From January 1995-August 1997 I lived on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My job? Art teacher in a little town called Cayon. When I wasn’t teaching, I was doing something outside. It was here that I fell in love with mountain biking, running long distances, swimming in warm waters and pushing my body to extremes.
And while I never learned to really surf, I did learn to boogie board on the same waves as the handful of surfers who lived on the island. Later, in grad school (2005), I used my experience of waiting for a wave for a writing assignment. I played around with possible ways of taking that writing into a book structure. Nothing seemed to work.
So I put it aside, letting the ideas percolate in my brain. For six. long. years.
Then, completely unrelated in 2011 I made a flag book from scrap paste papers, fused plastic and other scrap materials. As I played with it, the movement reminded me of the ocean, waves, swimming and then light bulb, surfing and the writing from 2005.
Here’s the text.
Happiness comes in waves, like corduroy lined up ready to hit the shore.
Sitting on my board, I watch sets of waves lumber towards me. I wait for one with the right drop and a ride across the bay.
Learning the difference between adrenaline pumping, gleeful waves and coral reef dumping, nightmare waves takes practice, courage and faith. The best waves often loom menacingly above as they come off their line in the set.
To get a good ride, I must kick hard at just the right moment, committing to the wave, ready for whatever it offers.
One wave dumps me hard; tossing me between rises. I gasp for air, choking on salt and sea, clawing to the surface scared and suffering, only to be knocked under again, trusting the water torture would end: a set contains a finite number of waves.
But it’s easy to forget this in the midst of the whirling water.
Eventually, the pounding ceases, I breathe deeply and kick back out to the break point to wait for the next round, hoping for a ride to the bay, alive with bumps, thrills, and ecstasy.