My Religious Education

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Surfers Paradise, Australia
By Kevin Foley

Surfing. To some it’s a passion, to others a religion. To call it a sport is an insult, a sacrilege, and a defamation of a culture, for it is all about passion. It is a lifestyle, a society with its own language, rules, way of dress, and a highly sought after, laidback way of living. It’s a way of life that has been popularized in countless movies and TV shows and is frequently imitated by hoards of youth around the world. Yet it’s just that: an imitation, a simple façade of the true religion and lifestyle. A reproduction that is about being seen, about fashionable board shorts bought at expensive ‘surf shops’, long haircuts, and strategically placed slang words like ‘dude’ and ‘bro’. No, the real society is not about publicity. Rather it’s secretive, territorial, reluctant to allow new members into its ranks, and protects its stretch of surf with vigor and fanaticism. Their passion is to ride the waves for hours each day and the single ambition of any surfing purest is to find that one perfect wave.

My introduction to this exclusive society began bright and early this morning as I rose at the break of dawn, excited to embark on my religious education. Had the surfing gods been alerted that I was coming? Are they brewing up gentle waves to cradle me to the shore? Will they grant me just one sweet ride? Am I offending them by wearing these cheap board shorts that I bought at a discount store? As the surf bus rumbled up to the beach, it deposited its victims next to a stack of obnoxiously large and thankfully padded long boards. Mine was red, an appropriate color that undeniably announced to the surfing world that I was unfit for the waves, an outcast of their society, a plague from the inland, a free target should I, surfing gods forbid, so carelessly drift into their territory.

After being assigned our scarlet letter boards, each of us was handed a well-worn rash vest, which would give us some protection if… rather when a wave drove us mercilessly into the ocean floor and relentlessly dragged our unworthy sack of bones back to the shore where we belonged. The only advice we were given after our sand-eating fate was revealed was to hold our breath for at least 10 seconds as our body gets ‘tumbled about’ and we can make our way to the surface. Oh, and we might want to cover our heads so we don’t get hit by another surfer or get ‘sliced’ by the fin of their board. Any questions? Ummm? Great, grab your boards and head down to the beach. Ummm?

Before putting our life in peril, the surf company likes to sit you on the beach and do a ‘dry run’ so that you know what it looks like in the event ‘you are lucky enough to actually make it up on a board.’ After practicing our apparently unneeded skills for an excessive 3 minutes, we all felt ready to take it to the waves. Bring it on surfing gods! Unfortunately, as I was so painfully about to find out, I went into this lacking knowledge of some rather important surfing rules… example: the ‘don’t challenge the surfing gods’ rule. I paid dearly for that blunder.

For the first half an hour we struggled against crosscurrents and punishing waves. It was the proverbial three steps forward, two step back process and it exhausted us to the point of near submission. But we weren’t ready to surrender so easily. We battled back and took satisfaction in the half dozen rides we were able to eek out – albeit rides we took laying flat on our stomachs. After a half an hour, our sadistic ‘instructors’ directed us back to the beach for our second 3-minute review of the unachievable stand-up technique. Now that we really understood the technique that most of us would never use, we all felt remarkably confident to use it on the fast moving and unsteady liquid punishment that was currently devouring another group of hapless newbies right in front of our eyes. We got skills now, baby!

Back in the pounding surf we again pushed our now rubbery muscles to their limits, desperately searching for that single two or three second ride. Fall after fall, mouth full after mouthful of salt water, semi-ride and semi-ride, we pushed forward until that moment of sweet victory. Up I went into a partial and steadying crouch, the balancing stance required before I could proceed to the blessed stand-up step… and my induction into the community of surfers. With a deliberate and overly excited release, I jumped to my feet and assumed, if I do say so myself, a perfect surfing stance. One second, I think I got it. Two seconds, hey look at me, I’m still going. Three seconds, Wahoo, I’m a surfer… who’s better than me? Four seconds, tip of board dips and face is heading toward the water at an unhealthy rate of speed. Five seconds, face is taking brunt of punishment from ocean floor, while eyes are noticing that the feet next to my head are at an unusual position. Six seconds, which way is up? Seven seconds, must find surface. Eight seconds, hands break through surface. Nine seconds, head finds air, as well as a mouth full of seawater. Ten seconds, a celebratory cheer from my fellow religious trainees. Eleven seconds, I made it! I’m a surfer!

Today the surfing gods looked kindly on me. While I wasn’t invited to join the waves out on the break, nor can I profess to being enlightened to the surfing religion, in my heart and in my own mind I am a surfer – a really, really bad one, but a surfer none the less

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