Photo by Darlene Connoly

Photo by Darlene Connoly

When i arrive at the area i last saw the spouts, sweating, i stop and float. Silence. Nothing. The anticipation of a sudden startling noise, breaking the silence instantly, of a very large creature surfacing from the depths of the ocean, builds, almost unbearably, like watching a scary movie, waiting for the killer to strike out of the darkness. I brace for it. What seems like an eternity passes and then, finally, i hear it....

Rewind to a few hours earlier.

Its not my day. I seem to have a knack for disappointing people lately. Enjoyment warms me, from the steaming cup of coffee in my hand and looking at that big blue beautiful thing out in front of me, but under it all lies an uncomfortableness, eating at me. I feel like a failure. This is what happens when i don't surf. Its been over a week and this day is dedicated to getting out in the water so i can put the chatter at rest. After feeding and taking care of my dog and myself, and much a-do, its time to go. Board and gear are already loaded because this has been the missed goal of the last few days: Get in the water. A quick stop at the market along the way for a sandwich and coconut water to enjoy in the sun and i'm actually going. I'm actually going to surf! When i arrive, i'm greeted by a band of three other wheelchair users. The brash, potty-mouthed audacity of one of them who is "Sponsored by everyone under the sun" turns me off and i just want to enjoy my lunch in the sun alone, so i politely excuse myself to my wave watching. I remove my shirt, feeling the sun on my back. As i sit and watch, my intent wanes slightly because the howling wind is ripping across the surf. Kite boarders enjoy it, slicing though the chop, drawing white lines that disappear several feet behind them. When the kite boarders are out, its not a good sign, but i still have hope. A ridable wave rolls in every now and then. I ask each surfer, normally a good motivator because the usual responses are things like, "Its better than the parking lot," or "It felt good to get wet," or simply, "Its small but fun." Not the case. This day, i get, "Windy," and "I couldn't get into anything because of the wind," and "It was better earlier." I check the report. Its supposed to get even windier. Normally, i'll go out in any conditions. I always have fun. Being in the ocean is healing no matter what, but i came alone. I would need to amass a force of perfect strangers to help me and i'm just not sure the conditions warrant such an effort when i can easily find an alternate activity i can perform solo. OK asking strangers for help isn't exactly "massing a force", but sometimes it feels like it. This does not bode well for my grumpiness though and, after thirty minutes or so, i retreat.

Paddling with whales a couple years ago. You can see a big one take a look at me.

Back at home, i enjoy another cup of coffee in the sun, watch the morning show for the surf contest in Australia, catch up on emails and trudge through a text conversation with someone who i am disappointing. I decide that a sunset bike ride along the beach is a good alternative, even though my heart aches. I want to be in the ocean. I go through the motions of loading my bike in the car, a task not to be taken lightly and, as i leave the house, my upstairs neighbor yells, "Whales!" from the balcony, "At 9 o'clock," pointing straight out...at 12 o'clock. I laugh, correct her and drive off with a seed planted in my mind to keep an eye on the horizon. Back at the beach, I arrive to a surprise. The wind has stopped. I don't need to watch the surf long before i'm scanning for potential board caddies. Aha! A lifeguard truck sits unexpectingly on the other side of the parking lot. As i approach, i see its not one of the usuals. A young, tanned, good-looking female sits in the driver's seat, scribbling away on a form support by a metal clipboard. "Hey! How do you feel about helping me with my board after i get my suit on?" She's excited to help, we discuss details and i'm rolling back to the car, frothing, not at her, but about the fact that i'm about to surf! I can't get my suit on fast enough, the whole process hindered slightly by the massive mountain bike contraption in my car with me, but i figure it out. Within a few minutes, i'm in the water with my board, thanking the young girl as she walks back up the beach. Thankfulness overwhelms me. The embrace of my Mother, the Ocean, instantly washes everything away. I'm happy. It takes a while for my core muscles to start firing so the paddle out and first couple waves are a little awkward, constantly adjusting my seat and position. I catch a couple waves and its really fun. Small, but clean and lining up well on the reef with the extreme low tide. I see a whale spout about mile out and yell about it. A couple more waves and see more spouts in the same spot. The thought hits me, "I could paddle out there." "No way. Thats way further than it looks and they'll be long gone by the time you get there. Besides your wearing a 4/3. You'll be dying of heat." Over the course of the next 15 minutes or so i see the spouts two more times in the same spot and its on. I'm paddling out into the ocean, into the sunset, chasing whales and i'm happy. I feel at home. As i predicted, the distance turns out to be much further than i thought, but the spouts spurt up every five minutes or so and help me keep my bearings. I'm getting closer.

When i arrive at the area i last saw the spouts, sweating, i stop and float. Silence. Nothing. The anticipation of a sudden startling noise, breaking the silence instantly, of a very large creature surfacing from the depths of the ocean, builds, almost unbearably, like watching a scary movie, waiting for the killer to strike out of the darkness. I brace for it. What seems like an eternity passes and then, finally, i hear it. The sound of a whale's exhale is like music, caressing my troubled brain with softness and wisdom. Its not too close though. Maybe 75 yards away...at 9 o'clock. As my attention focuses on that spot and i start to paddle in that direction, not even 40 yards away, directly in front of me, a juvenile whale launches itself into the air, its entire body except for its flukes out of the water, splashing down sideways, sending various geysers of displaced water 30 feet into the air. Its a baby, but still the length of my apartment. I scream! Then, seconds later, another full breach and another. Four full breaches! They are playing! "Are they showing off for me?" "No way. I'm nothing to them. They don't even know i'm here." And my doubts are silenced. A whale head emerges 25 yards away and stays still. Its one of the larger ones, an adult. She is looking at me. Silence. And then disappears into the dark blue water. I choke down a sob. Thankfulness moving my soul so powerfully, it hurts. I feel loved and trusted. I feel given to. A large pod of small dolphins races through, elegant and graceful. They cruise right by, seeming to take no notice of me. Their breathes and splashes causing me to twist and turn around, trying to see them all. They come close. Almost within touching distance, but i simply admire, now moved to tears. I am so small, but special simply in my being. 

 Photo by Brandon Russel, Minaret Photography

Photo by Brandon Russel, Minaret Photography

After they pass, my thoughts move to the sun, now low on the horizon, and my dwindling time out here. I tell myself i'll wait to see the spouts one more time and then start making my way back. I sit. A straggler dolphin breaks the silence and startles me. After several minutes a tall white spout bursts into the air in the distance. There they are! Further away now and i think about paddling in pursuit, but decide to relinquish the chase. I still want to surf! The return paddle is arduous, especially in the thick warm wetsuit. The swell pushes me in and i work on my paddling technique, stroking hard to stay on the runners, resting between them, stroking hard again to stay on the next one, and i'm brought back to paddling in Hawaii last summer.  I crawl over the kelp bed, inching closer and closer to the surf line. White crests and eventually the red trunks of a paddle boarder begin to take shape. Then one black dot and another. The swells gradually increase in size and power underneath me and i finally find myself back in the lineup, turning around just in time to catch the golden sunset. I imagine my large friends frolicking way out there, as the sky changes hue, and i smile. Anything we do with a heart full of thankfulness, will have an element of grace to it...and i surf my ass off til well after dark. Friends in the lineup stay late to help me out of the water and when i finally get home, i walk my dog, order a pizza, and pass out watching Dumb and Dumber, with a smile on my face, in all my clothes, with all the lights on, into a deep satisfied sleep.