Monday, October 9, 2006

Environment: dancing on brink of the world

This is an extract from Why Lawyers Should Surf co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Further extracts can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

‘Time and tide wait for no man’ as the saying goes. First ascribed to Chaucer, the word tide meant ‘time’ in those days. However, today it applies equally to the ebb and flow of the sea and resonates powerfully in these times of environmental need. The consequences of the damage and the rise of the sea flow as inevitably as the tide and all we can hope is that the world reacts in time.

Surfers’ connection with the environment comes primarily from the fact that they spend so many hours staring out on its vastness. Contemplating its forces. Harnessing its power. As Matt Warshaw says in Maverick’s: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing, “Surfing expresses ... a pure yearning for visceral, physical contact with the natural world.” However, perhaps it’s something more than this. Taking a perspective from a breaking wave. In geometry, mathematicians describe a straight line which touches the edge of a curve at a particular point as a tangent. Perhaps the surfboard is the tangent on the edge of the world. In Caught Inside, Daniel Daune talks about the Ohlone, the indigenous people of Northern California who have lived in California for over 1,500 years and quotes a line from their which has survived and which he says, “makes perfect sense to me as I surf here before so much space: dancing on the brink of the world.”

Dancing on the brink of the world. The surfer as the point of intersection between the world and the tangent line of the surfboard. The surfer balancing on the top of the world. Surveying all before him. Perhaps there is even more. Surfers not only standing on top of the world but also at the intersection of the land and the sea as well as that between the sea and the sky. In That Oceanic Feeling, Fiona Capp said that she was “Entranced by that mythical line where the sea meets the sky, Tennyson’s Ulysses regarded all experience as ‘an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move’.”

Surfers standing at the intersection of the world. The portal or meeting place of nature’s forces. Maybe it’s all or none of these things. Whatever it is, there’s an essence which continues to elude just as when we grasp at the ocean we are left only with its salty residue. Yet for all that we may romanticize nature, we must never forget its dangers, increasingly evident in the environmental disasters which are hitting our planet. In Cannery Row, John Steinbeck points to the dangers of turning a blind eye to nature’s primeval forces, “Here a crab tears a leg from his brother…Then the creeping murderer the octopus, steals out, slowly, softly, moving like a gray mist, pretending to be a bit of weed, now a rock, now a lump of decaying meat while its evil goat eyes watch coldly.”

It is the shadow to the light. A reminder of nature’s harsh realities. Just as the crab tears the leg in the microcosm of the ocean so a hurricane can tear away a city. It is something which can affect us all and for which we are all responsible. Not just a problem which others need to solve. Surfers as much as anyone else. They drive many miles to the ocean, often in large vans or with a board on their roof adding to their carbon footprint. They fly all over the world in search of waves and when they get there they put on wetsuits and paddle out on boards which cannot be recycled.

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