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A conversation from Costa Rica.
The waves crunch, hock and spit onto the sand. I watch Vz pull into unmake-able waves and go down every time.
He paddles over to me.
I feel the pull of my wife in the waves. I see her reach up and drag me down. She told me this morning that if I don’t change she’ll leave me.
I thought you were happy.
I’m happy with the surf and family balance we have but she wants more of me.
What do you mean?
She says I love the ocean more than her and the kids. That I act like I’m twenty-five still.
You do froth on the ocean harder than any forty year-old I know.
I’m thirty-nine and she hates that I’m not making money when I visit you but I keep coming anyway. She doesn’t understand I need to surf to stay sane.
Let the waves clear your head mate. She’ll be right.
That’s what I’m afraid of.
No, that the ocean is the answer. All I want is family and waves. I’m pushing forty and I live like that last wave. I want to get deeper. I still want to push every moment to get the most out of it. Surfing is my life passion. I want to be in the water more than I am now but I already sacrifice for family time.
You could’ve made it out of that last one, if you’d taken the exit.
Where’s the fun in making it out safe? I want the wave of my life, every ride.
I wait on the beach for him. He sees me and signals one more. He takes off, scrapes a bottom turn under the lip and stands tall as the wave detonates on him. He appears in the white, churned up ocean and turns for shore. Leaving the water, there is blood running down his forearm.
Look at this massive ding!
Ignoring the arm, Vz shows me the rail of his board. I can see the skin and hairs matted into gouged fibreglass.
Lucky you didn’t snap it. Show me the arm.
I had it up over my face. You’ve got to protect yourself from her. Told you I felt my wife out there. The look she gave me when I left this morning. She couldn’t take me down, though.
Back at the house we sit and wait for the sun to suck the moisture from the cracked rail. Vz wants to fix it so he can surf again today. Leaning against a warm wall in the sun with eyes closed, he should look at peace, but it’s obvious he’s ready to go. He opens his eyes and leans forward—all dark features and deep tan.
What did your parents tell you about work and happiness?
They said find a job that makes me happy, work with my passions until I find a way to make a living from it.
My parents and now my wife tell me to secure a job and provide for family. That’s it, that’s all. What would you prefer though, a hard life for a meagre-level living or pushing every chance to follow passion for glory?
Fuck the small shit and go for the glory.
Right! But there’s a big difference between being taught the lesson and seeing the outcome.
Were your parents passionate about their work?
Yeah I think so. How could they tell me to follow my passion and not do the same?
Do they work inside their passion?
They’re retired, they bought some land and have a small farm now.
Is that their passion?
How long did they talk about it before they did it?
Since I was young.
That was their dream then, their passion.
Yeah but they worked for it. So yeah, I guess they sacrificed passion to make it happen later in life.
My parents worked seven days a week through my childhood, teenage years and even after I moved away. My mother loved gardens, she had photos on the wall, but had no time to make her own. My dad’s passion was his work because he knew nothing else. They worked then they died. We struggle to get by, my family, but if I have to struggle to keep my dreams alive then I will. Otherwise my passion will die before I do. My wife understands what I won’t settle for, but she doesn’t realise that no matter the pressure or consequences, I won’t give up. I can’t.
Vz rips scraps of his skin from the crack in the board. He looks at it in his hand mixed with the fibreglass then tilts his hand and lets part of him fall. He looks up.
Will you keep pursuing your passion when you realise you can’t live well by doing it?
I see it as a package deal. Live and achieve passion then kids become the icing on the cake. Things will work out for me the way they’re supposed to.
I nearly drowned once. My board snapped and I was left with only a small piece of the tail. In the moment it seemed best to swim past the breakers. I tried but the force of moving water pushed me down and back, the tail was like an anchor, I felt attached to my tombstone.
After going down and up and down I gripped the tail and pointed myself toward shore. The waves shoved me out of the water. That night I went by myself to the sand dunes of Brokenhead Beach and had a chat with the ocean. I asked if she wanted the best for me. Because when I’m with her I feel like my best self and yet that day felt like she was trying to break up with me. I didn’t get that something I loved so much wouldn’t allow me to be my best.
My passion is words and sometimes I think writing is like the tail of my board. I’m doing what I think is right but the constant pursuit of an unordinary life is dragging me down. Then I force myself to remember I don’t have a set path and that any decision or moment could be the right one. I just have to be persistent and open to opportunity.
I’ve been rattled by the ocean ever since. When I’m thrown about by the waves I’m cast back into that moment of helplessness. It’s a constant battle for me not to chicken out. No matter what happens the consequences are on me. If I don’t give myself the chance no one else will.
His head is down as I speak. He’s focusing on sanding the rough edges around the ding. Scraping the busted part and making it smooth, he looks up.
I’m like you; I won’t give myself the choice of letting go. I’ve seen how that story ends. The ocean and my family are all that matter to me, that’s what makes me happy, together though—not one without the other. And it’s not a question of loving my children. If I get another job I won’t be happy. She might be but I won’t and then I’ll be a worse father and husband than she thinks I am now.
So you have to convince her.
The problem is she knows I’m not going to sacrifice myself.
Your little boy loves to surf and skate. You’re his role model.
Exactly, and aren’t I setting a good example by following passion? You said your parents taught you that and you’re grateful right?
Of course but now I think of it, they could tell me to reach for dreams because they’ve lived the dedicated work life. I wouldn’t be so willing to forego financial security if I’d grown up without it.
I’ve realised that sometimes the people I love will suffer because of the things I love. Growing up is realising what you want to have and what you must have. It doesn’t mean giving up.
What will your wife say to that?
I hope she wants our children to be the way I am. I want them to follow their dreams to the end. Regret has to be worse than failure.
Will you get a divorce?
I don’t have a choice, my wife is leaving me.
What are you going to do?
Get back in the waves.