Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Why I have to surf in the Pacific Ocean on boxing day

DANIEL FISHEL/The Globe and Mail

The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

It's Boxing Day on the west coast of Vancouver Island, six degrees under a low grey sky. Big cedars sway. The dog walkers on the beach don't amble the way they did yesterday – they stride, heads bent into the wind, tugging their dogs behind them.

And in case I needed any more reasons to stay indoors, I've picked up the flu somewhere between Calgary and Tofino, and maybe indulged in a bit too much Christmas cheer last night. I'm feverish and my head aches.

Story continues below advertisement

There are only two sorts of people who surf in these conditions: seasoned professionals and tourists from Alberta.

My rented wetsuit is damp and smells like Davy Jones's locker. After several minutes of twisting and stretching and pulling, it's on. I feel kind of cool in it at first – until I catch sight of myself in the mirror. In fact, I look small and thick, a salty licorice baby next to my Twizzler of a husband.

Our three young children watch us silently, eyes wide with a new respect, or maybe concern. I wonder what they'll say about me if something untoward happens out there. "She died doing what she loved, dressed in full-body Spanx …"

Hold on: Do I love this? I can't actually remember what's so great about it. I have only the promise I made to myself last time: "You hafta come back."

As I stand there, overheating the way one does when shrink-wrapped in synthetics, what I do remember is that I am good at forgiving broken promises to myself – downright congratulatory at times. I like to say that life supplies us with enough haftas (how my youngest son, a toddler, pronunces "have to") without my piling on more. And anyway, I remind myself, what you do isn't surfing, it's boogie-boarding – it's just play. Play should never be a hafta.

I'm about to tug off my hood when my eight-year-old daughter fixes me with one of those absorbent looks. She's soaking everything up.

"Mom … you're really going out there?"

Story continues below advertisement

My opportunity for escape evaporates.

A few minutes later, I'm waist-deep in the surf holding my boogie board aloft. My husband strides out to join the real surfers farther out. I watch in awe as one rides the inside of a wave like a cyclist in a velodrome. Such mastery. Such control. I'll never be able to do that. I feel ridiculous.

I spend a lot of time standing around, waiting for the perfect wave. A few good ones come along, but I mistime my leap. I flop onto the board and am carried by nothing more than my own momentum, the crest crashing over my head and racing up the beach without me. Once, I don't jump far enough onto the board. The tip digs into the sand and the end jams up under my ribs, leaving me gasping for air. A dog walker slows down, lingering in case I need help.

Simply staying upright in the powerful swell starts to sap my strength. I can tell that my judgment is weakened by fatigue. I'm too hesitant, I become stingy with my effort, and so I get a little reckless. I throw myself at the next wave that comes along. It crashes over my head with surprising violence. I sputter sand and salt. My feet ache from repeatedly launching myself off the hard-packed sand, and a chill has crept into my legs and around my shoulders. This is no place for a feverish, hung-over housewife from the Prairies, I think: I kept my promise, I came back. So now I can go in.

But then I see it. It's building, building, still green, unbroken. Oh, it's big.

Delight and fear tingle behind my ribs as sand flows out from under my feet. I turn my back and position my board as the wave grabs at my legs, trying to take me up in its swell. I leap.

Story continues below advertisement

The wind is shearing the top off the wave and water drops like steel shavings flitter against my face. I can't see. For a second, I think I've been left behind again. But no. There it is. The lift, from beneath and behind – a surge of power that flattens me out on the board. I've caught the wave. It's caught me.

And I'm struck by a distinctly West Coast, surf-inflected truth: I'm one with the wave; the wave and I are the same, nothing more than a temporary arrangement of atoms and energy held in a particular form for a brief time.

I open my eyes. The surface of the water is dropping away below me. I'm hurled forward, on and on and on, a roar filling my head that blasts away the fever, the headache, the haftas – all the tedious particulars of my existence. I can't hold back a whoop of joy as the shore races up.

The board skims along the sand on the thin layer of water spreading up the beach. Finally, it stops with a lurch and the wave gives me a final rough lick, tumbling me onto my back.

I lie there, laughing, caring not at all for what the dog-walkers think, caring not at all for anything beyond this moment. I roll to my knees and rise, wobbly and grinning, and I promise myself: I hafta come back.

Laura M. Kraemer lives in Calgary.

Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨