Saturday, September 13, 2008

Be An Island Unto Oneself

Tofino, BC

The Buddha's saying, "Be a lamp unto oneself," is sometimes translated as "Be an Island unto oneself." The pesky arguments over how a single word can be interpreted often muddy the clear water the Buddha was trying to create. Either way, lamp or island, I think the implication is the same. According to the Buddhist canon the Buddha uttered these words on his deathbed when asked by a weeping disciple what all of his followers were to do now that the Enlightened One was dying. The Buddha said, in so many words, Look Bro, I've given you the teaching, it's up to you to go practice it for yourself, the teaching and your own understanding are what you should rely on, not me or anyone else. Got it? I love that. No blind faith. No false prophets. It's your responsibility and it's your ass you've got to worry about.

I guess one of the reasons I'm drawn to individual sports (mountain biking, snow boarding, climbing) is because I like being an Island unto myself. Only I can screw this thing up. No one else to blame. You're on your own bro. Which brings me to the pith of this post: To describe our recent surfing trip to, you guessed it, an island. Vancouver Island to be exact, in the exotic location of Canada.

When Molly and Dave asked us if we wanted to go surfing in Tofino we said, well yeah, of course. I had read about it before and seen some aerial photos so I knew it was a place I wanted to check out. What I didn't realize is how beautiful the place would actually be when we got there. Now mind you, it's no easy place to get to. After loading up the van with the four of us, our gear and a black furry dog we drove north out of Seattle for about 2 1/2 hours into the hinter lands of Canada to the ferry terminal that would put us on a boat across the Georgia Straight and onto Vancouver Island. The ride across is 2 hours. And it is picturesque. Water. Mountains. And a ferry boat that makes Washington State ferries look like the USS Minnow. Once on the island you drive another what? 3 hours? But these three hours are broken up into 1 hour of highway and 2 hours of greenface hairpin dodge-another-pothole welcome to the Canadian Outback screechfest. But again. What beauty! Mountains. Lakes. And nothing nothing nothing else! This was going to be a wilderness experience I began to think, and how yummy was that thought!

Well to speed things along we finally rolled into Tofino (9 hours later) and literally fell out of the van. Edie was jumping up and down, scratching at the door to get out, something Di and I have never seen her do, and she's been on some wild rides with us! What magic there was in this place. Our campsite was up off the beach and tucked back into the trees enough to give us shade but close enough to listen to the breakers and smell the green ocean blowing onshore. Yeah, this was going to be a trip to remember. I knew it the minute I took my first breath.

So to speed it up even faster we took surf lessons on day two from Surf Sisters (yup, Dave and I wore the pink rash guards as only real men could do) and managed to talk a very reluctant Di into joining us. It was a foggy day but we nonetheless had a blast and learned so much from the sisters. We decided to rent boards on days three and four, or was it days four and five? All I know is that we surfed for three days in a row and we all pretty much ended up as posterchilds for BenGay. Here's the rhythm: Get up, eat breakfast, rent boards, go to beach with miles and miles of sandy shores and open breaks, surf, come in and eat lunch, have a beer (from the fridge in the van), surf some more, come in, have a beer, pack up, head back to campsite, have a beer, eat, light fire, have a beer, sleep. Now repeat as many days as you would like and make sure the weather gets nicer each day and the waves bigger each day as you go. Got that image? Yeah that's it...sit back and enjoy.

So this is the part where I connect back to the mystical beginning so as to not appear a total flake. About 5 a.m. on the last day of our surfing I awoke to the loud thud of a wave pounding the beach. Now the reason this woke me was because our campground was located in a small cove protected by two offshore islands so no big waves came into our beach. To get the big stuff we had to go down the road a bit and pick any one of the numerous beaches you want to surf. So this big wave, and two more that followed, popped my eyes wide open as I lay there in the van pondering what must be happening out there if these buggers made into our cove. Well sure enough, the swell had picked up and damn it was on!

As soon as we rolled up to the beach we were going to surf it was apparent that today was going to be different than the last two days. Today we were going to take a pounding and that's all there was to it. So be it. I've played with the beast before and I've taken my licks. Still, I knew what she could do so I was a little nervous I have to admit. Unless you've been rocked by the ocean you may never know true humility. Yes natural disasters will make you bow down to the earth and beg for mercy but we never willfully go out into a natural disaster. They happen and we pray. But to paddle out into something that could smother you like a tick, as if you're man enough to conquer it, and it throws a beatin' on you, well, that's how you learn respect in my book. That's how you come to realize your tiny little insignificance in this thing and that when you go out to tango with the green goddess you are my friend, On your own bro.

Needless to say Dave and I paddled out into the green water past the whitewater and tried our meddle at sliding on water. I will spare you the details. Just know that at one point I was caught in between waves, the biggest I've been in, after being thrashed by the first in the set so strongly that my board leash broke. When I popped back up to the surface I saw the next monster heaving behind me, my board (and my only real escape device should I need one) being pulled away from me, and I knew I had better swim as fast as I could and get to that board before the next wave hit because if not, the board would be taken in and I would be stuck out there struggling to try and get back in to the beach. There are rip currents out there and when the water volume amps up the currents amp up and next thing you know you're a sad ass Gilligan wishing for Skipper to come along and scoop you out. To up the dramatic effect try to picture that when a wave is moving towards the beach it actually sucks the water in front of it back towards itself so anything struggling to get away from it gets stuck in a bad nightmare swim-fast-go-nowhere scenario. This all happens in about 2.3 seconds.

So there he (me) is, wave barreling towards him trying to swim to his board, the merciless beast charging like a bull on meth. He can feel the cool wind the wave pushes in front of itself, he can almost hear it growl. Stop the dramatic soundtrack and cut to complete silence, slow the footage down to slowmo, now watch our perilous character reach the tail of his board just before the wave consumes him, slow down even more to milk this for all it's worth, watch as the wave barrels on and thumps the sandy bottom below as it crashes. The surface of the water where our character was last seen is now a frothy white, turbulent, humanless. And then...and then... cue the trumpets as he resurfaces, board in hand, ego in tatters. If you think it's over it's not. Look behind him as at least three more waves of this size are rolling towards him. Now watch as he shifts into survival mode and just paddles straight for the sand and his beautiful wife who when he finally makes it to the toe-touching point she says to our heroic wave-slayer, "What the hell's going on out there?"

Who could blame her. Picture this dude out there who's just getting clobbered one after another, diving beneath each successive wave, a watery ragdoll and the only thing I can think of to describe the feeling that said dude had at the time was, You're on your own bro.

Dave gets the big wave award as I watched him get up on top of the biggest waves any of us attempted. From my perspective, which was in the whitewater looking back into the waves, I saw him get up onto this beast, almost stand up, and then back off because he knew he was too late. Good decision bro, now here comes the next one. Again he's up on top of it, too late, back off, WHEW! But then my heart sank. And if I wasn't wearing a wetsuit I may have even shat myself. I knew he was too deep, the two previous waves slowly pushed him closer to shore and out of the green water zone and into the whitewater spanking zone. He was definitely headed for a pounding. He's paddling, I'm thinking don't do it, he turns and looks, the wave breaks, he smartly stays down on his board not attempting to stand up, rides out the thrasher (bouncing all the way) then stands up and rides the whitewater like a true champion. 9.3 for tenacity!

Di gets the award for smoothest pop up. Yes, she's surfing. The most aversive one in the group ends up with the biggest smile and coolest style. I've got pics to prove it.

I saw Molly popping up on day one so she gets The Natural award. By day three we were all pretty worked and I was contemplating not surfing at all due to a bruised rib from day one. Molly's back was tweaked so she rightly sat out day three. As I sit here now half-sneezing, yes HALF-sneezing because the pain in my rib won't allow me to consummate the blow (think of all that pleasure being taken from you just right before it happens because the pain in your ribcage stops you from going full bore), I'm beginning to think maybe I should have followed the example of the smart one in the bunch and watched from the sand that last day. Nah. I wouldn't change it for the world. Pain and all. I'd paddle out right now if I could. And afterwards I'd stand overlooking the harbor of Tofino and look out into the island-filled inlet, the snowy mountains behind, the Pacific Northwest Native American art painted on the sides of the buildings, the float planes tied to the docks, the surfer girl who rode her bike every morning down the bike path in her wetsuit with her surfboard strapped to her bike, the seals, the whales, crackers and cheese on the beach, wetsuits hanging between two towering Doug Firs....ahhhh Tofino. You are an island unto yourself.

J. Jason Graff

Learning to surf
Yeah, that's "I don't want to do this" Diana there. Look at that form. Eddie would be proud. And that wave? Ouch!

Jason catching a wave in Tofino
This is known as "Fighting Monkey Stance." It's advanced. Don't try it.

watching the sunset
After a long day of surfing a Pacific sunset would make anyone smile!

Molly and Dave watching me try to surf
Classic pre-paddle out recon operation here folks. Should he go? What Would Eddie Do?

Tofino, BC
Bears? Where?

Big Boards!
One happy family.

Molly and starfish
Molly's got dinner covered.

Sobo's in Tofino, BC
On second thought, maybe we'll go out to eat. Now this is the life!

sunset by camp
Our cove.

Tofino, BC
Tofino harbor.


Location: Tofino, BC.
Travel time: 9 hour day from Seattle
Stoke Scale: Full On.
Overall Take: Paradise.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantabulous! I laughed, I cried, I wished I had a cold one in my hand. Sorry to hear about the rib. Nothing worse than be cheated out of the blissful relief that is a sneeze. I'm not sure surfing anywhere else in the NW will ever be able to compare. Until next time, we'll have to make do with our home waters.

Chewy said...

And to think that while all this was happening, I was sleeping at your bay window, thinking that Sasquatch was peering in on me from your backyard, while Bodhi the Midnight Ninja punished his cat toys much like the waves were punishing all of you.

maryharrison57 said...

This is totally incorrect posting on Buddha's teachings. Absolute rubbish. We are dependent on something else for our existence, all light connected to the one source. You have a cheek to distort Buddha's teachings like that, total lack of understanding. Have you ever read his teachings? I suggest you do, if you can understand them.

J and Di said...

Well actually Mary, I've been studying/practicing the dharma for about 13 years. I'm quite familiar with the Buddha's teaching.

From the tone and content of your post it sounds as though you have a Hindu-influenced view of the Buddha's teaching...let me guess...Tantra?

Been there, done that. Once I started studying the Buddhist canon, as preserved in Pali, I realized that much of what the Buddha taught has been distorted throughout its history.

Your reference to reliance on some sort of "light" leads me use a Christian reference as advice to you: Let those without sin cast the first stone.

Your judgmental attitude and accusatorial tone lead me to think you need to practice more. Maybe start to study some of the Pali canon. But really, just practice more. Try to investigate what it is inside you that moves you to post on blogs accusing people of not knowing the Buddha's teachings. Here's a hint: It has to do with ego, pugilism, and our need for recognition.

Good luck!

Jason