Thankful For Starvation

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Together we sit, united we stall. Photo: Brent Bielmann

Have you ever purposefully starved yourself leading up to Thanksgiving dinner? Reasoning that the hungrier you are, the more you’ll be appreciate the food? The turkey juicier, the cranberry sauce sweeter? I did this a few times. It worked.

Earlier this year I experienced a similar phenomenon, although this time, with surfing. Faced with one of life’s two-wave hold downs, I pulled the ripcord and floated up to Oregon to clear my head. Not on-the-coast Oregon, which can be epic, but to Bend. (Which is also epic, but it’s three and a half hours from the ocean.)

“Why Bend?” Everyone asked. “It’s so far from surf.”

My response was as canned as a post-heat interview. “It’s cheap, I’ve got some great friends up there, I’ll be traveling plenty for the mag, anyway, so I’ll still surf a bunch.” This is how I justified the conscious, unnecessary decision to become anorexic. Surfing-wise, of course. I ate plenty during this time.

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Gut check. Photo: Brent Bielmann

At first it was strange. I felt turned around without an ocean to orient me to north, south, east and west. It was weird to not check the forecast each night, like I was forgetting to brush my teeth or something. And I missed not having a couple waves to start, end or disrupt my day. Still, it didn’t take long for me to habituate to landlocked living and find other diversions. I hiked. I snowboarded. I did a lot of yoga and even goofed around on the river wave, which, as the local river-surf fanatic told me, was like methadone compared to the ocean’s heroin. I was doing fine. Recovering.

Then I needed to go to Portland and figured I’d parlay it into a trip to the coast.

“Forecast looks pretty shitty,” my friend told me. But once I had it in my head to “just get wet,” there was no turning back. So it was over the mountains and through the woods to terrible waves I go. I found the parking lot. Suited up without looking. Ran down the trail, under the canopy of mossy pines, across the river until I reached the sand. And there it was. The ocean. The big, beautiful Pacific, and the waves were indeed very shitty.

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Jeffrey’s Bay — certainly what Taylor Paul would have loved to find down the Oregon trail. Unfortunately it wasn’t so. Photo: Brent Bielmann

I sprinted to the north end of the beach, past beach walkers wearing rain boots, and jumped in, stroking toward the overhead, messy lineup. I paddled slowly, loving the sensation of pulling the water to propel myself forward. My dormant paddling muscles woke up and celebrated, moving faster and faster. Each duckdive felt like the rush of cool air leaving a Bikram class. I noticed and appreciated every little detail that I normally overlooked in the water. When I finally caught a wave, a double-up right that had a couple of rippable sections, I “blew” the whole thing, roller-coastering up and down its face, just feeling my speed. It was the funnest shit ever. And while I may have been “doing fine” in Bend, it was just that — fine. This, this here was living.

I lasted five months in Oregon. During that time I used some magazine trips and a few more strikes to the coast as appetizers, then moved to San Francisco just in time for dinner. Just in time for fall.

Today is Thanksgiving and in addition to health, family, friends and pumpkin pie, this is a reminder to be grateful for living close to surf. If you can jump in the water today, you should probably do that, and make an effort to pay attention. Don’t just stuff your face with waves. Look around. Savor each stroke, relish every duckdive. Be thankful. And for those who are starving right now — landlocked or working or bogged down with school or injury — know that when you’re fed again, when you get back in the ocean, that your hunger will make each moment taste better than it ever has before.

Until then, eat turkey and watch some football.

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Watching the Pipeline cam is another great way to spend your dry-time. Photo: Brent Bielmann