Why I Pray Before I Paddle Out (and why I won’t surf on a holiday again)

I’ve had lots of close calls before, but finally, after 10 years of surfing, I got ran over.

It was a beautiful Monday, a holiday, President’s Day. A summer-like day in winter with an overhead-sized swell.

I should have listened to my intuition, which told me the lineup was too crowded. But the water looked so inviting.

Merely ten minutes after paddling out and catching my first wave, I found myself caught inside, scrambling to get past the break.

A 7-foot peak was forming in the middle section. A longboarder lined up for a right that would seemingly take him for a nice long ride, but at the last second the wave walled up. The longboarder wasn’t skilled enough to make it down the line, so instead he dropped in straight down, barely angling his nose at all. I attempted to paddle to his inside, as surf etiquette calls for.

With the longboarder headed straight for me, the only thing I could do was duck dive and pray, which I did. I asked God to keep me safe and not get hurt. I always pray for my safety before each session. Can’t hurt to do that, I figure. I truly do believe in a divine universal energy.

God, or what others might call, The Force, listened. But I also forgot to pray for my board, which seems silly anyway, to ask the incomprehensible, all-encompassing, creative energy of the universe to keep my toxic, polyurethane plank safe.

I felt something bump my board. When I emerged from the soup, I examined it. It didn’t take long to notice one glaring new defect.

One of the longboarder’s fins dislodged and found a new home for itself in the deck of my board. It went through the top, all the way through, poking out like a shark’s fin on the underside of the deck.

I calmly took the longboarder’s fin out, handed it back to him, and told him, “I guess that’s the end of my board.”

We checked in with each other to make sure neither of us were hurt. Without saying it, we both seemed to be on the same level, knowing that these things happen sometimes in surfing and it really wasn’t either of our faults.

After telling this story to some friends, nearly all asked if I asked the longboarder to pay for half of my board. After he ran me over, I caught one wave in because time was of the essence if I didn’t want my board to be water logged.

Too late. Upon inspection, nearly a quarter of the underside deck was totally delaminated, foam completely exposed, with two massive gashes. My board was mortally wounded.

So should I have asked the longboarder to have compensated me? My friends argued that since he wasn’t adequate enough of a surfer to avoid hitting me with his log, then I was in the right.

But I was so thankful that I didn’t get hurt, hurt real bad, as in the fin going through my skull or lacerating my calf. Instead of my board being mortally wounded, I could have been.

Even as I write this after the fact, I am still so thankful. Later that day–and the feeling still continues–I savored every bite of my meals and every swig of beer and every beautiful plant and flower and hug from my girlfriend.

I thought I was pretty good at living in the moment, but getting run over and contemplating mortality as a result has bumped up my appreciation for the present several notches.

I said goodbye to my 6’8″ Byrne shortboard, taking out the fins, and placing it by the dumpster, hoping that somebody might be inclined to attempt to bring it back from the dead. Thankfully, I wasn’t attached to that board. It would have been interesting to see what my Buddhist inclination would have been had I been riding one of my other boards that I have more of an attachment to.

Would I have been able to practice the spiritual discipline of non-attachment?

I hope I never get run over again. After ten years of surfing, I guess it was bound to happen. But from now on, I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll stay out of the water when it’s really crowded or go find a break with less people even if the wave quality isn’t as good. After all, my ultimate modus operandi in life is: “Live to Surf Another Day.”


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