We’re twenty days into Lent, but for surfers, we’ve been fasting for months. It has seriously been one of the worst winters for California surfers that I can remember. Not only are there no waves, but the anticipated forecast is dismal. It has been flat, and the outlook going forward isn’t getting any better. At least for the next few weeks to come.
And what makes it even more difficult is that winter is when it is supposed to get big. Sure, there are perks to other seasons, like warm water and south swells in summer. Fall brings off shore, Santa Ana winds that make the waves so fun. But winter is what you are usually gearing up for. This is when we get the huge surf that makes you pray before you paddle out.
But not this year. This year, 2-3 foot surf is a blessing. 2-3+ is a day you don’t want to miss. And on those days, it gets pretty cutthroat out there in the water. Everyone is so hungry, and good waves have become so scarce.
Lent provides a unique lens for observing these flat spells. I recently read Jesus’s sermon on the plains in Luke 6. In it he says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
As I walked the familiar path down to Trestles today, I couldn’t help but ponder the application of hunger to the disappointing lack of surf. Provacatively, Jesus is teaching that to go without can somehow lead us into the kingdom. “Blessed are the surfers when the waves are flat…”
The water temps right now are so cold this time of year. But other than that, the conditions were just right. Clean and glassy. No wind. Nobody out. Plenty of room in the lineup to stretch your arms.
I knew it was going to be small so I brought a bigger board with more volume. I like to think of it as hipster/retro, but honestly it is probably more the fact that I’m in my forties than some sort of fashion statement. Somehow, as time has gone by, I’ve slowly become that guy.
After a bit, with a little patience, some fun peaks started to come through. My friend, David, had given me a heads up that there was a bit of bump in the swell, and sure enough, it was better than I had planned. Pretty soon I had picked off a handful of really fun little waves.
And then this guy sitting next to me started paddling up close to me, kind of flexing a bit. Surfers can be like this. If someone else is getting waves, we decide that must be the only place to sit.
As the sets would come in, he’d start paddling around me. That makes my blood boil. All I want to do is burn that guy, to drop in anyway and ‘lovingly’ put him in his place. But to engage like this costs me something deeper. On a soulish level, it robs me of the deepest good. The whole reason I am out there in the first place. I lose my joy.
So I thought to myself, “Blessed are the hungry…”
And I just smiled and let him go. And it wasn’t such a great wave after all. He even missed it. The next wave of the set was better, and now I was in position, and rode it all the way in to the beach.
Paddling back out he looked at me sheepishly and then stared away. I just smiled back. Not a gloating smile at all. Instead, I was just glimpsing a bit of truth.
Another set started to roll in and he waited to see what I would do. I glanced outside, past the coming wave, looked over at him, and said, "there’s another wave behind this. The second wave seems to be better." And it was. And I didn’t paddle for it, but instead gave the guy the nod to go.
And my heart told me ‘thank you.’ Because the whole point of surfing is ruined when I get sucked into grasping and trying to possess. When I keep score, something in me withers.
Hunger isn’t a good condition in itself. And big surf is better than small surf. Objectively. But small waves do present us with a unique invitation. That hunger can drive us either to selfishness or gratitude. And both of those are heart conditions. They have nothing to do with the external world or the size of the swell. And the good life, the blessed life, is always about the heart.
Walking back up the path afterwards, I found myself so thankful. For health, for a moment of pause, for the joy of being in the water and the warm sun peaking out from behind the clouds.
Lent is so counterintuitive. To go without feels like punishing ourselves. But fasting can reveal to us the true state of our hearts. How much we are striving and grasping and desperately trying to control. Fasting gives us a chance to acknowledge these drives, and responsively yield our hearts. And when we do, that is when we experience the good stuff. Like peace and joy. Like deep gratitude. And the realization that all of this is an invitation to something more.