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The Queen of the Sea

Dian Sousa
Robert Scheer

Chairwoman of the Board: Waiting for a new set of waves to roll in, surfing mom Dian Sousa prepares herself to embrace that 'perfect moment.'

The confessions of a surfing mom's quest for the 'perfect moment'

By Dian Sousa

DUSK, SUNDAY NIGHT. Giant apricot sun behind low fog. Clean, glassy three- to four-foot swell. Heaven has arrived. We all move down to the sea, my kids--Martie, Mark, Johnny, Haley--and me. We're a nursery rhyme in the making, a stoked new family, a nuclear, board-swapping tribe, a cheap, pre-approved national holiday. No turkey, no napkins--just silky corduroy sets lining up on the horizon.

Martie, an ex-gymnast and local Twister champion, always gets her wet suit on first, while I'm still showing the surrounding homeowners my butt. Tonight, though, there's no lag. I'm right behind her.

It's almost 5 and the five of us are lined up outside. Happy. Happy. Joy. Joy. The Ren and Stimpy song is stuck in my head. Here we go. The first wave I paddle for is a sweet little waist-high peeler. I catch it and go right. I do the wide, spread-eagle arm pose that's the closest thing I can imagine to flying without wing implants.

Because I am in the ocean and therefore in mystic philosopher mode, I also see the spread eagle as a metaphor for stretching out your arms and feeling what needs to be felt. I feel like screaming, "I am the all-exalted, unparalleled queen of the sea."

I don't, though, because the last time I yelled that, I got sucked over the falls backward and then pounded by a shore break. Ocean-going ego-control lesson No. 1: Never approach the sea with anything but awe and caution. As world champion surfer Tom Curren says, "It plays for keeps." Just say, "Thank you."

If I didn't surf, I'd either be a concealed-weapons expert or a pro bowler--something that engages my naturally playful malevolence or my closet desire to wear ugly pants and knock things down. Fortunately for me and for everyone I come in contact with, I've admitted myself to a strict regime of surfing psychotherapy. Two to five sessions a week of negative-ion bombardment help me work out most of my antisocial instincts.

If it is a particularly great session, I not only become a nicer mother, wife, lover, friend, voter, shopper, pet owner, dishwasher and driver, I also become a humanitarian, a mystic philosopher in love with everything, washing my hair in the cold water of eternity, dropping in quoting Dante: "It is that sea/to which all moves :..."

Of Mercury and Onyx

MARK, MARTIE AND I paddle on the same wave. We're so close together that from shore we must look like some kind of quick-moving neoprene pâté. Mark is on his new 10-foot classic single-fin, so he's up and on the face first. Go right, young man, go right. Martie is on a 9-foot, and I'm on an 8-foot fun shape that I love with all my heart and plan on marrying at the end of December.

Martie noses into the wave before me, so I back out and just watch her. She's fun to watch. Her twisty, gymnast background has helped her to evolve a pointed-toe style that's several cool degrees of difficulty.

At 5 at night, the water is silver on top and dark underneath. Mercury and onyx. The low fog has lifted, the sun is setting and the quality of the light is so holy and mesmerizing it would have made Einstein put down his calculations, paddle out and rethink relativity. For me, everything I do and everything I believe is relative to surfing: Know where you are, don't hesitate. Sometimes you feel like the princess of Makaha, sometimes you feel like a nut.

5:15. Johnny, who surfs like the flowing-haired Christ incarnate walking on the water, snakes me. I am blessed.

5:20. I am still blessed and make the drop into a velvet, chest-high roller. I go left and then turn up the face and go right. I move from blessed to ecstatic. Haley has also caught the wave on the nine-foot Mike Armstrong with the Silver Surfer on the bottom. She goes flying left down the line, strong and smiling like some kind of benevolently
vegan aikido goddess.

5:40. We've all lost count of how many waves we've caught. We're giddy. We decide to swap boards. I get to try Mark's 10-foot cruiser and glide effortlessly onto the shoulder of a stretchy little wave. I stroll around the yacht-sized board and put my arms behind my back in classic long-board pose. I enter into the time zone described by novelist Paul Bowles as "the perfect moment."

6:05. The sun is out of sight. An ash. The perfect moment is making us cold and tired. We're all reciting our end phrases.

"I'm going in after this."

"Just one more wave."

"That was epic."

"You won out there."

"I just saw God."

"I just saw God get barreled."

We come out of the water in a joyous, straggling line, like visionaries coming out of a vast, rollicking cathedral. Maybe that's a bit much, but an excellent session like that, full of camaraderie and perfect little waves, always makes me feel that I've done something amazing, seen something wondrous. It makes me travel deeper than a normal psychotherapist ever could.

Tonight I go in deep and come back with the idea that a great surf session, like a great music session or any other soulful thing a person does, always changes you just a little bit for the better.

Back at the car, Martie already has her wet suit off.

I'm just standing, frigid, in mine, looking at the ocean, trying to remember the rest of the line from Dante: "It is that sea/ to which all move, all that itself creates/and Nature bears through all Eternity."

I see Eternity and say, "Thanks."

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From the Dec. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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