July 15, 2018

Take Me To The River

I train on her. I fish on her. I test my paddles on her. And after 25 years playing on the Deschutes River, I had fallen out of love with her. I don't blame the Deschutes, she is my homegrown lover that feeds the Columbia River where I downwind in the Gorge. But the excitement had gone out of the relationship. I am Hawaiian at my core and water means texture to me. Bumps swells waves, these are the things I lust after. And on the Deschutes they are absent other than the whitewater rapids which terrify me. In my world there is a difference between catching something and being caught in it. I like having a choice on what I ride.

But, love is a fickle thing. And I am back in love with the Deschutes River thanks to the Bend Parks and Recreations man-made river wave. I can't remember why I quit surfing. And I can't remember why I thought surfing the river wave was a challenge to take on. Believe me when I say, this is not an activity for the faint of heart. The potential for a serious beat down from a fall on the concrete "reef" has led to more than a few surfers visiting the ER.  Coupled with a steep learning curve, my first month was an exercise in fear and futility. Success was measured in a bull rider's time frame – 8 seconds an eternity.  Each wipeout was followed by a frigid whitewater swim through the rapids behind the wave.

Despite absolute failure, I continued to surf more summer sunrises than not. My rapidly "going pro" surf partner Muffy did her best to keep my spirits up. Sensei Gerry provided calm guidance. Reassuring me things would get better in response to the plethora of WTF? text I spewed. I am truly grateful to have had these two in my corner as things could have gone entirely different.

On the morning of my 20th session, driving to the wave I thought about quitting. Too clumsy, too old, too frustrated to try again. I was exhausted from trying. I was exhausted from failing. I had tried everything Gerry had told me and still I couldn't find the sweet spot on the face of the wave. Desperate and searching for a reason to continue, I recalled a favorite quote by bull rider J.B Mauney. "It doesn't matter how big you are. You're not going to out muscle an 1,800 pound bull." My only choice was to submit. The river will always win. It is a bucking beast flowing at 1550 cubic feet per second. No one can overpower the river. Submit and accept what is given.

As I set my board on the water and pushed away from the wall, I whispered "submit." Low in a crouch, my knees absorbed the bumps. When the river threatened to flush me out the back, I shifted my weight forward. As the nose began to submerge I shifted my weight back. Submit and join the Deschutes in a dance. 8 seconds is a blip in time, but that first 8 second dance was a turning point. I was in love again with my river.


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