Finding Your Mark
One of the first lessons I learned when I began surfing was to find my line-up. When out in the water, you want to have at least one reference point on land to orient yourself in relation to where the waves are breaking, where the channel is, and where the currents are.
Landmarks help you gauge where the most critical breaking point of the wave is, where the shoulder is, and the best spots to sit. Often, landmarks are consistent for specific breaks. For one of my favorite surf breaks in Town, I use a hotel as a marker; for another break, I gauge where I am in relation to a buoy that marks the boat channel. At a spot on the East side, there’s a palm tree I can almost always use to measure where I am against where I want to be.
Parallel and Perpendicular
Besides a marker of your orientation parallel to the shore, it can sometimes be helpful to have an orientation of your position perpendicular to shore, so you can tell how far out or close in you are—whether you’re in the impact zone and about to get pummeled, or bobbing like a duck way outside of the breakers.
Finding landmarks helps me so much when I’m surfing. It helps me track how quickly the current is pulling me, where I need to go, where I shouldn’t go, and how to get to (or maybe avoid) the most critical take-off point. Landmarks are ways to protect ourselves, but they are also tools we can use to catch the best waves possible.
Sometimes I Just Float
Sometimes, I let myself stop caring about those geographical markers, and let myself float. Other times, I need them, because the current pulls so hard and so fast that I’d be swept away if I were to stop paying attention for even a minute. My needs for those guides change depending on the day, conditions, and my mood. Sometimes that last place I want to be is battling it out with all the other surfers, and the inside shoulder is perfectly enough. Other days, I want to be as close as possible, paddling out amongst the crowd.
Your Internal Self
Wherever I surf, and whatever my mood, I use these guides to keep myself in check and guide my paddling and surfing. One of the first things I do when I’m out in the line-up of a new spot is figure out which landmark to keep an eye on. Asking one of the regulars isn’t a bad idea, either.
The more I’ve surfed, the more I’ve realized there are landmarks all around us, all the time, that we can measure ourselves against and through. Unlike goals, landmarks aren’t something we want to achieve—landmarks aren’t necessarily the destination. Rather, they are ways of contextualizing ourselves, in and out of the ocean, because they help us to create boundaries for ourselves, physically and figuratively.
I consider myself a highly sentimental person. I put a lot of weight and energy behind dates, times, events, and places. Anniversaries, annual events, holidays, and moments in my past hold a tremendous power over me, for better or for worse. These temporal landmarks guide my spirit. I think back to birthdays, my 17th or my 10th or my 21st, and remember who I was, how different I am now.
I think about different holidays, spent with my mom or dad or somewhere else. Different dates. Even places hold deep meaning in my heart because something about them is so concrete and visceral and real that I can’t help but assign meaning to them.
Returning and Leaving
There are many places we travel through and return to in our lives. Each of these represents moments in time; these places reflect the waves of life we are riding at any given point. Whether it’s the house of an abusive ex, the date a grandparent died, or the smell of cheap tequila, there are hundreds of places, spaces, moments, and sensations that orient us around ourselves.
I believe I am a highly sentimental person in-part because I love landmarks so much. I need frames of reference for my life and experiences, ways to measure where I’ve been and where I’m going against each other.
Need for Context
In this way, landmarks do much the same for me in the ocean as they do in my life. They show me where I need to go, where I’ve gone, when I’m in danger, where to paddle, and so much more. These are the guides of wisdom that allow me to stay afloat, to stay on my board, to learn from my mistakes.
Yet, at the same time, landmarks are not absolutes.
Some days, with the changing swell direction, the impact zone is where you normally would sit. On other days, the current has changed, and you can’t get to safe zone. Other times, crowds fill the place you want to go and you can’t make it into the line-up where you want to be.
And you have to let go.
Because just as landmarks in the ocean are subject to change, so are the landmarks of our lives. I used to measure my life based on what weight I was at any given age. To save my sanity, I had to let go of that landmark altogether. When I get too focused on being where I believe I should, or reflecting back on where I was, I lose the opportunity to find new landmarks, create new line-ups. And then, I either get pounded by white-wash, or emotionally drowned when I hold on too tightly to my past.
I’m learning more and more that I can find my guiding light in all kinds of ways. Learning that I don’t have to search so hard for those memories, those measures, because I will find them as I need them. Even more, I’m learning that when I follow my heart, it will guide me to the waves I want to be surfing, so I can ride life’s waves without remaining bound up in what was or what should be.
Reflecting on my past helps me to learn more about myself, yet letting go of it also allows me to arrive somewhere new, to find stoke in new spaces of my soul and the sea.
What Does it Mean?
Creating my own line-up means making up the rules of my life according to how I want to live it. It means letting go of old thoughts and sentimental burdens that I am afraid to lose. It means I get to chose how I measure my life, not anyone else.
In the past, I’ve found myself reminiscing on old memories that no longer serve me, using outdated guides for myself. Currents change, reefs change, swells and winds and life keeps changing. Setting my own line means catching whatever wave I chose for myself. It means not looking back at who I used to be and wishing I was her again, or being angry at my old self.
Just as I can’t change the ocean, I can’t change my past. I simply have to follow where the ocean and life takes me, and know that whatever ups and downs and wipe-outs and scars I get along the way, I surfed through them, with a smile on my face and the power of choice in my soul.