Santa Cruz is a beach town, a Northern California college town, a yoga teacher haven. The old hippy vibe never left even though the population has changed over the decades. Trees are there for the hugging, dogs romp in the surf on their very own beach, drum circles hold the heartbeat, fog blankets the mountains. Strawberries, artichokes, brussel sprouts fan out in neat rows from the highway. Old adobes, ranch houses, and the odd yurt mix it up with modern developments, strip malls, and box stores.
It’s a place of paradox. “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” clashes with Starbucks and American Apparel. SUVs, hybrids, motorcycle gangs, skateboard crews, yuppie stroller squads.
One thing that doesn’t change is the ocean, the waves rolling in and the longing to be on a wave feeling absolutely free. I grew up on that bay and learned a healthy fear of the power of the Pacific, rip tides, undertows, jagged rocks, sudden massive waves, and great white sharks. But finally in my 20s, with a trusted guide who had been surfing Cowell Beach for 50 years, I suited up from head to toe, and paddled out into the deep blue.
I love to swim in the ocean, I have dived into many salty waters (all warmer than this part of the Pacific), and felt that singular kind of isolation looking back at land, fully focused on breath and the movement of the ocean, aware of my body alive and moving in this other body of expanse and power, much stronger than me, much greater than me, relentless in its constant change.
But there was something very different about sitting on a surf board, gently rising and falling, feeling the energy of the ocean beneath me rather than on me. It was incredibly peaceful. I felt a deep stillness and feeling of ease. There was a friendliness out there, away from the world on land, a community of joy.
I tried catching a wave numerous times before I finally felt the exhilarating sensation of being carried. I lost the momentum and the wave. I tried again. And again. And again. Suddenly I was on a wave, one foot planted, one knee grounded into the board and I felt a rush. When I tried to stand, I fell. Eyes stinging from the salt water, I heaved myself up onto the board and paddled back wanting more. Finally I managed to plant both feet, knees deeply bent, arms out, going on feel not technique and the wave moved me. My face was one big goofy grin. I rode that small wave all the way to the beach.
Happiness melted every aching muscle.
I struggled and worked and believed and then I let go and allowed the wave to take me to a place of peace and freedom. The little waves didn’t seem so daunting after that. I would have to work harder to deal with anything bigger. One day I might be able enough to ride any wave I meet.
Yoga doesn’t have to be found in a class or in a book. Nature is ready and willing to show us all we need to know if we just listen and feel and make ourselves fully present in the moment.