all, you wouldn’t dress your kid in a neoprene beanie while baptizing them, would you? Okay, so maybe a few of you would, but for me nothing commemorates the coming of spring like the year’s first hoodless immersion. No separation of church and surf needed for this recovering Catholic. I believe in the Atlantic, the ocean almighty, maker of Slater and Hobgoods, for which it stands, indivisible, amen.

I am a devout surfer. I get ascetic and fanatical about it. Christians perform ceremonial feet washings. Hindus bathe in the Ganges to remit their sins. If doing it right, surfing is nothing more than aerobic ablution. Imagine the baptismal font at your local church as a wave pool and then imagine yourself getting tubed inside of that wave pool. That’s how I view the ocean, as one big baptismal font rolling and cresting with swell, preferably from the northeast. This is why I never shower during prolonged swells, especially during the warmer months. The ocean is holy water and I want its salty traces on my skin and in my hair days after the waves have dissipated.

I took an almost Jesus-like beating last weekend. I was dunked and pinned, dragged and tossed. After each surf, I had sand in every orifice despite wearing a hood for the majority of my sessions. By Palm Sunday I felt completely and thoroughly cleansed, sore albeit absolved. During those four days, I didn’t shower once. I didn’t so much as wash my face. I even skipped a few teeth brushings. I was surfing twice a day, three times on Saturday. Why would I want to wash all that divine energy from my body? The salt, the sand, even the urine from my wetsuit are all part of the baptismal blessing. I don’t care what I smell like. So what if the wife won’t come near me. That’s her loss if she so chooses. I’ve got the rhythm of an entire ocean inside of me. My body glows and reeks of it. I like sand and salt in the bed sheets. I like the feel of a sandy wooden floor underfoot. Surfing is a sublimely visceral religion and I like wearing it on my skin. Some people wear crosses around their neck. I like walking around with salty eyebrows.

I will finally shower when a swell has died. They’re my favorite showers to take, a ritual of sorts, celebrating a period of intense devotion and physical sacrifice. I feel dead when there aren’t waves; therefore, showering on the first flat day after a prolonged swell always feels as if I’m preparing for a journey into the underworld where I will rejoin the lost souls of those who don’t surf, the shaved and shampooed hell that most people call life.


0 #1 sam 2011-04-26 23:26
i don't shower

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