On weekend mornings, I often wake up before my husband. We sleep with the windows open, and I lay still and listen to cars driving by on the busy city road. Rubber tires hum on the black asphalt, wet with morning dew or an all-night rain. The sound escalates as the car approaches and then fades away. I close my eyes and pretend the humming is ocean waves, building up into blue mountains and then fizzling apart into bouncing bubbles, lulling me back to sleep.
In Hawaii, the waves kept me awake, crashing against a sea wall made of black lava rock right outside our window. It wasn’t a gentle, soothing sound. It was a violent explosion as walls of water slammed against concrete. It was relentless, like bombs dropping from the sky evenly, one right after another, destroying everything. I wore earplugs to subdue the merciless onslaught.
At all hours of the day, there were surfers out in the water, attempting to harness a wave’s power for a 10-second thrill ride. They laid flat, bellies on boards, waiting for the perfect combination of speed and height. They’d dunk under waves that were too big or bob over the top of waves that were too small. I often wondered how they could tell one wave from the next, how they knew which ones they could ride and which they couldn’t. But then the right one arrived, and they paddled with their arms to get on top of it, pushing themselves up so they stood on their board, letting the crest of the wave take them as far as they wanted to go, then falling into the sea and letting the wave continue on to crash against the rocks and splash up into the sky.
When I was young, I would play with the waves as if they were friends. They’d crash against my legs and my stomach, splash my face with cold water, and I’d gasp and giggle. I’d act the part of the sea wall, attempting to hold my ground as a wave rolled in, letting it knock me over back into the lake. And I would do an underwater dance as my arms and legs floated uncontrollably in the undertow, only to plant my feet in the soft sand below and rise out of the water, ready to face the next one. After hours of wrestling the water, I’d crawl out onto the beach and collapse on my towel, completely exhilarated and exhausted.
Photo from Stephane Lacasa