Gulled

I had come down to the shore to reflect on the past, and the impossible task that lay before me.

I AWAKENED EARLY that morning well before sunrise to an impromptu orchestra of chimes as a gale wind blew through the sailboat riggings of the many vessels moored behind our home. Sandpipers scattered, deftly evading incoming breakers, while feeding on tiny edible crustaceans and organic sediment exposed by the receding tide. Miniature geysers of seawater fountained, as mollusks buried beneath the saturated sand quickly retracted their periscopic mouths, startled by the feeding birds. Tiny tracks checkered the damp white sand, the remains of a diversity of nocturnal scavengers.

All this I took in easily at a glance from where our home, built on a rocky cliff-face, overlooked the deep emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico in a dazzling panoramic view. Inhaling deeply, I yawned and stretched, assailed by the sharp clean smell of salt and fresh air. Later, once the sun climbed higher, the acrid stench of hot creosote oil, used to waterproof the docks, would overpower the balmy scent. Hues of pink and orange had just begun to creep above the horizon making a brilliant contrast against the blue-green sea as I padded softly on bare feet to a stone path leading to the shoreline several feet below.

I recalled when I was much younger how my knees once felt weak and my head swam when I, led by my father, first descended the treacherous pathway. I had long ago mastered any such phobia and hopped briskly down the wet-slicked stones to the embankment below. The foraging water fowl barely took notice of me, reassured by my unobtrusive presence far from the water’s edge and my familiar form.

While silently pondering the Gulf’s mysteries, I absentmindedly scratched at one of the various parasitic insects, commonly referred to as “no-seeums,” thinking to dine freely on the exposed flesh of one of my legs. Skin hardened by prolonged exposure to the sun; I had long ago become accustomed to both the voracious pests and the sting of wind blown sand on my bare skin.I was born in our home here on the Gulf coast and have spent many early mornings on the bank studying the wind, air currents, and observing the many experienced sailors and windsurfers. I carefully scrutinized every subtle detail as I knew the day would come when I, unguided and unsupervised, would get my opportunity to master the wind. I yearned to feel the rush of the water underneath me as I rippped past, propelled by powerful wind currents. I wanted to explore the Gulf and unknown waters beyond, using my knowledge of the wind and sea, as my father and grandfather did.

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I had come down to the shore to reflect on the past, and the impossible task that lay before me. Like many of my friends and neighbors living on the coast, I had aspirations of one day becoming a champion “windsurfer”. My parents are both avid windsurfers. My father is still a professional windsurfer and spends several hours everyday out of sight somewhere performing aerials and achieving speeds that I only dreamed of. I smiled proudly as I recalled my father boasting of how effortlessly he ripped past legendary windsurfer Robby Naish and 3X Olympic Champion Michael “Gebi” Gebhardt at their top speeds. My father has sailed and soared on the winds and seas from the legendary crystalline turquoise waters of Aruba to the reputedly picturesque serenity of Kanaha Beach.

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Tethered in their slips like corralled thoroughbreds, boats rocked on the wake of passing yachts. Momentarily lost in thought, I stared blankly, eyes glazed, at the sun rising in the east. The wind had picked up to driving gusts where only the brave, experienced or foolhardy dared to pull anchor, set sail or cast off.

My eldest brother was among the many who had perished here; bodies, boards and boats battered on the gnashing teeth of the hundreds of half submerged wooden dock supports. Survivors claimed their last conscious memory, as they struggled to keep their heads above water, was of the docks’ barnacle and creosote oil lathered supports resembling the encrusted gnarled fangs in the gaping maw of some fabled sea creature. Water snapped and champed as it surged and retreated, exposing blackened decaying gums and jagged canines. Against the straining pilings, the roar of the pounding surf boomed like thunder and echoed in their ears.

Our home and my neighbors’, though resting high up on an immense cliff-face, were wedged between two of the innumerable high-rise condominiums cluttering the shoreline. Consequently, an absurd number of vast boardwalks, boat slips, quays and jetties were erected to accommodate their mahogany and gold trimmed yachts, triple-decked charter crafts and “modest” commercial fishing boats. The infamous pier was commonly referred to as the biblical “Jonah’s Whale” by many of the natives.

Inexperienced and novice seamen, sailors and recreational boaters soon learned the damage caused by merely brushing up against the razor sharp barnacles and scalding creosote covering the half submerged pilings. Deep black gouges ran from bow to stern on almost every hull or keel, bearing the jagged scars of “Jonah’s bite.”

Utterly bleached of all color by the sun, a soda can skipped across the sand, thunking against a piece of aging driftwood before coming to rest several yards away. The many seacraft berthed in the harbor behind our home now more closely resembled enraged leviathans, thrashing wildly, seeking to burst their restraints. A lone raccoon, in the guise of a robber, masked in black, fleeing the storm’s wrath, scampered from under an overturned dinghy, blackberries staining its muzzle. Seeking refuge, it darted between several parked cars in an adjoining lot and disappeared under some brush and pine growing much farther from shore.The loud “clang-clang” of mast riggings and creaking mooring lines had become the overriding sound on the beach. The shallows, normally teeming with aquatic life, had become a churning froth choked with flotsam. Tall marsh reeds and various emergent plants lay bent almost parallel to the ground driven by Poseidon’s might. It seems I would surely not lack momentum or speed if I properly harnessed the brutal 40 knot winds preceding the obviously encroaching storm surge.

I persevered for many hours everyday first paddling and later working to improve both my balance and buoyancy close to the waters’ edge, carefully avoiding the blackened dock supports. Balance training soon became an obsession in my practice, as it is with all beginning windsurfers; it is literally the first step mastered to become a windsurfer.

Footing is precarious at best as the only entryway to the shallows is by descending cement boat ramps covered in slick algae and beds of knife-edged oyster carapaces which flourish on the warm salty waters of the sound. I quickly learned to maneuver in and around the unforgiving wharf and costly seacraft by implementing a basic carving jibe.

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Stately palms growing close to the shore swayed ominously, fronds rustling, foreshadowing much higher velocity winds to come. Normally elusive, a painted turtle, sunning on a half submerged log, arched its red and yellow striped head in curiosity at my presence before quickly plunging under water. Ever-growing ringlets soon engulfed a growing torrent of foamy chop.

Windsurfing has become much more than a sport or a hobby for me. It is a lifestyle, a spiritual state of mind and to me, exemplifies freedom. It is much more than merely sailing; it is a test of one’s harmony of mind and body—a challenge between muscle, mind and sinew against wind, water and nature’s forces.

In anticipation of the days’ test, I cautiously ascended the steep incline to my home far above with a sense of foreboding. As I scaled the stone pathway worn smooth by the abrasive action of decades of wind-blown sand, I mentally reenacted the lessons preparing me for this day.

Reaching the pinnacle, I hesitated but a moment to glance behind uncertainty and was awed by the violence of the sea. Small whitecaps had become turbulent rolling swells several feet high from trough to crest. There was a distant mutter of thunder borne on the rising breeze. Swirling eddies and swift moving currents swirled in and around the many vessels striving to escape their lashings. If I was to fulfill my ambition’s desire today, I decided it had better be attempted hastily.

I stood on the precipice at the rear of the only home that I had ever known, fearlessly “hanging ten” on the ledge. Toes grasping the brink, I leaned out, and felt the absolute emptiness far below, the tremendous strength of the wind easily supporting my balance. I realized my life could change right here by no more than a shift in the wind’s direction or by a simple momentary lapse of self–confidence. I was overcome by a kind of euphoria; the whistle of the wind echoing in my ears, body held rigid and leaning forward slightly, taut limbs outstretched pointed away from my torso. Suddenly, I felt compelled to test my training in balance to the utmost.Thunder growled and rumbled in the distance, as if heralding the invasion of an armed force rather than the onslaught of massive cumulonimbus clouds which enshrouded the coast and blanketed everything in darkness. Once serene and peaceful with calm friendly waters only moments before, now seething liquid chaos was driven by the storm’s prevailing winds. Rhythmic breakers lapping the shore were replaced by hammering surf biting deep into the mist veiled coastline.

Breath held between clenched jaws, I eased one foot forward, leg held inflexibly before me. The enchanting song of the storm beckoned me, luring me forward perilously. There was another crack of lightning; and then the rain came. In a blinding sheet, mingled with hail, it drove against the cliff, bitter cold. Eyes downcast from the deluge, I was startled by sudden complete and utter blackness as the harbor and marina’s electricity winked out, extinguished by the iron fist of the storm. Off-balanced by the shock, my foothold lost on the rain slicked stone, I felt absolute nothingness unfold beneath me.

Free-falling rapidly, my eyes watering and vision blurring from the rush of wind against my face, I flapped my limbs frantically, “Jonah’s” slavering jaws drooling with greed beneath me. Two great burning orbs [really battery operated emergency guide lights] scowled at me menacingly from the monstrous grin.

Quickly gaining my composure, I locked my body in a horizontal position desperately trying to slow my downward momentum. Extending my limbs as far as possible and pumping them with all my strength I knew that my time had come to finally become a surfer of the wind. It is what I have waited for all my life; an accomplishment that I would either be successful at or perish in the attempt. It is the day I had looked forward to all through my youth—my indoctrination into adulthood.

Concentrating intently on my father’s instructions, I rotated my body so that I descended head foremost. Plummeting headlong, swallowing the taste of terror welling up like bile in my throat, I knew it was now or never. Once again I extended my limbs from my sides and tucked my head—chin tight against my chest. I felt the wind catch my downy arms and gradually quell my descent. I began to realize what to do and soon adjusted my body position until I was no longer falling but actually gliding away from the shoreline and out over the open water. I no longer feared becoming another morsel to be quickly swallowed and forgotten by “Jonah’s” gluttonous cravings. I had done it! I was surfing the wind!

I had accomplished what many die in the trying, I had become a windsurfer. No longer a fledgling, I had breached the bounds of our safe little nest and achieved maturity.Wings extended, soaring aloft on powerful air currents, I surfed the wind far above the storm’s rage. Below a brown pelican sat perched on a channel marker, blinking from sight and then again visible, riding huge swells.

I surf the wind now on the mighty wings of an adult Herring Gull and have mastered the forces of the Gulf. I shall instruct my children, as my father did me, to live in peace with its creatures and the environment while experiencing the joy of surfing the wind…


Gavin Grow is a windsurfer becalmed by a motorcycle accident ten years ago. This is his second essay which follows his first moving and personal account of a “Beached” windsurfer in Vol 5 Issue 5. The following is the latest communication between the emerging writer and the publisher of American Windsurfer Magazine. We share this personal exchange with the approval of Gavin as a statement of compassion. We also hoped to update those readers who were so moved by the original story of this fellow windseeker.


 

From: “Gavin” <gavingro@gulfsurf.infi.net>
To: <sacredridgejc@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999 19:22:57 -0500american_windsurfer_6.3_contributor_Gavin

Dear john, I wanted to let you know what I have been unable to bring myself to admit to you for some time. Kathleen has left me for over a month and a half now. Not out of anger but she explained my health problems, daily care, financial difficulties and isolation are just too much for her to endure indefinitely. I have been literally sick over this and the heartache is just truly unbearable. I don’t believe I will ever fill the void. She was everything to me. Long after the echo of the wind and waves fade from my mind, the smell of her hair and skin will pervade my subconscious. Love fills the heart but its loss drains the soul. I have been in hell but I am beginning to struggle ashore. My new number 850-457-2478. I had such big plans amigo. I am going to immerse myself into reading and writing. I will, once begun, write several articles for you to choose from because I don’t want you to ever print any story of mine out of kindness. I am going to truly devote myself to the composition of something great. Your fan and friend in FL, Gavin


 

Dear Gavin, My heart and soul dropped to the floor when I read your note. Our struggles in life has a way of intensifying doesn’t it? I’m so very sorry that on top of everything else, the love of your life, your companion, your bridge to the outside world has crumbled. But again I see you rise above the ashes and have found the strength to endure and be renewed. I am encouraged that you do see the shore. But I am sorry that you held the sadness to yourself and had not shared with me those early moments.

You must continue to let her go in your mind. Let her fly away like a bird with liberated wings. Love her more than ever now and give thanks to the many years she has given you. Bless her for her new found freedom. It is we who can endure such a loss and dark loneliness who will eventualy find a worthy song. I admire you so very much, and for your courageous silence. You fly higher than anyone I know. The light shines so brightly in you for such a dark fate. My soul cries for you and my heart hears a tune that I know is so rarely found. It is a privelidge to know you and to be moved by the loss of your cherished companion. Your windsurfing friend. John

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by Gavin Grow

Gavin Grow is a windsurfer becalmed by a motorcycle accident ten years ago. This is his second essay which follows his first moving and personal account of a “Beached” windsurfer in Vol 5 Issue 5.

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